What Is Structured Data and Why Is It Important For SEO?

HTML code and structured data displayed on a laptop.
Want to enhance your webpage’s visibility and add functionality to your organic listing in the search engine results pages (SERPs)? Look no further than structured data.

In this article, we’ll discuss:

Why Is Structured Data Important to SEO?

Structured data can enhance the appearance of a listing and add rich information to help searchers make a decision, which can improve click-through rates (CTR).

See the following search result of a Simi Valley, Calif., shopping center as an example.

Google search engine results page displaying star reviews for Simi Valley Town Center.
Screenshot of Google search engine results page listing showing star reviews

Structured data on the MallsCenters.com website enables Google to recognize star ratings (which, by the way, are not so good for this particular mall) and the mall’s address and phone number, adding the data to their organic search result.

The ability to better communicate what your webpage is about in order to improve its appearance in the SERPs, dominate more of this valuable real estate and provide rich information to searchers is invaluable.

So how do you do it? Let’s dig in to what structured data is and how it works.

What Is Structured Data?

Google defines structured data as a standardized format for providing information about a webpage and classifying its content. It helps clarify to the search engines what type of information you’re presenting.

With the introduction of HTML5 in 2015 came microdata, a set of tags that enabled webmasters and SEOs to do just that. Microdata tells search engines more about the page than what users can see — what type of page it is and what it’s about.

One example is a recipe page. Recipes typically have a list of ingredients, cooking instructions and nutritional information such as the number of calories per serving. Structured data enables you to tell Google where that content is on the page so you can suggest which page elements you would like to appear in search.

The following is an example from this Google help file that shows how to produce an image result in the featured carousel in Google SERPs:

<html>
<head>
<title>Apple Pie by Grandma</title>
<script type=”application/ld+json”>
{
“@context”: “https://schema.org/”,
“@type”: “Recipe”,
“name”: “Apple Pie by Grandma”,
“author”: “Elaine Smith”,
“image”: “http://images.edge-generalmills.com/56459281-6fe6-4d9d-984f-385c9488d824.jpg”,
“description”: “A classic apple pie.”,
“aggregateRating”: {
“@type”: “AggregateRating”,
“ratingValue”: “4.8”,
“reviewCount”: “7462”,
“bestRating”: “5”,
“worstRating”: “1”
},
“prepTime”: “PT30M”,
“totalTime”: “PT1H30M”,
“recipeYield”: “8”,
“nutrition”: {
“@type”: “NutritionInformation”,
“calories”: “512 calories”
},
“recipeIngredient”: [
“1 box refrigerated pie crusts, softened as directed on box”,
“6 cups thinly sliced, peeled apples (6 medium)”
]
}
</script>
</head>
<body>
</body>
</html>

Doing so gives Google all of the information it needs to pull the following information from your webpage and format it in the visually appealing way:

Google recipe page appearing in graphical search result.
Image credit: Google Search Central help file

Articles and blog posts are another common webpage type that can benefit from structured data. Article schema allows you to suggest to Google which headline, publication date and image should appear in the search result for that piece of content.

Google wants SEO professionals to use this structured data, too. In one Google Search Central resource, it says:

Google Search works hard to understand the content of a page. You can help us by providing explicit clues about the meaning of a page to Google by including structured data on the page.

And in another, it says:

Google supports many interesting search appearance elements that can be applied to your page in search results … A few of these result types are generated automatically by Google Search, but most of them can be coded for by your site.

So, Google is telling you to use structured data. How do you do that, exactly?

One way is by structuring data on your page in ways that are easy for search engines to digest. This is where we need to get to know schema markup. It gives SEOs a way to share the most important information about any given entity so that the search engine can:

  1. Understand what the page is about
  2. Feature the most important information in results

What Is Schema Markup?

Schema is a library of shared vocabularies you can use to mark up your page in ways that can be understood by the major search engines.

Think of schema as a collection of tags and microdata, Resource Description Framework in Attributes (RDFa) or JSON-LD code (the format preferred by Google) as the tags themselves. These are used to add markup to your webpages.

Screenshot showing structured data formats.
Image credit: Google Search Central help file

Founded by Google, Microsoft, Yahoo and Yandex in 2011, Schema.org is your go-to resource for the structured data schema you’ll use to optimize for pages for rich search results. It’s already in use by over 10 million sites.

When schema.org first launched in 2011, it included schemas for more than a hundred categories including movies, music, organizations, TV shows, products and places. Today, the schema.org vocabulary contains 797 types and 1,453 properties.

What Structured Data Types Are There?

The Schema.org vocabulary uses a hierarchy that begins with a “Thing.” A thing can be any of the following:

These are the broadest categories, the most generic types of items. From each one you can drill down and get more specific. For example, from the Full Hierarchy list we can click on Event to see the different types of Event schema that are available:

The next level in the hierarchy is Properties. This is where you can get specific and provide those rich details Google may pull into the search results to make your listing more informative and visually appealing.

For example, choosing ComedyEvent takes you to the full list of Properties for that event type.

Schema.org screenshot showing ComedyEvent properties.
Image credit: Schema.org

Selecting “Audience” takes you one level deeper, where you’ll find more specifics on where you can use this Property, an example and sample code you can modify to use on your own page.

Remember, JSON-LD is the preferred markup format, so we display that here:

Schema.org screenshot showing JSON-LD HTML script tag example.
Image credit: Schema.org

Which Structured Data Type Should I Use?

