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Let’s talk about structured data (aka schema markup)

Structured data? What’s that?

Structured data, aka schema markup, plays an important role in helping search engines to provide adequate answers to users’ queries.

We have to take a step back in order to answer the question “what is structured data”? Think about it… where do you normally turn to find answers to your questions? Probably Google, right? Statistically, so would approximately 93% of internet users. Structured data/schema markup help the search engines understand and locate your page.

As we are well aware, Google’s interface is always evolving in order to deliver information in more intuitive & captivating ways. The way it displays results is continuing to shift. It all started as something like this:

screenshot of google's old interface used as a comparison with a more modern layout

And now counts on special features like the ones shown here that signal more about what the page is about:

screenshot of google's interface used with the goal of showing the page's special features aka rich snippets

Now you might be wondering “ok, but why is this relevant to me and my business?” or “what does it have to do with marketing?”. The answer is quite simple: structured data is critical to being found. By understanding what structured data is and how it works, you can apply it to your website. In doing so you will be able to enjoy the great benefits of a stellar website that’s loved by search engines … but first things first.

What is structured data?

You might have heard of structured data or schema markup when talking about building your website. Both refer to the same metric. It is, code you can put on website to help return more informative results for the search engines.

In other words, structured data translates what the data means, not simply what it says. By including a vocabulary search engines understand, your content gets indexed and returned in search results in a whole different way.

Here’s an example: let’s say the name “Anthony Hopkins” appears in a blog post reviewing movies. The search engine takes this piece of information and produces a SERP entry. However, by using the right structured data around the name “Anthony Hopkins”, you just told the search engine that Anthony Hopkins is in fact an award winning actor, sir, director and film producer – and not a combination of random words. Therefore, users searching for “Anthony Hopkins” will be displayed more accurate information about his background in the form of the previously shown “special features”.

Much like most SEO efforts, the whole point behind structured data is to make the search engine’s job a little bit easier by *hinting* what a website’s content is about. Keep in mind Google is essentially a robot, and it does not understand what us humans would call “context”.

For this reason, you should be taking SEO measures such as using an appropriate amount of relevant keywords throughout your text, ensuring quality backlinks from websites in the same industry as you are, implementing structured data, and so on. By doing so, you communicate more clearly to Google what your website is about. And consequently why do you deserve to rank above your competition.

How to implement it into your website

Long story short, in order to introduce structured data into your website, you should add bits of schema.org vocabulary into your website’s HTML microdata.

I’ll explain. Schema.org is a collaborative resource created by Google, Bing & Yahoo in 2011. It reads a little bit like a foreign dictionary – an agreed-upon set of code markers that tells all the major search engines how to interpret your website’s content.

Schema.org’s classes aim to identify & describe what is being talked about. Once that is narrowed down, the resource offers properties which describe the primary topic. The code basically tells search engines what to do with the data on your website.

screenshot from the website schema.org with clear demarcations of classes and properties

To make it even easier, there’s Google markup helper. This free web tool helps you figured out what tags to add to complete your structured data

Once incorporated into a webpage (click here for a step-by-step guide), structured data creates a better description of the content which appears in the SERP. This makes the search results more dynamic and quickly understandable. It may not sound like much at first but plays a key role in CTR, as we’ll see later on.

How can structured data help my website?

As you might have guessed already, implementing structured data is widely agreed to be beneficial from an SEO perspective. It might not be a ranking factor in itself, but by making your content more understandable to search engines your site ultimately appears more attractive on the SERP. This will generate more clicks, aka a higher Click-Through-Rate (CTR).

Also, as we approach the age of voice search, schema.org markups are gaining an increasing sense of importance. Why? Well, voice queries depend heavily on implied context. Structured data helps provide that context to an otherwise ambiguous piece of content.

There are hundreds of different structured data types. From local coffee shops to medical dose schedules. If you have got any type of data on your website, you can likely find and implement corresponding structured data types.

And yet, less than one third of websites make use of schema.org. There are currently millions of websites missing out on a great source of SEO potential. This means that if you use structured data, you’re automatically one step ahead of the majority of your competition!

The importance of structured data during the COVID-19 crisis

Due to the pandemic, many organizations such as government agencies, health organizations, schools, and many more, are publishing urgent announcements which have direct effects on schedules and other aspects of everyday life. These might include the closure of facilities, rescheduling of events, travel restrictions, quarantine guidelines – and the list goes on.

As of March 17th, schema.org has released new structured data types which were fast-tracked in face of the covid-19 outbreak. These include improvements to existing markups which should help with the migration to working from home (i.e. helping event organizers indicate when an event has been moved from a physical location to being conducted online), official announcements, finding COVID-19 testing facilities – and so on.

To some extent, this should be implemented by all businesses – as we all know this is definitely not business as usual and most companies have somehow adapted to the current circumstances in one way or another. And certain changes (and I cannot stress this enough) should be communicated.

Providing your customer-base with up-to-date information about any changes in working hours, initiatives taken by your company to help your local community, official announcements, etc will be key for navigating the next couple months. And being able to do so while also boosting your visibility is a big plus.

Bottom Line

May it be under extreme circumstances or just in general, one thing is certain – the more effectively you communicate with your public the better. And learning about structured data can only help your business.

Making use of the right structured data will not only help you stand out in organic search and improve CTR, but could also (and specially in times like these) be the deciding factor of whether your audience knows who, how and where to find your services.

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