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At Go Fish Digital, our technical SEO agency has had the opportunity to work with various clients on creating and implementing structured data in their related SEO campaigns. And, no matter the industry, we’ve found the inclusion of structured data to be a fundamental step in the process of growing organic visibility amongst the major search engines.
With that experience comes errors, success stories and the insight on how to properly guide you to build and improve upon your own structured data strategies.
An Overview of Structured Data
Structured data has been an integral part of SEO ever since Google, Bing, and Yahoo unified to create a single Markup Language that could be recognized by all three search engines back in 2011. The decision by the companies resulted in more accurate search results with helpful features being added regularly to improve user experience. But, what exactly is structured data? And how can you use it to bolster your SEO efforts?
What is Structured Data?
Structured data is a standardized language used to communicate content on your website to search engine crawlers. It can help classify the page, whether it be a product or recipe, and produce unique snippets, known as Rich Results, in search engine result pages (SERPs).
It’s easy to forget that crawlers don’t see a normal page as users do, but instead see a block of code using various languages that it has to decipher line by line.
Think of structured data as a way of neatly organizing the content on a page into labeled folders. It can identify videos, dates, reviews and organize them all for crawlers to easily understand. It’s a streamlined process that has become an essential component in SEO campaigns and optimizations.
What is Schema.org and JSON-LD?
Schema.org was created to host the collection of all supported structured data by search engines. It provides detailed lists of each kind of structured data, while also displaying examples on how to code each. This can be an extremely useful resource for finding and correctly implementing applicable structured data to your pages.
JSON-LD on the other hand, is a markup language typically used to code structured data. It’s not the only language used, others include Microdata and RDFa, but is typically the safest method to code your structured data with. The other languages listed can occasionally cause hick-ups for your site, and Google has stated that they prefer the use of JSON-LD.
John Mueller stated this in March 2019, on the Google Office-hours hangout.
“We currently prefer JSON-LD markup. I think most of the new types of structured data… kind of come out for JSON-LD first. So that’s what we prefer.”
Why Structured Data is Vital for SEO
Google and other search engines have encouraged the use of structured data since its creation, and have provided several reasons to follow this practice. Structured data not only benefits crawlers, but can greatly benefit users and increase click-through rates (CTR) through rich results.
Enhanced rich results provide more information to the user on the SERPs, while increasing the visual appeal of pages and links. For example, if a user is trying to search for a review on a specific product, Google can provide visual feedback before the user ever clicks on your site.
This can come in the form of brief snippets of written reviews or the typical 1-5 star metric featured underneath the page link. These visual elements are eye-catching and can greatly benefit a page’s organic traffic if it obtains the rich result.
Utilizing and combining structured data properly can result in other featured snippets as well.
Additional rich result snippets include:
- Knowledge Graph: One of the original rich snippets, a knowledge graph typically contains information on a brand or location.
- Carousels: These feature a collection of multiple rich results that could be displayed in images or videos.
- Videos: Growing in popularity and use, a video snippet can be displayed for specific pages and topics.
- Rich Cards: Similar to rich results, Rich Cards are snippets displayed on mobile devices.
Structured data can also serve as another avenue to help a page get indexed. For certain smaller clients competing in competitive markets, getting a page to simply be indexed can be a challenge. This can happen even if Google has found the page through internal or external linking.
There are several steps to take to help increase the possibility of Google indexing your page. Adding structured data is one of them.
While it may not prove to be the most important step to take, adding in another lane of communication between your page and crawlers is a strategy that shouldn’t be overlooked.
Types Of Structured Data
Alright, so we know what structured data is and why it’s vital for SEO campaigns, but what kind should you be using for yourself or clients? Below is a list of the most frequent and helpful types to use based on your specific industry or content.
Article schema is an essential part of the YMYL industry (Finance, Medicine, Health and Supplements) as it helps highlight the author of blog posts which can enhance E-E-A-T signals.
It’s also a great addition for News Outlets, and is a viable strategy for articles trying to obtain a “Top Stories” feature when addressing breaking news or timely topics. Obtaining these can help showcase topic authority and potentially turn organic traffic into recurring visitors.