Keep in mind that using structured data can enable rich search results — it does not guarantee them. And there can be negative consequences to using structured data improperly.

Google provides General Structured Data Guidelines and warns:

Pages or sites that violate these content guidelines may receive less favorable ranking or be marked as ineligible for rich results in Google Search in order to maintain a high-quality search experience for our users. If we find that your page contains spammy structured data or content, we will apply a manual action to your page.

Structured data must be a true and accurate representation of the page’s main content and the markup should describe content that is visible in the page’s HTML and to users. Choosing the most relevant type of structured data for your content is key.

Google provides an excellent resource called “Explore the search gallery” that serves as a jumping off point for structured data.

You can start by either browsing the full list of search features, or filtering them into one of five categories to see the features most relevant to your needs. Those broad categories are:

  • E-commerce
  • Organizations
  • Sports
  • Jobs
  • Entertainment
Screenshot of breadcrumb and carousel search gallery properties.
Image credit: Google Search Central help file

For each type of search feature, you’ll see an example of what it might look like in the SERPs, with tips (where applicable) on how and when to use it.

Clicking the “Get started” button leads you to a more detailed page on that search feature. Using the Carousel as an example, you’re delivered to a page that explains what the Carousel search feature is, what it looks like in Search and how to implement this markup with step-by-step instructions.

Screenshot showing the Carousel search feature page.
Image credit: Google Search Central help file

You’ll also find samples of code for the different types of structured data that could be used for Carousel content.

Best Practices for Using Structured Data

In addition to following Google’s guidelines for structured data as referenced above, there are several important steps to making sure you’re making the most of your search features opportunities.

Apply these best practices to ensure that search engines can understand your structured data and maximize your chances of triggering a search feature:

Make Sure You’re Putting Your JSON-LD Structured Data in the Right Place

Google provides a helpful video to show webmasters and SEOs where to put markup on your webpage. In it, John Mueller also describes the different ways that Google processes JSON-LD, Microdata and RDFa.

Validate Your Code with the Rich Results Test

Google provides the Rich Results Test tool so webmasters and SEOs can ensure that your marked-up page supports rich results. You can test either your code snippets or by live URL.

Use the URL Inspection Tool to Test How Google Sees the Page

Put a few marked-up pages live and see how you’ve done. Google’s URL Inspection tool gives you information about an indexed page, enabling you to see if there are any structured data errors.

This tool will tell you how many valid items are found on the URL and give a description of each item. It also contains details about any warnings or errors found so you can troubleshoot.

Currently, this tool supports 17 rich results types. Google notes that “not all rich result types are supported by the tool yet. Unsupported types might be present and valid on the page, and can appear in Search results, but won’t appear in the tool.”

Once You’re Done Troubleshooting, Ask Google to Recrawl Your URL

Ask Google to recrawl and index your page once you’ve corrected any structured data errors. Remember, it can take a few days to a few weeks for your request to be processed.

Conclusion

Structured data may seem complicated at first, especially if you don’t know HTML.

However, Google and its partners in Schema.org have made it possible for anyone to apply structured data to your webpages by providing robust documentation, sample code you can modify, and testing tools to ensure you get the best results.

Take advantage of this opportunity to speak directly to Google and make your search results stand out in the competitive SERPs.

Our SEO experts can help you utilize structured data to enhance your webpage’s visibility and add functionality to your organic listing in the SERPs. Contact us today for a free consultation.

Bruce Clay is founder and president of Bruce Clay Inc., a global digital marketing firm providing search engine optimization, pay-per-click, social media marketing, SEO-friendly web architecture, and SEO tools and education. Connect with him on LinkedIn or through the BruceClay.com website.

See Bruce's author page for links to connect on social media.

Comments (10)
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10 Replies to “What Is Structured Data and Why Is It Important For SEO?”

Thanks for sharing this knowledgeable content. I am also working in SEO and this content is helpful for me.

Great content, very helpful

Well explained guide, thank you for sharing this. I learn a lot from this post. Good Job, Keep me posted.

I am currently working on a schema markup. When I test the schema code in the Schema Markup Validator no errors are detected. However, when I test it in the Rich Results Test, comes back with a few errors.
Not sure what I’m doing wrong, or if I should trust one over the other. What is the difference between these two tests?

Robert Stefanski

Hi Camilla,

Thanks for your question!

You may not be doing anything wrong. It depends on what the “errors” are. There are a lot of times in the Rich Results Test where warnings will appear, but they aren’t critical errors.

It’s also important to remember that the Schema Markup Validator is not the same as what Rich Results Test, and even the Rich Results Test doesn’t necessarily line up with what appears in actual search results. Also, Google only uses a subset of Entities and attributes, which can be found starting at https://developers.google.com/search/docs/appearance/structured-data/search-gallery.

If there’s a question on it, do what the Rich Results Test says since that will more closely align with what Google Search is doing.

Hope this helps!

Thanks for sharing this amazing blog! Really helpful and easy to understand.

Thank you for this article. Your information is beneficial to beginners in studying structure data and it’s important in SEO.

GOOD POST ABOUT THE TOPIC AND YOU GAVE MUCH KNOWELEDGE BUT I AM STILL CONFUSED. SHOULD WE USE PLUGIN FOR STRUCTURE DATA.

Robert Stefanski

Hi Vaibhav,

Thanks for your question! There are plugins available that can add structured data to a WordPress website, but plugins are not needed to code it into your site.

Excellent content, thank you very much for your suggestions, this is definitely very important information to keep in mind.

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