What is structured data? Everything you need to get started with Schema

Updated: September 15, 2020
What is structured data? Everything you need to get started with Schema

We hope you’re ready for another article filled with all the lovely technical stuff that excites our team, just as much as it does Google. But seriously, this one does go through some of the most important and nitty-gritty aspects of structured data, search engines and the information that forms all of these aspects. So, buckle up and get ready to learn all about the wonderful world of using structured data.

What is structured data?

Otherwise known as Schema, structured data is a type of vocabulary that’s formed around data specifically. It includes aspects across relationships between websites and email address, entities, actions and a variety of technical elements that keeps this world functioning.

Just as humans have their way of communicating, so too does the online landscape, with the World Wide Web utilising Schema to better understand meanings behind various aspects of the net (otherwise known as entities) and therefore serve up users are more accurate, value-filled experience.

Google has become more and more focused on meaning as times roll on, and their ability to create semantic-orientated algorithms seems to be their legacy. And that’s because this type of language provides a highly effective way for the internet – at its core – to communicate with all its technical counterparts.

By adding structured data Google can understand – like Schema – to your website, you’re offering up much-needed information that allows its bots to make sense of what they are crawling. It applies meaning to something that otherwise wouldn’t have any sentiment.

When you’ve used information in the form of data structured for this purpose, you end up with something called rich results, or rich snippets. These elements are what Google gives you in search results as a way of showing more detail and value around your website. Rich results have also been largely known to improve rankings on search engines like Google, essentially influencing conversion rates more than anything.

Formats of Schema

Schema utilises a long list of structured data that is presented in a format that search engines can understand easily. The bots see this structured data language, interprets and applies to mean, and then provides a connection through the queries it receives by users. This then translates into how you rank in search results.

The dictionary for this kind of language is quite technical but basically includes Google structured data that categories people, things and places all across the web. Structured data can use a variety of formats, which you can find on the official website – schema.org. However, the most common structured data markups used are:

  • Events
  • Products
  • People
  • Articles
  • Local businesses
  • Organisations
  • Recipes
  • Reviews
  • Medical illnesses/conditions.
YouTube Logo
Local Business Schema Example

These categories help search engines to understand what a given site is all about. Using this markup applies meaning to your page and provides context that’s crucial to rankings on search engines overall.

So what does this look like as structured data on a search engine? Well, as an example, it shows in the form of added details to a website that appears in search results. For example, if you search a movie, you’re likely to get details in the results that include ratings, genre, year etc. These details are provided as a rich snippet through the help of structured data. It has been given to Google in the format of Schema vocab. But this kind of detail is also created through different formats of code, including RDFa, JSON-LD and Microdata.

What is JSON-LD?

Like Microdata and RDFa, JSON-LD is a language behind Javascript Object Notation for Linked Objects. This essentially means it is a format of annotation that uses Schema by using it as structured data that’s copy and pasted directly onto a specific web document. This might be through text such as <head> or <body>.

LinkedIn Logo
Description of JSON-LD, Microdata & RDFa

Without getting too technical on this, structured data like JSON-LD is designed to implement Schema easily, so it’s highly friendly to beginners in the field. When starting out with coding like this, it will help you to get a better grasp on how Schema works as an example.

JSON-LD is wildly used across websites of all kinds and has been specifically noted by Google to be an extremely important part of website design. In fact, the search engine once states that JSON-LD should be used as much as possible on a page.

How to create your own Schema

Okay, here is where it gets really technical, but that good, old search engine we all love comes to save the day. There are a lot of tools out there that help with turning unstructured data into structured data, and some might suit you better than others. However, Google’s very own ‘Structured Data Markup Helper’ still remains one of the best options.

Structured Data Markup Helper
Structured Data Markup Helper

All you need to do is to highlight all of the elements on your page that you’d like to apply structured data to. You’ll need to label them accordingly – e.g. Article, as an example – and then hit ‘Create’. From there, the code is generated for you to use as your structured data (giving you the option of what format you want to use).

