SEO Tips: Structured Data and Search Engines

By Kelly Hillis, Organic Search team
TOPICSFeatured, Organic Search, SEO

Search engines update their algorithms regularly, and it can often be difficult to get or maintain rankings when these updates happen. Giving your website the best chance that it has to be found is crucial. Having great content is important, but structured data can help Google and other search engines interpret that content correctly, giving it more authority in the SERP (Search Engine Results Pages).

What is Structured Data?

In the context of website information, structured data refers to a set of standardized code markup that gives search engines more information about what the page contains. It allows for the SERP to serve users rich results such as featured snippets, knowledge panels and carousel ads.

The most commonly used format of structured data for SEO purposes is Schema Markup (schema.org), which uses JSON-LD or Microdata syntax. These pieces of code provide a way of communicating directly with search engines to tell them what content is on your website’s page and how you think it should be shown to users to give them the most relevant information possible.

At its most basic, structured data provides more information for users within the SERP. Search engines are getting better at understanding natural language every day, as we see with the BERT update Google recently implemented. This update was geared toward improving Google’s algorithm when it comes to understanding a user’s search intent so that more “natural language” or conversational queries serve better results.

Even with these regular improvements, search engines are still not perfect that’s where structured data comes into play. Anything listed on the SERP in addition to the meta description can be attributed to the use of structured data, whether it’s a search bar or product ratings as a couple of examples. The more information there is on your listing, the higher chance there is of a user clicking through to your website, as shown in various studies. So, how should you be using structured data?

There are many ways to utilize these pieces of code. You can use this markup to make your listing in the SERP more interactive and informative. For example, as shown below, you can implement code that will show users your website’s search bar directly, providing an easier user experience before they even reach your website.

More than that, though, there are forms of structured data that provide more information immediately to users, such as featured snippets and knowledge panels. Below is an example of a featured snippet that gives information to help answer a searched question. The search engine shows a small portion of the article, which in turn means there is still incentive to click through as this special result does not give you all the information. These listings are incredibly valuable since they’re usually shown first in the SERP, and they aren’t possible without the use of structured data. There is the risk that these results will give the user enough information and they won’t click through to your page. However, it can raise brand recognition and could lead to a conversion elsewhere even if they don’t click on the rich snippet listing.

It can be challenging to get the first few rankings and, after the first page, your visibility goes down significantly. In fact, even if you do have the first organic listing, sometimes it won’t be seen because of paid ads, rich snippets and image listings that are shown above the digital page fold. Using structured data can help you take advantage of rich listings, which are typically the first results shown after paid advertisements, as seen below.

How do you use Structured Data?

Understanding the value of structured data is the first step, but implementing it isn’t necessarily that simple. The good news is there are a ton of resources out there to help you get started!

Schema.org specifically offers explanations of attributes that can be used on-site, as well as examples of what they can look like, using multiple syntaxes. This particular resource is great for identifying data types that you can use on your website, as well as the specific use they have. For instance, on the Product type page, it lists out every piece of structured data that you can use on product pages, like product price and reviews.

Google also provides insights on why structured data is valuable and how it helps them determine relevancy, as well as testing tools to ensure that the code will work properly. They’ve even launched a lab to simplify the learning process and provide more concrete information! Through these resource pages, you can learn more about specific forms of structured data.

Though structured data might seem complicated, its value to websites is incredible when it is used properly. Implementing structured data on your e-commerce website, either by yourself or with the help of an agency, provides great opportunities for new rankings.

Kelly Hillis is an SEO Coordinator at EXCLUSIVE with a passion for data and details. In her free time, you can find her rock climbing, trying new recipes, or watching her favorite hockey team.