A quick example
Let's imagine you write down the title and author of a book on a page of your website: nothing tells the searchbots what your content means. When scanning your page, the machine will not know that “1984” is a book title, nor that it belongs to an author named “George Orwell”.
But with structured data, we add semantic context, to help the machine: We define that it’s a book and that we are listing a title and an author. As a result, searchbots can recognize the value of our content for related search inquiries. such as “Who wrote 1984”. And this doesn't only influence the positioning on SERPs, but is of course as relevant for Google Assistant, Siri, Alexa etc.
When and how to use structured data
Firstly, we can explain our website as a whole by describing smaller parts of it – like navigation elements, images, breadcrumbs etc. Altogether, this shows the robots how your website works and how it all fits together: what is the hierarchy of the pages, is it an article or a product page ...
Secondly, we can add details to every part on the page: be it the publication date of an article, the awards of a product, the location and date of a concert, the user rating of a recipe, the contact details of a person, or virtually anything else.
By doing this for your website, the searchbots can easily act accordingly, directing the right audience to the right type of content. If you do it right, that is. For instance:
- When someone wants to buy a chainsaw, the bots know that you’re selling it because you list a product with a price etc.
- When someone wants to read advice on which chainsaw to buy, the machine knows that you’ve got a recent article about it.
In short: Structured data describe your page better!
Thanks to structured data, Google can even display the – supposedly – most relevant content in “rich snippets”.
Here are some examples:
Additional information about Jazz concerts (location specific):
- Specific breadcrumb (path) of the page
- The earliest 3 events highlighted
Recipes for cheesecake:
3 recipes are listed from various websites. With each snippet, we see an image, title and description, plus user rating and baking time.
Placed at “position zero”, these search results get significantly more attention than others.
This is how you use structured data to help Google help the user – and you: by granting you the most desired SERP ranking!
As you see, there's also a Q&A snippet with specific questions about cheesecakes, which means another opportunity to rank better with structured data. There are more examples on the Google documentation page.
How to implement structured data technically
Web developers have two options:
- To integrate it with JSON-LD as a separate list in the head of the page. This is the preferred method of Google, but there's an alternative:
- To define it on the HTML, with additional attributes in the format of RDFa or Microdata.
Here's how the second option may look like, for instance :
<p itemscope itemtype="http://schema.org/Person">
<span itemprop="name">John Doe</span> : <span itemprop="jobTitle">Professor</span>
In this example, we’re defining a person who has a name and a jobTitle. There're many other possible properties: contactdetails, awards, photo, birthdate and place etc. The entire list about each type can be found on Schema.org.
To check whether you implemented the properties correctly, you can test it here.
Structured data are the way to go when you want to be the one who defines what the different pages of your website are all about –– as you're taking away any guesswork from the serch engines' algorithms. Make sure they understand what type of content you have to offer.
But first of all, you and your team need clarity yourselves; about the website navigation and about the content. That's what a website brief is for, ensuring to ask the right questions. From the beginning and as an ongoing process: Technology and audiences are evolving, and so must not only your website, but your complete digital strategy. Stay relevant! This does need a lot of resources and knowledge; but with an experienced professional partner such as Acolad, this doesn't need to cause you any headache.