Structured data: The who, what and why of using schema

Get noticed in search

Why does structured data matter? When a human visitor accesses a web page, he or she is given an experience rich with headers, paragraph text, colors, fonts and images. This diversity of data points helps the visitor better digest the web page and process the information in a more complex manner.

When a search engine spider crawls the same web page, it is given a set of binary data that lacks the rich experience presented to the human visitor. This makes it difficult for search engines to process content in the same manner as a human. When this happens, the search engines can fail at truly understanding the data presented.

The arrival of structured data has helped alleviate this issue because it helps search engines view content more like humans and less like robots.

Structured data provides a set of enhanced data that helps search engines better understand the content on a website, which then allows them to better digest and rank the content in search engine results.

When used correctly, structured data can elevate your search engine ranking and provide the right bits and pieces to display rich snippets of your content in search results.

When I first heard about structured data, I was apprehensive about its usage. It felt very complex and it was intimidating to me. This unnecessary fear abated quickly because I realized that structured data simply helps search engines see a web page in a manner similar to the human visitor. It’s really that simple.

At the heart of structured data is schema

Most structured data utilizes a set of vocabularies from Schema.org. Schema.org is a collaborative, community activity that creates and maintains schemas for structured data.

Schemas are a set of types, with each type having a set of properties.

 

The core vocabulary of schema currently consists of 597 Types, 875 Properties, and 114 Enumeration values.

While that amount of options can feel intimidating, it doesn’t have to be. Simply view these data options as opportunities for helping Google better understand your web content and better rank you in search.

Schema is used within structured data markup

Structured data markup is a standard method for explaining website content machines. When web pages include structured data markup, search engines can use that data to enhance indexed content and present it more prominently in search results.

Google supports structured data in the form of JSON-LD, Microdata and RDFa:

JSON-LD

This is a JavaScript notation embedded in a <script> tag in the page head or body. The markup is not interleaved with the user-visible text, although Google can read JSON-LD data when it is dynamically injected into content with code or widgets.

Microdata

This is an open-community HTML specification used to nest structured data within HTML content. It uses HTML tag attributes to name the properties and it is typically used in the page body.

RDFa

This is an HTML5 extension that supports linked data by introducing HTML tag attributes that correspond to the user-visible content that you want to describe for search engines. RDFa is commonly used in both the head and body sections of the HTML page.

Structured Data Schema

Google recommends using JSON-LD whenever possible and provides resources for helping webmasters with implementation.

Structured data supports a variety of outputs

When Google discovers structured data, it can use this information to enable special search results found in the Knowledge Graph, rich cards and snippets, carousels, and even breadcrumb display.

Enhanced search listings on Google results pages improve click-through rates and helps lift your keyword ranking.

These enhanced search listings can improve click-through rates in the search engine results page, which in turn, continues to aid in lifting your keyword ranking.

There are many uses for structured data and Google’s implementation of these data types seem to grow with each passing month.

Most search engine users see and use structured data each day, yet they don’t even realize it. Some common examples of structured data output include rich snippets such as:

Structured Data Recipe Snippet

  • Product — Information about a product, including price, availability, and review ratings.
  • Recipe — Recipes that can be displayed in web searches and Recipe View.
  • Review — A review of an item such as a restaurant, movie or store.
  • Event — An organized event, such as musical concerts or art festivals, that people might attend at a particular time and place.
  • Video — An online video, including a description and thumbnail.
  • News article — A news article, including a headline, images and publisher info.

This above list is just a small sampling of structured data output and usage on the web. A larger list of all schema types that can be used in structured data output can be found at schema.org.

A real-world example of schema and structured data in use

The world is adopting and using structured data at a fast rate. This is true for businesses, bloggers, and even the government.

An example of JSON-LD structured data can be seen in the source code of the WhiteHouse.gov website.

This organizational information is presented in the home page source code as:

<script type='application/ld+json'>{"@context":"http:\/\/schema.org","@type":"WebSite","@id":"#website","url":"https:\/\/www.whitehouse.gov\/","name":"The White House","alternateName":"White House","potentialAction":{"@type":"SearchAction","target":"https:\/\/www.whitehouse.gov\/search\/?s={search_term_string}","query-input":"required name=search_term_string"}}</script>
<script type='application/ld+json'>{"@context":"http:\/\/schema.org","@type":"Organization","url":"https:\/\/www.whitehouse.gov\/","sameAs":["https:\/\/facebook.com\/whitehouse","https:\/\/instagram.com\/whitehouse","https:\/\/www.youtube.com\/user\/whitehouse","https:\/\/twitter.com\/whitehouse"],"@id":"#organization","name":"The White House","logo":"https:\/\/www.whitehouse.gov\/wp-content\/uploads\/2017\/12\/wh.gov-share-img_03.png"}</script>

Once Google digests this data, it can use it to create Knowledge Graph data which is displayed in search engine results as:

Structured Data White House

Implementing schema on popular website builders and CMS solutions

While structured data is considered an important part of today’s SEO, not all CMS software and website builders offer easy options for adding this markup to websites. The open-source community has been quick to embrace the use of structured data, but many website builders have not been as quick to jump in.

It should be noted that plugins are not a requirement for adding schema to a website. Structured data can be manually added if needed. Plugins just make the usage of structured data much easier for non-technical website owners.

Popular content management systems including WordPress, Joomla! and Drupal offer both plugins and manual code entry for structured data markup. If you use another platform to build websites, you’ll likely need to add the code by hand.

Manually adding structured data to HTML code isn’t for the novice user.

 

Thus, CMS packages like WordPress, offer a great advantage since so many options exist for easily installing markup.

If you’d like to use structured data in WordPress, you’ll find support is already out there waiting for you in the form of common WordPress tools like the Genesis Framework, Yoast’s plugins, or a large number of other plugins available on WordPress.org:

One thing to know is WordPress does not have one universal plugin that will support all types of schema and structured data. Website owners will need to source plugins based on specific data requirements and implementation.

TLDR for Structured Data

Structured data implementation is not going to make or break your SEO efforts. What it will do is help search engines better understand your content and better present it in the search engine results pages.

If you have things like products, recipes, jobs, events or reviews on your website, it would be beneficial to utilize JSON-LD markup where applicable. This will help the search engines better understand your content, so they can improve the ranking and presentation of this information in search.

Additional resources for schema

General information

Schema generators

Schema testing tools