Structured Data and Search Engine Optimization: What You Need to Know

     by Ruth Hawk, Writer
Wednesday, February 21, 2018
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Search engine results pages (SERPS) are changing. Over the last few years, they have transformed from simple lists of links into rich sources of detailed information regarding the search results. Information such as reviews, definitions, rich snippets, Knowledge Graphs, and Quick Answers are now standard for many results. You may have seen the changes to these search results without thinking much about them, but these SERP features are a promising source of visibility for websites. And the good news is that website owners interested in search engine optimization can take steps to increase their chances of being included in these features. The key is structured data. 

What is structured data?

Simply put, structured data is a way of organizing or describing data. Perhaps the clearest example of structured data is information arranged within an Excel spreadsheet. Each piece of information is clearly listed under a specific topic so that it can be quickly scanned and understood. Structured data in a search engine optimization context refers to information that has been described in such a way as to be immediately scannable and understandable to search engines. It is a way of talking to search engines so that they will understand and, hopefully, respond to the content on a website.

Structured data tells search engines about the name, address, phone number, hours, and reviews for a business. In addition, structured data alerts search engines to lists, assists in the creation of rich snippets that can appear underneath a website’s link in the search results, and more. All of this information can then be used by the search engine to enrich the website’s appearance in the search results, or even earn it inclusion in features like Quick Answers and Knowledge Graphs.

SEE ALSO: Linkless Mentions and Search Engine Optimization: An Overview

How can businesses interested in search engine optimization structure data?

Of course, websites cannot turn their content into Excel spreadsheets for perusal by search engine crawlers. A different kind of structuring is necessary for communicating with search engines. Called markups, this structuring consists of embedding descriptions of information within the HTML code of the website. As the search engine peruses a website’s content, it reads these markups to gain a better understanding of the material in the same way that a human might quickly grasp the data on an Excel spreadsheet. The most popular tool that websites use for structuring data is called schema.org. Critical for search engine optimization within the SERP features, schema.org is a collection of the different kinds of markups (or vocabulary) that websites can use for structuring their data. You can use schema.org to discover your options for detailing certain kinds of information as well as for accessing the code you need to add those descriptions to the data on your site.

How is structured data important to search engine optimization?

Structured data has the potential to strengthen your search engine optimization campaign, because it makes it easier for search engines to see information on your site that might be useful for inclusion in SERP features like featured snippets or Quick Answers. For example, if a search engine can easily access the ingredients list, nutrition information, and reviews for a recipe you posted, it can more easily determine that your recipe is the best one to list in the Quick Answers at the top of the search results page.

Similarly, if your business’ five-star reviews from customers, hours of operation, and address are structured properly, search engines are more likely to include those details within the SERPs. And that inclusion can make it easier for visitors to quickly determine how interested they are in learning more about your company. Inclusion in SERP features can be very useful to your search engine optimization campaigns because these features tend to be even more visible than organic search results. Quick Answers, for example, appear above even the number-one ranked result in SERPs, and often include information from websites that appear further down in the SERPs. As a result, inclusion in SERP features can mean more click throughs, traffic, and business, the same goals you are trying to reach through other search engine optimization strategies.

When should I use structured data in search engine optimization?

Not every website, however, should jump immediately into structuring their data. For businesses just starting their search engine optimization campaigns, there are likely to be other tasks that are more important and productive than structuring data. For example, keyword research and implementation, development of a strong content marketing strategy, creation of optimized landing pages, and more may all take precedence over structured data. Instead, structuring data is often the logical next step for businesses that already have a strong search engine optimization campaign in place.

For example, if your website already appears on the first page of the search results, is already optimized for your chosen keywords, and so forth, it may make sense to go on to create structured data. As with all things related to search engine optimization, SEO experts can help you to set up, implement, enrich, and advance a strong SEO campaign that can include structured data. These professionals can guide you regarding which steps to take to build your campaign, and in what order, so that structured data becomes part of a well-rounded effort to improve your company’s online visibility.

Structuring data can be a helpful way to communicate more clearly with search engines, because it provides organization for the information on your site. Before you add this vocabulary to your site, however, you should take the time to understand if structured data is the logical next step for you and to contact SEO experts who can help you create structured data as part of a well-rounded and successful search engine optimization campaign.

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Posted in: Networking, Search Engine Optimization, SEO

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