What is Structured Data and How Can I Use It?
If you are a business owner (or just in charge of your business’ website) and you want to dramatically increase your traffic from search engines like Google and Bing, then your first step should be to integrate structured data into your website.
For professional search engine optimizers (or SEOs), the benefits of employing structured data has long been clear, but I understand that most of our clients don’t read SEO blogs on a regular basis. It can be difficult to explain many SEO concepts, so I wanted to provide useful examples of structured data for many different industries to help you get an idea of how you can use structured data for your website. But first, let’s take a step back, what are we even talking about?
What is Structured Data?
Structured data is informational tags placed on websites (not seen by users) that clearly defines information on a webpage to help search engines understand the context of that information. The most basic structured data is often used for local businesses to define simple information about their company: name, address, and phone number.
Schema.org is the accepted standard for structured data on the internet. Schema.org acts a repository for accepted structured data vocabulary. The definition base is constantly expanding to increase the scope and useful of structured data on the internet. It has quickly become the industry standard for structured data and is sponsored by Microsoft, Google, and Yahoo. Schema is so ubiquitous, in fact, that its name is now synonymous with structured data. Much like Kleenex or Q Tips, as casual reference to Schema is the same as structured data (you’ve been warned).
Out in the wild, structured data is impossible to see without looking at a page’s source code. The beauty of schema is that it exists only for search engines, which means there’s no need to pretty it up. Here’s an example of snippet of code from a website here in Houston that’s defining an office location.
"name": "Example Company - Westheimer",
"address": "123 Westheimer Rd. Houston, TX 77063",
"telephone" : "800-123-4567",
Examples of Structured Data
So if you’re still around and interested in structured data, you may be wondering how to use this wonderful information. I’ve put together a list of how a few simple lines of code can totally alter how your business is represented online. The examples below are a small sampling of options available to you and I highly recommend browsing the full schema.org site to see what’s possible. Any web developer should be able to implement these changes pretty easily, once you’ve identified the appropriate tags.
Schema for Local Businesses
For most small (or local) businesses, the most relevant pieces of structured data will revolve around local search. These schema definitions will define location, opening hours, and more. While most of the terms don’t need a thorough explanation, I’ll provide any notes you may need to know.
Opening Hours – List opening hours of your business by day of week.
Address – Physical address of the business.
Geo – Address not enough? Tag your exact longitude or latitude for precise position on earth.
Branch Of – Defines the location as a branch of a larger organization. This is great for franchises.
Logo – Wrap this tag around the image of your logo to ensure the appropriate image comes up with users are looking for it. This is very helpful if you’ve recently redesigned your logo. This tag should help promote the new image in search over the older iterations.
Telephone – As you’d guess, this tells search engines that the number indicated is your primary office phone number.
Reviews – Used to indicate reviews (surprise!) of the local business, not to be confused with Review which is generally associated with the reviews of individual products or services.
You can see the full list of Local Business schema here.
Schema for E-Commerce
Of all business categories listed here, e-commerce has the most to gain with properly employed schema tags. Most e-commerce sites feature thousands of pages (if not more) that are auto-generated for each product. This product likely has duplicate content provided by the manufacturer and isn’t doing much to increase the SEO of your site. By wrapping item details in structured data, you can get a leg up on the competition, getting your products in front of more users.
Most structured data can be built into page templates, making this a mostly automated process.
Audience – Define the intended audience for the product.
Is Accessory or Spare Part for – This rather lengthy tag is pretty self-explanatory, but if you’re selling replacement parts, make sure to define the exact model.
Item Condition – If you’re selling used products, use this to express item condition or quality.
Product ID – This flexible signifier identifies the product ID which includes ISBN numbers for books.
Offers – This is a way to provide any incentive or offer tied to a product.
You can see the full list of E-Commerce schema here.
Schema for Restaurants
Many of the relevant markup data for local businesses will overlap with restaurants including the name, opening hours, and phone number, but there are a few additional specifications that can be of use.
Accepts Reservations – If your restaurant accepts reservation, this schema tag will express that to users on the Google SERP.
Cuisine – While self-explanatory, help Google classify your restaurant correctly by defining your cuisine type through structured data.
Menu – If potential diners are hungry for a specific dish, using structured data to highlight your menu can ensure you’re not overlooked by your competition.
Price Range – Commonly expressed on sites like Google+, Yelp, and other review sites, this allows users to know the expected price range on your site, ensuring there’s no misinformation on review platforms.
You can see the full list of restaurant schema here.
So what if your website is hosted on a painfully out-of-date CMS that simply doesn’t allow for the addition of structured data to enhance your site?
Well, you’re definitely not alone. The internet is riddled with websites stuck on stubborn systems for a litany of reasons, but there’s hope! At Forthea, we’ve found recent success in using the Google Search Console’s (née Google Webmaster Tools) Data Highlighter tool.
Simply log into the Google account that’s linked to the domain in Search Console and go to Search Appearance -> Data Highlighter. Follow the tutorial and “highlight” the relevant pieces of information on the site. While less permanent than using schema in a site’s code, this is a suitable stopgap to increase your search visibility.