What is Structured Data (and Schema Markup) and What Can it Mean for SEO?
Google, Bing, and other major search engines have been encouraging webmasters to use structured data for years now. Still, only 17 percent of marketers are using structured data markup on their websites today. With incentives like enriched organic search results, it’s a wonder why so many websites have yet to take this step.
Or maybe, it’s no wonder at all. Structured data, most commonly known in the form of Schema.org markup, can come with quite the learning curve. Even the most successful marketers and CMOs might not know what structured data is, let alone its benefits. Quite frankly, even some SEO and web development teams do not know what correct Schema or structured data looks like, or how it can impact a website’s organic visibility. That’s why we’re here to break down the basics.
What is Structured Data Markup?
Generally speaking, “structured data” refers to any data that is organized or well-defined. In terms of search engine optimization, structured data involves organizing your web content with specific code or “markup,” so that crawlers can find and process your information more accurately.
Simply put, structured data is HTML code that provides search engines with a better understanding of a webpage and its content, which ultimately can enhance how that page is displayed in the search results. It tells search engines exactly what specific content relates to, so that they can then serve the most accurate and relevant information to users.
Have you ever Google’d a recipe for dinner and come across very enhanced looking search results? Right in the organic listing, you might have seen star reviews, cook time, as well as the meal’s calorie count. Or maybe you’ve searched for real estate listings, and come across a SERP filled with rich, robust results including open house times and listing prices – without clicking through to a site. These results are called “rich snippets” (rightfully so) and are a potential outcome of structured data markup.
Below are some examples of rich snippet results (driven by Schema.org):
There are all types of structured data vocabulary – for recipes, reviews, movie times, online products, even how-to articles and company information. You can put markup around your logo and contact number or your specific business location (down to the geo-coordinates), as well as the prices and reviews of products you sell online. Google’s Search Gallery features many examples of rich results prompted by structured data.
Structured data can also be applied almost anywhere on your website, and on any type of website. Whether you are a multi-location business trying to reach more consumers, an eCommerce site looking to enhance product pages, or a B2B company looking to increase brand awareness, structured data can work for you.
Many search engines parse and process structured data, which is why webmasters must use standardized implementations (i.e. formats or syntaxes), such as JSON-LD (Google’s recommendation) and Microdata. Webmasters must also use consistent, standardized vocabulary to classify their data. The most commonly used taxonomies are those outlined by Schema.org.
What is Schema.org Markup?
Schema.org is the most commonly used type of structured data markup on websites today. It was developed in 2011 by the big search engines (including Google, Bing, and Yahoo) in efforts to help webmasters categorize important information on their sites, and to further serve users the most relevant information on the web. According to the Schema.org website:
“Schema.org focuses on defining the item types and properties that are most valuable to search engines. This means search engines will get the structured information they need most to improve search,” while “users will end up with better search results and a better experience on the web.”
Essentially, Schema markup is a taxonomy of code formats that major search engines will use to understand a site. While there are other forms of structured data out there – including Open Graph (used by Facebook) and Twitter Cards (used by Twitter) – Schema vocabulary is used by major search engines, and is a key component to any modern SEO strategy.
SEO Benefits of Schema Markup
As Google evolves their algorithm to provide users with quality and relevant content, they recommend webmasters leverage Schema markup to more accurately understand websites. This has clear SEO benefits, including a stronger relevancy signal for Google and enhanced search result listings. Enhanced search results via Schema markup may come in the form as:
- Rich search results, which include styling, images, and other visual enhancements
- Enriched search results, including interactive or immersive features
- Rich cards (a variation of rich search results), designed to provide a better mobile UX
- A Knowledge Panel, which includes information about a brand and takes up significant real estate in the organic search results
- Breadcrumbs, which make your navigation or URL easy to digest in the SERP
- Carousels, which are a collection of multiple rich search results in a carousel style
Now, there are two disclaimers in all of this. Number one, implementing Schema markup does not mean your data will show as rich snippet results. While structured data is needed to qualify for rich snippets like the above, there is no guarantee that Google will immediately show these for your site. This doesn’t mean you’ve done anything wrong, however. This is just a choice made by Google. And as Google evolves and expands its rich snippet results (we’ll get to that in a minute), we believe it’s an effort worth making.
Secondly, it’s important to recognize that Schema markup does not directly benefit organic rankings. Even though it was created by Google, Schema.org is not a ranking signal. That said, using Schema correctly can contribute to a stronger relevancy signal, which Google will use to better rank your site for the right queries. In addition, rich snippets can improve the organic click-through-rate (CTR) of a webpage – which can also lead to better rankings indirectly – and lower bounce rates, as users see a preview of the content right in the search results. They can also help you establish more real estate in the search results.
Will Schema Markup Become an SEO-Must?
While Schema markup is not a ranking signal, recent releases from Google suggest it is becoming more important. (Just a few months back in May 2019, Google announced several updates involving structured data, including new “How-to” and “FAQ” Schema markup, as well as a new “Enhancements” report in Search Console that helps webmasters identify issues with their structured data.) Not to mention, as Google moves towards a mobile-first web, the search engine is increasing its usage of rich results in the SERP, to create a more visual and engaging UX.
Right now, 83 percent of marketers do not use (or plan to use) Schema markup in the near future, and 99 percent of all sites on the web today do not have Schema.org markup in place. If you fall in this majority, know it’s not too late to step out. While the learning curve seems steep, it really only takes a few basic steps to get Schema started on your site.
How to Use Schema.org Markup
When considering implementing Schema on your website, it is important to first consider the Schema markup that is most relevant to you. What type of content will you be highlighting on your website, and what is your goal in doing so? As Google explains, businesses can use Schema.org markup to:
- Increase brand awareness, by highlighting content such as their business logo, store locations (if applicable), and contact information. This content may pull into Google’s Knowledge Panel, which outlines brand and business information for users.
- Highlight specific content on your website, such as FAQ pages, Events, Job Postings, Reviews, and Articles, among many more.
- Highlight product information, such as the price of an item, its name and description, as well as its availability and review ratings.
Once you decide what you are looking to mark up on your website, you can start exploring the potential Schema.org vocabulary and identifying which is most relevant to your business. Your dev team can do this via Schema.org, or can obtain more color through Google’s list of structured data examples here.
There are also free tools to help out with structured data implementation. These include:
- Google’s Data Highlighter within Search Console, which allows you to tag data fields on your site using your mouse
- A free Schema markup generator (such as this one), which makes it very easy to choose the Schema you want, and to transform it into the proper code
- After implementation, use Google’s Structured Data Testing Tool to check your markup is accurate and can be interpreted by Google
If you would like help in implementing Schema markup on your website – or simply to learn more about the SEO benefits of structured data – you can also contact Synapse SEM. Complete our contact form online or call us at 781-591-0752 today.