How does structured data work?
In order for this markup to be accurately and universally understood, there are standardized formats and vocabularies that should be used.
Let’s go back to basics for a minute. When conveying information, whether you’re communicating with a human or a computer, you need two main things: vocabulary (a set of words with known meanings) and syntax (a set of rules on how to use those words to convey meaning).
Most terminology surrounding structured data markup can be organized into these two concepts — vocabularies and syntaxes — and webmasters can combine whichever two they need to structure their data.
Schema.org is the accepted universal vocabulary standard for structured data. It was founded and is currently sponsored by Google, Bing, and Yahoo. It’s flexible, open-sourced, and constantly updated and improved.
What is structured data?
Structured data is a way of describing your site to make it easier for search engines to understand. To describe your site to search engines, you’ll need a vocabulary that presents content in a way that search engines can understand. The vocabulary used by the big search engines is called Schema.org, which translates your content into code that they can easily process. Search engines read the code and use it to display search results in a specific and much richer way. You can easily put this piece of code on your website.
Imagine you have a website with a lot of recipes. If you add structured data to a page with a recipe, your result in the search engines might change. It will be much “richer” regarding the other content that’s shown. That’s the reason we call these results rich results or rich snippets.
Why do we structure data?
It’s quite simple, we structure data so computers can easily read, understand and categorize that information.
Structured data refers to data that is organized, while unstructured data is unorganized data. For instance, this sentence: “Marieke is the author of this post and she works at Yoast” contains unorganized data.
As humans, it’s easy for us to understand the sentence and information in it. Marieke is a person, she’s an author, she works at Yoast, and Yoast is a company. Search engines can also understand and organize this information, but it’s not immediately clear to them. They would need to do a bunch of analysis to reach the same conclusion as us, while we do that simultaneously as we read.
How does Google read structured data?
As we mentioned, structured data works by using standardized and recognized methods of defining information to label web pages. To go back to your simple example of recording callers, these methods would be akin to different ways of naming the columns in the table.
So there could be one standard that uses “caller name”, “call time” and “call reason”:
Caller name Call time Call reason Clark 2 p.m. Invoice payment
Another standard could use different terms to structure its data:
Inquirer Hour Purpose Clark 2 p.m. Invoice payment
On the web, there are 2 sets of vocabularies used by search engines to extract context and meaning from web pages:
- Schema.org: Schema.org was created by Google, Bing, and Yahoo in 2011 to create a standard structure for structured data. They were later joined by Yandex (Russia’s biggest search engine). Apple also recommends that developers use Schema.org
- Microformats: Microformats use existing HTML or XHTML tags to mark up web content with additional context in a way that is designed to be easily readable by humans.
How does structured data help with SEO?
Incorporating structured data into a website helps with SEO in two primary ways. First, information that is represented with structured data is very understandable to search engines and makes it possible for search engines to display that data correctly.
Secondly, various types of structured data can be pulled out by search engines as snippets that are shown in search engine results pages (SERPs), as illustrated above. For example, the Betty Crocker site includes structured data for preparation time as well as calorie count. When Google displays these pages in its search results, this information is included — making these pages more noticeable in the results and more informative to users.
How does structured data work?
To start adding structured data to your website, you must first choose a format and a vocabulary. While Schema.org and microformats are both valid vocabularies and RDFa, JSON-LD, and microdata are all valid formats, it’s recommended you use JSON-LD to add Schema.org markup to your pages.
There are a couple of advantages this choice presents over the other options:
- Schema.org was created by search engines, so you can be relatively sure it will be Google-friendly (or Bing or Yandex-friendly). Microformats are built off of pre-existing HTML tags, which Google can someday stop recognizing.
- JSON-LD can be added via Google Tag Manager. Using GTM doesn’t get you any sort of “in” with Google, but it can reduce the overall amount of code on a page, which can make it lighter and faster. Both of these are good for SEO and users.
1. Prioritize your pages
Consider which pages on your website will have a significant business impact, in both the long and short term. A hint: start with structured data for your products, reviews, and brand details.
Obviously, the place to start is your homepage and your “money pages” the pages that drive revenue for your business. These could be
- Product pages with an “add to shopping cart” button
- Leadgen pages with a contact form
- High-value content pages that drive a high number of ad impressions
2. Define the specific properties for the type of schema.org that you are implementing
As discussed, each type of entity has unique properties that distinguish it from the rest. So, before coding, you need to define these unique attributes.
For instance, a recipe can include the author of the recipe, step-by-step instructions, preparation time, ingredients, a rating of the dish, and some nutritional information.
It is worth noting that not all properties are used by web crawlers, yet. Google’s guide to marking up your content items defines the content types that can appear as rich results. Let’s delve into two broad content types:
- Informational: Content produced for the purpose of listening, reading, or viewing. For instance, recipes, videos, and news articles fall under a schema. org-type definition referred to as CreativeWork.
- Commercial: Content intended to drive sales purposes. This content can be a local business listing as well as a product listing.
3. Create your structured data
Obviously, you can manually write the code required to add structured data to your pages and add them to each page by hand. If you don’t really want to write a bunch of code and aren’t particularly inclined to spend your time copying and pasting it to your pages, there are plenty of great tools out there to create, add and manage structured data on your site.
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