Eight Reasons Why Web Developers NEED to Use Structured Data
The automated crawlers Google and other search engines use are always improving, but they still have their weaknesses. While the average web-scraping robot does an excellent job of building graphs of links and indexes of keywords, it cannot understand the meaning of the data it collects and parses.
Structured data is a way of augmenting standard markup to provide structurally informed hints about the meaning of web content. A vast, ever-growing hierarchy at schema.org catalogues the attributes of real-world things ranging from books and movies to professional services and restaurants. Pages that include relevant structured data of their own become eligible for some of the most desirable search engine features and other benefits, as well.
Many Ways to Add Structured Data to Web Pages
Web pages that include structured data convey more information to web crawlers and can, therefore, be assessed and displayed by search engines in more productive, more exciting ways. That currently means incorporating one of the following means of relating a web page’s elements to the Schema.org hierarchy:
- RDFa. As the recommended choice from W3C, RDFa extends HTML5 to enable the addition of metadata about structure inside of the usual tags.
- Google’s Data Highlighter. Built into the Google Search Console, the Data Highlighter provides a quick-and-dirty way to add structured data to a web page. While accessible, this information will be visible only to Google and susceptible to breakage when page content changes.
- HTML Microdata. Once a competitor to RDFa, HTML Microdata adopts a similar approach. A lack of interest relegated it to “Note” status with the working group that conceived it, but it is still seen fairly often in the wild.
- Microformat. A microformat, often rendered μF, piggybacks on established HTML tags to convey structured information.
While each of these approaches has its advantages, the first three combined will cover most situations today. JSON-LD should be an easy choice in most cases where it is practical to add JSON-LD to a web page, whether inline inside of a <script> tag in the HTML markup or by including an external file.
As the most current and widely recognized of the HTML-based options, RDFa can make it easier to add structured data to individual elements on the fly. Many Shopify-based sites, for example, use RDFa along with Schema.org’s “GoodRelations” e-commerce hierarchy to inject structured data without needing as much backend control as JSON-LD would necessitate.
Finally, webmasters looking for the quickest, easiest way to enable structure data could very well find Google’s Data Highlighter worth using. While this is the most limited and restrictive way to work with structured data, it can still produce the results that matter.
Many Good Reasons to Get Started With Structured Data Now
As noted earlier, the point of structured data is to provide more information to web crawlers so that the actual meaning of particular web pages can be communicated and analyzed more effectively.
This allows search engines like Google to go beyond the essential, ordinary lists of search results that used to be the norm. Pages which include structured data can be included in more modern and prominent kinds of search engine results pages (SERPs) features like Google’s:
- 1) Featured Snippets. Featured Snippets. Cropping up prominently on many question-oriented SERPs, Featured Snippets provide detailed on-page answers, lists, graphs, videos, and other immediate forms of gratification. That only becomes possible when Google can use the structured data on a page to connect it semantically with the intent of a search query. Because prominently placed Featured Snippets credit the web page they draw from, unlike Direct Answer boxes, they are well worth pursuing.
- 2) Rich Snippets and Cards. Rich Snippets add extra information to traditional search results, whether that means product prices, hours of operation, or review summaries. Because they are more informative than conventional results, pages that have Rich Snippets tend to attract more clicks for a given search ranking. Rich Cards that show up in mobile results generally perform well, too.
- 3) Knowledge Graphs and Panels. Knowledge Graphs are large SERP boxes placed beside results that detail businesses and other physical facilities. Knowledge Panels do the same for individuals and organizations, with both relying heavily on structured data when it is available. Although simply having a complete Google My Business listing can be enough to earn a Knowledge Graph appearance, structured data will improve the odds.
- 4) Local Packs. Google’s Local Pack SERP features to display the details of three geographically relevant businesses below an inset map. Structured data is not strictly necessary to obtain placement in a Local Pack, but it can certainly help.
- 5) Google News and Events. Google News draws mostly from AMP-compliant pages that include a variety of structured data. The much-anticipated Google Events SERP feature will require that pages include relevant structured data, whether delivered via JSON-LD, RDFa, Microdata, or Data Highlighter. Either can help a business or organization stand out in places online where it would not otherwise attract notice.
- 6) People Also Ask. The “People Also Ask” SERP feature puts related questions and summarized, credited answers inline with results for the original query. Having structured data in place will allow web pages to qualify for these prime placements.
- 7) Search results placement. Because structured data makes it easier for Google to contextualize particular web pages, it can effectively, though indirectly, improve search results placement. While Google does not incorporate structured data specifically into its ranking algorithms, having more information available makes it more likely that a given page will be deemed relevant to particular queries.
- 8) Other search engines. Other search engines like Bing, Yahoo, Baidu, and Yandex are increasingly making use of structured data whenever they find it, as well. While Google’s Data Highlighter will not help with other search providers, any of the different types of markup that conveys Schema.org information should make a difference.
While it might take a bit of research to come up to speed, resources like Google’s Structured Data Testing Tool make it easy enough to be sure that everything is in order. In exchange, web developers who do work structured data into their webpages and websites can count on benefits in a wide variety of ways.