What Is Structured Data Markup?

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This article will review:

  • What is structured data?
  • How is it useful for SEO?

Over the years, Google’s search algorithm has become much better able to read a web page and determine its meaning and quality. However, information conveyed in plain text can be misinterpreted or missed by Google crawlers just as it can by human readers.

Structured data is a coded format for organizing data into a form, or structure, to make it easier to understand. Structured data uses Schema markup (a vocabulary for formatting structured data). Examples of structured data in action include:

  • Recipes: On your recipe web page, you would code bits of information for Google crawlers into a format with fields for cooking time, cooking method, nutrition, estimated cost and potentially much more.
  • Articles: Data for an article would include fields for the body, article section, word count, author, awards and potentially much more.
  • Products: Fields in the database would include audience, awards, brand, category, color, related products, manufacturer, model, reviews and potentially much more.

Not only will the structured data help Google to clearly understand your content, there could be important SEO benefits that come with using it.

Structured Data and Its SEO Benefits

Snippets are pieces of information that appear under the link in a SERP (search engine results page). When structured data is used “behind the scenes” on a web page, Google may create a rich snippet for that recipe, article, product, etc., when it appears in the search results. Whereas regular snippets are simply lines of text, rich snippets add text styling and (in some cases) imagery to draw the attention of the search engine user, make the snippet more engaging and thus improve the likelihood of a user clicking on the link.

Rich snippets are not guaranteed to appear on Google when structured data is used, but the possibility exists. Rich snippets figure to become more widely used as Google continues to refine the format and design flexibility of its SERPs.

Rich cards, similar to rich snippets, are formatted by Google for mobile SERPs. These also have the potential to increase click-throughs and improve the conversion rate of an SEO campaign.

A step below rich snippets is what is referred to as enriched search results — results on Google SERPs that may include, as Google states, “an immersive popup experience or other advanced interaction feature.” Enriched results not only capture the user’s attention, they also enable your product to be included and more prominent in a user’s search for, say, a recipe with a particular ingredient, an article with a particular word count or a product that has won a particular award. In these cases, organic search engine exposure is expanded, also improving SEO performance.

Structured Data and Organic Ranking

As discussed, using structured data improves click-through rates and in some cases broadens potential exposure on highly relevant search queries. Structured data is not, however, a ranking signal in and of itself. The value of adding structured data to a web page is helping Google understand your page content’s relevance to search queries and making it much easier for Google to properly interpret your page’s information. These factors indirectly improve a page’s position on SERPs, but only indirectly.

 It’s also important to keep in mind that structured data is a very precise endeavor, like all coding. Google offers a free structured data testing tool to help make sure your database has been built correctly.

You’ll also want to make sure to follow Google’s structured data guidelines, since abusing Google’s policies in an attempt to find an SEO shortcut could lead to lower rankings, removal from rich results eligibility or the dreaded Manual Action. You’re always better off in SEO by playing by the rules. In the case of structured data, there’s not much of an upside to cutting corners, and plenty of benefit to using it properly.

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