The Role of Structured Data in Improving Search Engine Visibility

“Use Structured Data to get featured in Rich Snippets” /
“Use Structured Data for Improving On-Site SEO”

Well, thanks Sharon for telling me something I already knew!!

We all know that Structured Data is important for SEO. But only some of us know why! And unless you know the why, it’s tough to understand when, and how.

So that’s what we’re going to do here. Just go through all of these questions and then understand how to apply them for your website, so you can get that sweet spot in Google (leave one for me though 🙂)

Let’s get into it!

What Exactly is Structured Data?

Structured data is like a language your website speaks to search engines. It’s a way of explaining your content in a format that search engines can easily grasp. Think of as the dictionary for this language—it helps convert your content into a code that search engines can parse easily and get meaningful information from.

Imagine if you had to code the entire thing by yourself! Now, that would be a nightmare!

Structured Data

Fortunately for us, Google understands our frustration in coding, and hence does the heavy lifting themselves, leaving us with a structure/format to follow so they can convert it to code themselves!

When search engines read this code, they use it to showcase search results in a more detailed and meaningful manner.

Structured Data Results for Job Postings

This is an example of Rich Results for Job Postings. I bet that you’ve seen these kind of results while searching for movies, products, etc. Those are Rich Results and you need Structured Data to get in there!

Suddenly Structured Data doesn’t seem too bad, does it?! 🙃

Okay, Sharon! I understand that structured data drives more traffic to websites ranking at the top of Google. But not everyone has a website now, do they?! What if I am just a user and not a blogger?! Structured data is just a waste of time then, isn’t it?!

Good question! To answer it, let’s go back in time, about 20 years.

A Search for “table” in 2002 would have given something like this:

Structured Data

Fast forward to today, this is what it looks like

Structured Data

The difference speaks for itself! See how easy it is on the eyes?!
You get the pricing, the rating, frequent questions and the links all in one place. It’s so much easier to skim through and find what I’m looking for, as opposed to before, where they were just throwing all the articles under the sun and suffocating me with it!

Sometimes, we don’t even need to go to a website and the SERP itself answers our question.
Feel free to thank Structured data for that!

Structured Data

Source: Quickmeme

But How Does Structured Data Work?

At this point, you might be wondering: How can there be a language that both search engines and people understand consistently?

To understand this, let’s first try and understand how people understand each other.

Communication requires us to have some form of ground rules. Those rules can be thought of as a combination of words (or vocabulary), which helps us in expressing our thoughts and grammar (or syntax), which helps us in arranging those words in a meaningful manner.

Now extending the logic in our context for Structured Data, we can see a similar pattern.
We have syntax that determines the data format. And then we have the keywords. Combining those two gives webmasters the ability to structure the data as needed.








Ughhh! Just tell me what I should be using for my structured data, Sharon. No need to give a history lesson. Okay, okay! stands out as the most broadly accepted universal vocabulary standard for structured data. It is currently sponsored by major players like Google, Bing, and Yahoo, which should clear any remaining suspicions. Even better, its open source, which means it is flexible, monitored by millions and constantly improving.

Okay, enough talk. Let’s look at some real code, shall we?!

Structured Data

Now that the vocabulary is sorted out, let’s take a look at the syntax.

When it comes to syntax, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. Google leans towards recommending JSON-LD and defaults to it in tools like the Structured Data Markup Helper. JSON-LD uses JavaScript code and embedded widgets to dynamically showcase content, thus having a simpler development process.

Google also uses Microdata and RDFa. Both of these syntaxes use HTML to assign properties in structured data. Microdata usually resides in the page body, while RDFa is commonly used in both the page head and body.

Contrastingly, JSON-LD is written in the page head. This means, that for certain types of markup, JSON-LD eliminates the need to navigate subheaders, supporting copy, and related styling included in the page’s HTML. This simplicity is why JSON-LD is mostly more straightforward than the other two options.

Ultimately, the choice depends on the data you’re implementing, the benefits for your website, and what would be more convenient for collaboration with your team.

Structured Data in Social Media

Procter data markup works a little differently for social media. You need to have Open Graph Protocol or something similar along those lines to show the preview we often see when a post is shared on social media.

But like it’s said: Talk is cheap. Show me the code!
So here’s the sample below:

Structured Data

Common Examples of Structured Data

It’s hard to know that you’re looking at the structured data. I mean, it’s not like you’re going to go into the code, and check for the JSON-LD structure right? So, how do you, as an average user, see structured data?!

Well, you already have. You see it every single day. You just don’t know that what you are seeing is structured data.

Let’s go through some SERP examples so you can understand what the hell I’m talking about!

SERP Features

1. Featured Snippets

Featured Snippets are like quick summaries right on the search results page. They’re different from Answer Boxes because they link to outside websites. If your content gets chosen for a Snippet, your site might show up twice in search results, which is a nice bonus!

These Snippets come in different styles: quotes, tables, job listings, rich cards (great for movies and recipes), and a section called “People also ask.” They’re all about giving users quick answers without having to click through, making your content more visible and trustworthy.

Structured Data

2. Carousels

Carousels are like slideshows of images with captions that pop up in search results. They showcase things like movie actors, cars, news articles, products, etc. If you spot one, you can click through the images to see more details on a separate search results page just for that topic. It’s a neat way to explore and dive deeper into specific searches without leaving the main search page.

Structured Data

3. Knowledge Graph Cards (or Knowledge Panels)

Knowledge Panels are those panels on the right side of search results that gather up the most important info for a search. They condense the information and are great to get the summary at a glance. They are handy in many situations, like stock prices, celebrity birthdays, blah blah.