When creating Article schema, make sure to include the author’s name, image and publishing date to help maintain freshness signals.
At first glance, FAQ schema might seem only valuable to add to dedicated FAQ pages but, as we all know, these pages typically don’t rank very well. Instead, FAQ schema can be viewed as a secret weapon for brief FAQ sections located on ecommerce category pages or product pages
It’s a great strategy to answer common questions about certain products — how they are made, when to use them, how to use them, etc. — and can result in a FAQ rich snippet. These snippets provide another unique avenue for relevant users to discover your site, and can help spread brand awareness and topic authority.
Organization schema allows businesses to provide valuable information to Google and search engines. This includes information such as the company’s name, logo, URL and important social profiles.
At first, it may seem valuable to throw organization schema on various pages, and to use it for all types of businesses. However, organization schema should be used in specific cases. A perfect example is a local business.
This can provide more details on the type of business, as well as its location, to help the company potentially rank in a local pack which can be vital in competitive areas.
However, for large retailers, it’s most likely a better fit to use brand schema instead. This schema uses more specific elements to better describe retailers and it’s common to find companies, such as Amazon or Walmart, taking this approach.
Product schema is essential for any ecommerce website or retailer. Similar as before, this will share valuable data to Google on specific products, allowing the creation of rich snippets to appear in the search results.
The rich results are most prominently displayed in two kinds: popular products and a product snippet. Popular products will display an image followed by the product details in the search result, while a product snippet may appear lower on the search result page with a potential image, price, and other listed details.
It’s important to note that review schema pairs extremely well with product schema, as it will help display user reviews on the SERPs with the related product.
Recently, Google expanded the eligibility of product rich results by no longer requiring a Google Merchant Center account. Only product structured data is required now.
The last impactful type of structured data that shouldn’t be overlooked is video schema. Video rich results can be a great strategy to improve CTRs. Whether it be for a blog post discussing a topic or a product review, featuring a video can help reinforce the continuation of your site’s funnel.
Video schema provides important information that normally might not be accessed by crawlers, such as video duration and the thumbnail image. It will certainly be important to keep this structured data in mind for the future as the format of media consumption continues to heavily favor short videos.
How to Implement Structured Data
There’s three useful tools to use when creating and implementing your structured data. The first is Merkle, which is a technical SEO tool that generates common schema types based on the data you feed it. To start, you’ll need to navigate to the left side of the screen and select “Schema Generator.”
Then proceed to use the dropdown menu to select the specific schema you are looking to create. Merkle will then provide the necessary fields for you to fill out in order to produce the requested structured data.
You can then copy the schema from Merkle and add it to the footer of the designated page.
Another tool is Google’s Structured Data Markup Helper. This tool requires some extra steps, but is still user-friendly to operate. To start you’ll need to provide the page URL and desired schema type. Afterwards, the application will display the given URL, and prompt you to select elements on the page.
Once each element is selected, you’ll provide tags — such as author, date or logo — which the helper tool will use to fill out the generated schema fields. You can then click create html at the top right of the screen to generate the code.
No matter how you create your structured data, it should be placed in the footer of the HTML of the page.
Depending on your site’s CMS, you can use the Yoast SEO plugin to help auto generate and easily implement structured data to your pages.
Testing Your Structured Data
The last step is to ensure that your structured data was coded correctly, and that crawlers are recognizing it. The best method to test your structured data is with Google’s Rich Result test and Schema’s validator.
For both tools, you can submit a page URL and see potential errors or warnings if either occur in your structured data. If not, you should receive a returning message validating the items.
It’s important to note that the Rich Result test will specifically look for a page’s eligibility in ranking for rich results. This means that it may not pick up on less common schema types, such as Church schema, as they typically don’t produce rich results. So, it’s best practice to utilize both tools to guarantee your structured data is working.
With the information and tools mentioned above you should be well-off on your journey of understanding, creating and implementing your own structured data. It’s time to put these skills to the test, and obtain your own rich results in the SERPs.
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