If you are working within the field of SEO, as a marketeer, UX-designer or developer, you might have stumbled upon the term: structured data. If not, then now is the time to get familiar with this more technical part of SEO.
Like all search engines, Google uses data to understand the content and contexts of a site. Unlike humans, Google’s bot doesn’t have the same semantic abilities of understanding words as linguistic values of a sentence.
For humans, a single word, like button, can mean a lot of things. A shirt button, a button on the computer screen, and even as a way to describe human features, like a cute button nose. Humans then understand words in their content. But that is not the way a search engine reads words.
Even in the context of a sentence, Google has no idea what the word ‘dog’ is. A thing? A person? This is where schema.org comes into the picture.
Schema.org puts is this way:
“Most webmasters are familiar with HTML tags on their pages. Usually, HTML tags tell the browser how to display the information included in the tag. For example, <h1>Avatar</h1> tells the browser to display the text string “Avatar” in a heading 1 format. However, the HTML tag doesn’t give any information about what that text string means—”Avatar” could refer to the hugely successful 3D movie, or it could refer to a type of profile picture—and this can make it more difficult for search engines to intelligently display relevant content to a user.”
But first, let us take a step back to understand the difference between structured data and unstructured data.
What is structured and unstructured data information?
Data can be structured in many ways. And some not at all. Data is basically a collection of information such as numbers, words, symbols, measurements, and observations. Regarding computer technology, data can be defined as formatted information converted into a binary digital form.
The difference between unstructured and structured data lies in the processing.
- Unstructured data contains many pieces of information, however, these exits in no pre-defined form, and is therefore difficult to collect, process, and analyze.
- Structured data or rich data, on the other hand, is organized and formatted information accessible in a database. The key factor of structured data is that it is searchable. When the quantitative data is organized into tables or spreadsheets it becomes easy for computers to search.
Schema.org: The SEO language of Google
Even though structured data can be organized in many ways, some of these structures are more accepted than others. Since 2011 search engines like Google, Bing, and Yahoo! have used a special data markup language to ascribe lingual values to sites. Using the same markup makes it much easier for web developers to work with structured data, as the ruleset is not predefined for these search engines.
So, what is schema.org?
Schema.org is a data markup used collectively by search engines, Google, Bing, and Yahoo! to ascribe the values and information for which search engines need to understand the content and thereby improve the search results. When adding schema markup to your HTML-code you are able to improve the way your website is presented to Google and the users.
In practice, schema.org is a site, where you can access a ton of structured data. Some of this data is accessible for Google and can be presented in the SERP.
Looking into the SERP of the word “breathing trainer”, some companies, like Airofit stands out by using structured/rich data.
If you are in doubt about which data to use for your site, then Google offers a list of possible schema.org solutions presented on Google.
These results include among others:
- Carousels (fx of recipes or videos)
- Critic reviews
- Fact Check
- Job posts
- Local business
- Videos (YouTube)
What is JSON-D?
Even though I will not go into the full account of JSON-D, a short introduction is appropriate in relation to schema.org. If Schema.org is the organization of data, then JSON-D the data format for applying this data markup. JSON-D used a simple script that makes it easy for web developers to add these data schemes in the code of the site.
How can structured data improve SEO?
There are debates on the exact effect on structured data and the performance of a website on Google SERP. Does the schema markup even improve ranking in Google, and if so how do you meet these new requirements?
According to Google, structured data in itself is not a ranking factor. This means that Google bot does not estimate the work of your site based on the amount of structured data you add to it. Does this mean that the schema markup is not important for SEO? No.
When using structured data, you can affect the ranking and the traffic to your site. Just imagine a plain search result page of a small IT business looking to upscale their business model by typing “how to grow your business”. This is a quite competitive field when you look at the SERP. So, as a user, who will you click on. If they look fairly identical then, of course, you won’t waste time clicking on the bottom result. No, you will click the top result.
Now, imagine again – or go to the result page of any query – you are looking for a guide to paint your living room or overview site for theatre tickets.
Now the top result may be a famous brand site like ‘Jotun’ or ‘Broadway’. But then you notice that the site below has an overview of the dates for the plays or user reviews of four out of five yellow stars. Now your focus is drawn to this page. And since you are already handed some of the information, your first impression of this page is much better than the other pages, and you are more likely to visit the page.
With better traffic to your site, Google will acknowledge that your site is definitely worth the visit and also deserves a better ranking on the SERP. These highly intelligent solutions are what will drive your website forward.
Testing Tools for schema.org
I will end this article by going over some of the tools you can use for testing schema.org on your site.
First and foremost, Google offers its own schema marker, for testing the structured data on your site. This way you can know if there are any issues with the markup, but it also helps you to see which data you are optimizing for.
If you, like so many others, are a keen user of WordPress, the Yoast plugin gives you the possibility to add a schema markup fairly simple. And the result is fairly simple to understand using adlibweb.com as an example for ‘person’ schema:
On Google’s own developer blog, you can find the exact guidelines for each type of structured data, you wish to improve for your site.