You can tag your content with categories using structured data like Schema, but it’s no guarantee Google will give you your own Knowledge Panel.

Structured Data

Structured data doesn’t come with promises; it just helps search engines and social networks understand your content better. It’s more about making it easier to interpret rather than having your own knowledge panel.

4. Videos

They are like carousels with a tile-like format, but feature videos. You can access the videos directly by clicking on them, and you’ll be rerouted to the respective website. Depending on your schema markup, you can also get some special badges from Google such as live badges, or some other special privileges.

Bonus SERP Features

The above SERP features most of the time get the job done. But there are some helpful features provided by Google and other search engines here and there that we tend to overlook, but are very helpful in our day-to-day use.

So let’s take a look at some of them:

1. Sitelinks and Sitelinks Searchbox

Sitelinks are those extra links you sometimes see under a search result. They help navigate to specific sections of a website directly from the search page itself. Google brings them in when it thinks they’ll be helpful. Websites with smart anchor text and clear, concise alt text have a better shot at getting these Sitelinks displayed with their search result.

Structured Data

The Sitelinks Searchbox is similar to Sitelinks but comes with a search bar right in the search result. Unlike the website’s search, this one uses Google, opening a brand-new search results page. These search boxes only appear when someone searches for a specific brand or company.

Structured Data

2. FAQ

The FAQ feature isn’t limited to the classic FAQ pages. It can be applied to any page containing Q&A content.

Because of this, searchers can directly access the Q&A from your website as it’s injected into the SERPS as FAQs, thus giving your website a major boost in organic traffic and rankings.

However, as of September 14, 2023, Google has made some updates, stating that “the feature is only shown for well-known, authoritative government and health websites”.

3. How-to Guides

Earlier Google used to show step-by-step guides for how-to queries in the SERPs. However, as of September 14, 2023, it is no longer valid and Google’s updates no longer allow that.

4. Breadcrumbs

A breadcrumb trail found on a webpage serves as a map, showing where that page stands within the website’s structure. It’s like a series of stepping stones guiding us through the site’s hierarchy.

These breadcrumbs allow us to navigate back up the site’s structure step by step, starting from the last breadcrumb. It’s a handy way for users to understand their location within the site and easily explore different levels of the website without getting lost.

Structured Data

How to Add Structured Data to Your Website

“About time, Sharon. I thought you were never gonna come to the point”
Okay, okay. I suppose I got swept by my interest in structured data.

However, before we start, it’s worth noting that simply adding structured data markup doesn’t automatically guarantee getting a Featured Snippet or Sitelinks Sitebox. Sometimes, it can take Google weeks to scan through your new HTML markup, and there’s no guarantee that the information will appear at all.

However, despite this tension, implementing structured data is crucial. While Google is pretty smart, it’s not (yet) capable of understanding everything on its own. So, even though it might feel like extra effort, using the right structured data markup helps Google understand your content better. This, in turn, might boost your chances of higher click-through rates and increased visibility.

Isn’t that what we all want?!

Here’s a guide on implementing structured data using Google’s Structured Data Markup Helper tool.

1. Open Google’s Structured Data Markup Helper.

Open Google’s Structured Data Markup Helper tool

Structured Data

2. Select Necessary Parameters

In the Website tab at the top, select the Data Type you’d like, and enter the URL in the input at the bottom. Select “Start Tagging”.

Structured Data

3. Highlight page elements and assign data tags.

Once the tool is loaded, your web page will appear on the left side, while data items will be displayed on the right. To assign data tags like name, author, or date published, simply highlight various components of your web page. The tool will provide suggestions for different data tags based on the type of content, such as Events or Book Reviews.

4. Create HTML and Add Markup

Click Create HTML in the top-right corner of the screen when you’re done tagging and assigning data items.

Afterward, the tool displays your structured data markup on the right side. It automatically generates the script in JSON-LD format, but you can switch it to Microdata by selecting the JSON-LD drop-down menu in the top menu bar. If you wish to save the script, click “Download” to save it as an HTML file.

To apply your markup, essentially “publishing” it, you’ll need to copy and paste this new HTML markup into your CMS or directly into the source code of your website. Google Search Console offers guidelines on how to add this markup to your source code if needed.

Finally, click “Finish” in the top right corner to review Google’s recommended next steps.

Structured Data

6. Test Your Markup

Open Google’s Structured Data Testing Tool. You can either paste the web page URL here or go ahead and paste the source code itself. For this example, I’m going to use the source code that we generated in the previous step. Here are the results

Structured Data

7. Review and Resolve

The tool presents your HTML markup on the left side and the results on the right. Pay attention to any red errors or warnings. Click on specific data rows to highlight their corresponding markup on the left.

If necessary, you can directly edit any errors in the HTML inside the tool panel before finalizing the tested HTML markup.

8. Have some Patience

The final step is straightforward but challenging—waiting. Google might take several weeks to re-crawl new HTML, and even then, there’s no guarantee that your content will appear in rich snippets or other SERP features.

Wrap Up

Search engines like Google are always evolving to deliver better search experiences. They aim for smarter, more refined results to benefit users. As a business, it’s important to stay on top of these changes, and one effective way to do that is through structured data.

Structured data isn’t just beneficial to increase visibility; it also enhances customer experience, which in turn grows your business. Be sure to use this guide for optimizing your business, and let me know if I missed something 🙂

Happy Coding!

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