What is Structured Data?
Structured data is data that fits a very narrow format. For example, in the U.S., an area code and phone number are 10-digits long. A database can set aside a structured space to store, and retrieve 10 numbers. Unstructured data cannot be easily defined or categorized, such as PDF files, graphics, videos, power point presentations. Computers and search engines have a hard time picking out which data is relevant.
Take, for example, a simple document or email. The text is free-form and can include almost anything. But, the document itself has structured data fields that store the author’s name, date, filesize, etc. On websites, the content is not organized by default. Search engines are asking for clarification about which types of content are on a site, and they are favoring sites that provide it.
On a business’s website, structured data shares a common format with other websites and businesses. For example, hours of operation, mailing address, phone, and fax numbers and email address can be set up with similar formats.
If the data is labeled and formatted in a certain way, search engines can differentiate these bits of information from other types of text on the site. They sort out the structured data to display it in a consistent format. Especially for mobile devices, enhanced search engine results pages (SERP) can return structured data in the form of rich snippets and rich cards, which have higher click-through-rates than regular results.
When search results are accurate and relevant, it provides the best experience for visitors. Since they are provided with the best information before they click on the link, visitors won’t be inclined to back out after only a few seconds. This helps to lower the website’s bounce rate and increase its search engine ranking.
Every website should have its content organized so that search engines can sort through it quickly. It’s all done “behind the scenes,” and doesn’t change the look or functionality of the website at all.
Rich cards are in use, but they are rather limited. They are created by search engines for mobile device SERPs. They’re only available in English, and exclusively display information for movies and recipes. Results from other websites still appear on SERPs, but rich cards are shown at the top of the SERP. They provide a sneak preview of each site’s information.
Rich snippets make the site’s metadata easier for the search engines to index and understand. They are the types of data that are common across businesses and websites, including addresses, phone numbers and hours of operation.
They can also identify sections of websites such as videos, articles, events and recipes. Rich snippets can allow users to interact with content on your site. For example, they can navigate directly to the details of an event, or make a reservation.
Don’t Worry About the Technical Stuff
Improving the user’s experience is the goal, but updating the code can be intimidating. HTML code is not very complicated, and you don’t need to be a web developer to modify it.
But, you do need to pay attention to details in the code like capitalization, special characters, and punctuation. It’s also a good idea to backup your site before you make changes.
WordPress developers have come up with plug-ins that easily update the code-behind existing sites with structured data labels and content. Google provides several online tools and services that can do the same thing with just a bit of copying and pasting.
Google’s Guidelines For Structured Data
If you’re just getting started with structured data and rich snippets, Google’s Structured Data Guide is a good place to start. You can familiarize yourself with new terms, check out some examples, and learn about what to expect after you’ve updated your website.
Even if it appears straightforward, don’t try to manipulate the structured data fields, or outwit the search engine technology. Google still doesn’t like spammy websites. They will disable, or penalize, your website for trying to unfairly influence search engine results.
Some Useful Tools for Markup and Testing
Google Search Console
The Search Console is a useful, free service that can give you a new perspective of your site. It has many features including letting you decide what to display in search results. It also shows you any errors in the structured data used to build rich snippets.
Data Highlighter Tool
This free Google service lets you highlight the different areas on your website that contain data. You tag them with labels that Google’s search engine can translate into rich snippets. This is an alternative option to easily insert structured data without installing a plugin, or updating the code manually.
Structured Data Markup Helper
The Markup Helper works on web pages and HTML-based email templates. It’s a very simple online tool. Just log in, and then follow some simple steps to categorize your data. The tool walks you through identifying and appropriately tagging each section of information. You can also add missing labels. Finally, either copy and paste the updated HTML from the result panel into your website. Or, download the file to your hard drive.
Consider using a WordPress Plugin
Don’t worry if you missed the rollout of structured data technology a few years ago. Installing code used to be done manually. Now there are plugins that developers have created to make the process much simpler. They’re user-friendly time-savers that update the HTML, behind existing posts and pages, without expecting you to write any code.
WP Rich Snippets, and Schema App Structured Data are both WordPress plugins that build code snippets for common schemas such as reviews, articles, events, videos, recipes and products. Another popular, free plugin is All In One Schema.org Rich Snippets, which has received positive feedback for its technical support. It’s very straightforward and walks you through the configuration screens. It also provides a preview of how your rich snippet will appear on a SERP.
If you want to remain competitive, it is important to keep up with Google’s evolving search engine technology. On their own, keyword rankings are a thing of the past, and search engines become more sophisticated every year.
Structured data, by itself, may not improve your website’s ranking. There are many other factors involved. However, the amount of time a user spends on a site, after they click through, may improve rankings. If you can ensure that a user has made an informed decision to visit your site, it will enhance their browsing experience.
Structured Data Testing Tool
When you’re finished updating your web page, test it to make sure it’s all formatted correctly. Google provides a Structured Data Testing Tool which is very simple to use and provides feedback specifically for the structured data fields.
You can paste in a copy of your website’s current HTML, or the code that the Markup Helper created. Then just click on the gray triangle to start the validation test. The right panel will display the detailed results. Click the down arrow next to any warnings to get additional details.
You can repeat this process–updating the code and testing it–until you’re satisfied. Finally, re-upload the finished HTML code into your website or email template.
Consider Hiring an Expert
Still not sure how add structured data to your website?
If the idea of manually digging into the HTML on your site is daunting, or if you simply don’t have time, you have the option to hire an online marketing specialist.
You can save time and money by hiring me, SEO Expert Brad.