This article is a simple introductory guide to structured data. It will help you understand what structured data is and when you can implement it to your website.
There are a lot of data on the Internet. They are presented in various formats. Your website can have pages that display text along with pictures, excel tables, videos, and more. Your pages are likely to link either internally to another page on your website or externally to another source on the Internet. This is easy to follow for humans but can be a struggle for an automated Google bot that does not fully understand what the picture displays, what these links are and where they are pointing. That is why developers came up with an idea of structured data. They packaged up elements of the page so that Google bot can understand the meaning of that page as a human does.
Types of structured data
The above describes what structured data is and why you should implement it to some pages on your website. It does not say what is the best way to express this information to Google bots, though. The most common ways of presenting data to Google bots is through three popular formats. These are:
It is an inline markup syntax that uses HTML to specify certain elements of the page. In simple words, Microdata uses property-value relation to describe content in HTML document. See the below example:
<p> My name is <span itemprop=”name”> John </span> </p>
Thanks to the above data markup (see in bold), Google bot will understand that “John” is in fact a name.
RDFa and Microdata use a similar syntax. However, RDFa is more complex and harder to implement. You can read more about the main differences between RDFa and Microdata here.
A full list of data that you can mark up with schema can be found on the schema.org website.
Clear structure vs structured data
There has been a debate on whether structured data can increase the chances of appearing in Google’s featured snippets. Featured snippets are Google’s way to provide quick answers to their users right at the top of Google’s first page without any need of clicking through or searching further to find specific results.
Types of featured snippets
Text snippet (short text box providing a quick answer to your query)
Video snippet (videos pulled from YouTube)
Numbered/bullet list snippet (tables presenting information such as data, numbers or prices and similar)
To avoid any confusion, I have also decided to list some of the search results that are not featured snippets. Unfortunately, some may mistakenly consider them as such.
Rich answer (short factual answers)
Knowledge graph (info box next to the search results)
Rich snippet (rating stars, pricing information, photos, reviews etc.)
There is no ultimate answer to whether structured data makes it easier to show up in Google’s featured snippets but, as John Mueller said, the clear structure helps a lot. The clear structure is when the main theme of your website is understandable, the navigation is easy and straightforward, there are no orphaned pages, and both internal links and heading tags are implemented correctly.
How to use structured data?
The topic of structured data can feel a bit overwhelming at first, but it is not that hard to understand and implement once you become more familiar with it. I will now show you an example of how you can create structured data for your website in an easy and quick way. I highly recommend going to Steal Our JSON-LD website where you can find some of the most popular examples of structured data. It is a legitimate source that many webmasters and SEO’s use. Once you are on the website, pick the type of structured data you are the most interested in. (on the left-hand side) Next, tweak the information in the script so that it matches the content on your page. You can then test your script using the Structured Data Testing Tool. If there are no errors, you are ready to add the script to your website.
How to add structured data to your website?
Depending on what type of CMS you use, you can either do it manually or with a plugin. For WordPress websites, I would recommend implementing the script manually. Go to your WordPress dashboard and navigate towards the menu bar on the left-hand side. Click “Appearance” and next “Theme Editor”. (see the below picture)
Now, you need to locate your “header.php” file and place the script just right before the closing </head> tag. You may alternatively go to the “footer.php” file and place the script before the closing </body> tag.
If you do not feel comfortable with the above solution, I recommend installing the “Insert Headers and Footers” plugin. The plugin makes it easy to insert header and footer scripts without the need of modifying your theme files! (see the below picture)
If you are still not sure or not fully comfortable with any of the above solutions, you can try out some of the plugins that are available for schema structured data implementation. They will automatically do all the job for you. One very good example of such a plugin is WP SEO Structured Data Schema.
For CMS systems other than WordPress the implementation can be very different. It can be worth checking out some guides or speaking directly to web developers who may be able to offer more help. A very good reference point for any technical-related issues or queries is Stack Overflow.
Structured data enables Google bots to understand the content of your pages better. Although there is no clear answer to whether structured data is a determining ranking factor, it can potentially contribute to increasing your visibility in SERP. It is simple. Google serves its users by giving the most accurate answer to a query. The better it understands your website or a page the higher your chances of showing up for that query grow. Remember to make sure that any schema structured data implementation that you make to your website must be accurate to what content your website displays. More information on quality guidelines can be found here.