Structured Data: What, Why and How?

Ever since Hummingbird flew onto the scene a lot has been said about structured data and its uses, especially in a semantic web search future. But what exactly is structured data? Why is it so important? And, most importantly, how do you (sort of) use it?! Fear not intrepid readers, like the Oracle, we have the answers! So , let us start at the beginning…

What Is Structured Data?

The term structured data has two main definitions. The wider used, and probably understood, definition states that it is data that resides within fixed fields in a record or file (e.g. an excel spreadsheet of customer contact info).  In the web and SEO community the term is used to refer to on page information that is ‘marked up’ in some way, shape or form to help search engines better understand its meaning. Although the information may not be in fixed locations like traditional structured data, it is still classed as structured because it is systematically tagged and identifiable.

There are four main types of widely accepted structured data markups:

Google ‘suggests’ that Microdata is the best format of structured data to use (and if we’ve learnt anything in the SEO business it’s that when Google suggests something, you do it!) This is not to say that the other types don’t work. For some reason Google doesn’t like Schema but states that RDFa and Microformats should be fine.

Why Use Structured Data?

There are a couple of reasons that you would want to use structured data. One is the fact that you can, and most likely will, receive some Google love for doing so. Most SEOs know by now that Google like it when you make their job easier. Whether that’s adding correct alt tags to images or adding structured data to pages, the concept is the same, helping Google to identify information so they can give their users the best results possible. However, by helping Google understand your page and page content you are also helping yourself.

Coin Sorter SERP for structured data articleThe great thing about structured data is the fact that it not only helps Google understand your site but it also results in Google giving your site some juicy listings in its SERPs. Now, this is the point at which we would normally show you some screen shots of structured data listings but we can’t, for the life of us, find any! (This is the point at which you leave a comment below with a link to a fantastic rich snippets filled SERP and embarrass us…) One of the most readily available examples of a (minimal) structured data/rich snippet search is that of review stars.

We’ve been looking for a way to count all our pocket money and so searched for ‘coin sorters.’ Amongst the results on the first page Argos stand out thanks to their usage of structured data markup for reviews. However, structured data can go further than just review stars with it being able to pull out anything from images, to pricing and even stock availability. The more cynical amongst us would suggest that this is an effort by Google to get people to make final purchase decisions within their SERPs without even visiting any sites. Either way, the more information you can provide the customer with the more likely they are to click through to find out more (if they like the information that is).

How Do You Use Structured Data? Try Google’s Data Highlighter Tool

Google Structured Data Higlighter Image OneFor ease and speed of use the best way to markup structured data on your site is to use the Structured Data Highlighter tool from Google. The structured data highlighter allows you to go through and, well, highlight the information you want to markup on your site. So how do you use it? Well, it’s as simple as popping into Webmaster Tools for the chosen site and navigating to ‘Search Appearance’ and then ‘Structured Data’ in the left hand toolbar. From there all you have to do is click ‘Start Highlighting,’ enter the URL of the page you want to start highlighting and what type of information it includes on it (in this case we have chosen our blog section and the ‘Article’ category).

You then simply go through and click and drag to highlight all the appropriate information that you can find on the page. You categorise it by selecting options from the drop down menu such as ‘Title’ or ‘Category’. Once you have fully highlighted one page you can then create a page set which Google constructs based on similar pages on your site. Google will automatically tag these other pages based on your previous tagging and ask you to clarify that is has got it right on a select few, you can correct any that it has got wrong. Once it is nicely refined Google will apply this logic to all other pages automatically. And there you have it, you have now marked up all your sites articles. You can then repeat this process for products or anything else your site may contain.

Google Structured Data Higlighter Image Two Semantic

If you wanted to go a bit more in depth with your Structured Data Markup then you would need a good knowledge of HTML coding and this page or your own tame web developer.

As always we hope you have found this article useful and have come away with a better understanding of why structured data is important and how you can utilise it on your own site. If you did, why not give this page a plus one or a like (scroll back up to the top) it’s good for us to know when people find our stuff useful.

Highlighter Image used with permission of www.planetofsuccess.com/blog/

Written by Ryan Hill

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