What is Structured Data and Why Does it Matter?

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  • Structured data basically describes data, or information, that is organized. Structured data is a crucial part of on-page SEO.
  • Structured data makes it possible for Google to crawl your site and evaluate whether it contains relevant content for a given search query.
  • Since Google uses structured data to pull rich results, ensuring your data has good structure can help increase traffic.

Imagine walking into a library and seeing no shelves, no circulation desk, no numbered labels on any of the materials, but instead just piles of books and magazines strewn across the floor. The disorganization would make it extremely tedious and time-consuming to find a relevant book or even make judgments about what kind of content the library contains.

On the other hand, alphabetized shelves, book labels containing author information and titles, and a circulation desk to orient you would all make it much easier to understand what you’re looking at or find a particular resource.

Structured data can be loosely compared to the second scenario. In that example, information – in this case, library materials – has been organized in a way that communicates to visitors exactly what they’ll find in a particular section or on a particular shelf. Websites also contain information, or data, that is unseen to the website visitor but “describes” to Google’s crawlers what can be found on the site.

Keep reading for a more detailed description of structured data, plus why it’s so important for SEO in 2021 and beyond.

What is structured data vs. unstructured data?

As described above, structured data is essentially data (information) that is organized. It’s a form of meta data, or data “about” the data the website visitor actually sees. Structured data is the data that Google sees.

If you’re familiar with SEO for content marketing, you’ve likely heard of the importance of including a meta title and meta description for each of your content pages. These are examples of meta data that help Google determine the relevance of a particular page for a given search query.

Similarly, structured data helps Google pull rich results from your pages based on coded labels used to “mark up” the different types of data.

Examples of such labels include:

  • Product names
  • Reviews
  • Ratings
  • Images
  • Videos
  • Social media posts
  • Podcasts

Structured data vs. unstructured data: Recap

Structured data is organized meta data. Marking up your structure tells Google what it is looking at – an image of a product, a product review, a video, etc. – so that it can determine whether to pull it for a rich result.

Why does structured data matter for SEO?

As we’ve covered before, the layout and features on Google’s SERPs have evolved pretty drastically and rapidly over the last few years. Whereas a SERP once contained not much more than the top 10 search results in a list format, plus a few ads here and there depending on the search query, SERPs now contain a range of types of “rich results” intended to make search more efficient for users. This is part of Google’s overarching mission to make SERPs as user-friendly, relevant, and informative as possible.

Some of these rich results include:

Shopping results – When Google determines that your search is related to a product, it will pull relevant products and include them in a “pack” somewhere near the top of the page, depending on the other features of that SERP.

In this example, the shopping results are pulled from ads and displayed next to a “People also ask” section.

Star ratings & reviews – For recipes, restaurants, and other types of searches where ratings and reviews are relevant, Google will pull star ratings or reviews and display them at the top of the SERP. Like with the product pages in shopping results, ratings and reviews need to be labeled or “marked up” correctly in order for Google to be able to identify and display them for relevant searches.

Since the search term contained the word “recipe,” Google pulled star ratings of the recipe results so that the reader can make quick comparisons.

Image results – When Google determines that a user might benefit from seeing images related to their search query, it will use the data markup of search results to pull relevant images and display them at the top of the SERP in a similar fashion to the above examples. This is common with searches related to travel, for example, but images are increasingly relevant for all kinds of searches.

The SERP for this search term is particularly crowded with SERP features. The image pack in the screenshot above comes after 7 traditional snippet results, a news results pack, a social media pack containing Tweets, a podcast panel, AND a knowledge panel in the top right pulled from Wikipedia.

As you can see in the Joe Exotic example, these are just a few of many types of rich results Google offers to make users’ search results more useful and relevant.

Rich results are the future of the SERP

What does this mean for SEO? Showing up in search results has always required that digital marketers speak Google’s language. But meta tags and titles aren’t enough anymore.

Now that the SERPs feature so many different types of results, Google’s “language” has evolved and expanded. More than ever before, showing up in search means marking up your images, product pages, product reviews, and more so that Google can identify them for rich results.

TIP: Check your core web vitals and schema markup

On-page SEO has always been about good website hygiene, but as the SERPs evolve, this is more true than ever.

But what if you’re not a technical SEO expert? There’s still hope. Plenty of tools and strategies exist to help you clean up your core web vitals and schema markup:

  • Use Schema.org to explore the different types of information you can communicate to Google using structured data, depending on your product or service.
  • Use plugins to partially automate the coding process.
  • Consult an SEO specialist – this is their bread and butter!

We might be a little biased with that last tip, but it’s only because our depth of experience has made us more excited about structured data than your average internet user. Outsourcing the technical SEO to an agency can free up your time and resources to what really matters – making your product or service awesome! To learn more about our technical SEO services, reach out to the RMG team today.

Author avatar
David Roy
David is the former lead member of an enterprise digital team, where he managed clients across a spectrum of industries. He’s been perfecting search engine optimization for years and specializes in technical SEO and local strategy.
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