But if you’re not sure if your structured data (a.k.a Schema) is even working, there are also ways to quickly assess each page’s data on your website. The best way to do this is to use a site like SEMRush’s Site Audit Tool, which is designed to check all structured data and give you a percentage of how much Schema is used, amongst other elements. Another great one is Google’s Structured Data Testing Tool, so bookmark both for a comprehensive suite when you need to check over all of your structured data.

We recommend regularly checking each page’s data and assessing whether the structure you’ve gone with is working as it should be. That means giving every URL, HTML coding, script, plugin, product markup, tags, the use of SQL, titles and SEO aspects to see how they’re all working in conjunction with your structured data efforts.

How to get rich snippets from Google

If you’re looking to make the most of structured data in all its glory, you can use the official content markup guide from the kind of search engines to learn and understand how to apply Schema to your page. This is the easiest way of getting a rich snippet in search results, ultimately showing data structured in an appealing way to the user. Think back to our example of the movie details, and how that might tie into the equation for the user.

Remember that – just like all of the antics that happen on search engines – Schema developments roll out frequently. But there is a page that lets you check out the latest releases and ensure you’re up to date with any changes in structured data that you might need to apply to your page. In the end, how your format your language will always be dictated by the way the search engine adapts to code evolution and trends, so it pays to keep up to date on all information around this kind of data.

Okay, but how does Schema help search engines?

Search results don’t come out of thin air; they’re curated from a long list of criteria that Google uses to assess the value of each page it crawls. But to know whether there is extra value to show to the user, the search bots seek out structured data to know how to display content to a user in search results.

Simply put: by using Schema, you’re telling Google what is on your page, and the meaning behind all of the page”s data involved. This is crucial information to search engines that predominately run on little robots that don’t have the benefit of a human brain – we are masters of meaning.

Can structured data make you rank better?

This will always be an ever-present question and SEO specialists will always debate over the final answer. Ultimately, yes, structured data does help you rank higher in search results, but this is not in any definite or direct manner. There is no rock-solid evidence that Schema has a direct correlation with where you sit in rankings. It will always just be another supporting criterion, but never a hard fact.

Beyond SEO, however, utilising rich snippets through structured data does have a direct impact on your user behaviour, and that’s always a positive win for your rankings as well. Rich snippets let your page be seen with more visibility in results pages, evidently proving to be a good influence on conversion rates. And that makes sense; your page is shown with valuable information and data next to it, giving the user an example of what they will see if they click through. It’s this use of structured data that’s so crucially important in the world of digital marketing. It could even make or break your visibility over a competitor who lacks information like this on their own page.

A note on semantic search

You might hear the term ‘semantic search’ thrown out here or there, and this is becoming more common as the days go by. Ultimately, it is the definition of a trend that’s arisen to have as much structured data implemented across sites as possible – as SEO and marketers alike both love to see.

Semantic search is the movement of applying meaning to websites and now has a place within SEO strategies of all kinds.

Note: Agencies that utilise structured data in this way are more up-to-scratch on the information in this realm than those that are falling behind, so be wary of whether yours lives up to this factor or not.

What is structured data when it comes to semantic search?

When you add structured data to your website, especially to long-form content on a specific page, you’re giving context. That means you display a direct connection between what’s on the page and why, ultimately using your structured data as a way to say “Look, Google, this is what I’m trying to say to the end-user.”

When you avoid using structured data across your website, there is less clarity to the bots that will crawl through it. This can affect both user experience and rankings results (but again, the jury is out on the final verdict).

For the most part, the semantic web is a shift from old-school SEO that means there is a new priority in town for meaningful experiences. Gone are the days where structured data was non-existent and ranking meant spamming keywords on a page. Google is far more advanced now, and the algorithms only get more and more complex; so it only makes sense that the data that goes with it does too. What matters is how you choose to use it to your advantage.

So, how is your structured data working for you and what is the meaning behind your website?

Sean -
SEO Director
1300 558 659 - www.edgeonline.com.au

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