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Google’s PageRank algorithm is constantly evolving to better understand the content and context of any given website, web page, and the relationships between them. In 2011, Google, Bing, and Yahoo launched schema.org with a mission to “create and support a common set of schemas for structured data markup on web pages.” The Knowledge Graph is a knowledge base used by Google to enhance its search engine results with semantic-search information gathered from a wide array of sources. The Knowledge Graph Display was added to Google Search in 2012 and uses a graph database to provide structured and detailed information about the topic in addition to a list of links to other sites. The goal in developing the knowledge graph display was to empower users to use this information to resolve their search queries without having to navigate to other sites and assemble the information themselves.

The introduction of Schema.org, the Knowledge Graph, and the Knowledge Graph Display panel, would change the course of search forever. While all of this was going on, many in the web development community didn’t take the opportunity the search giants had provided. As time went on, the hype around the first substantial changes to Google Search in years had faded away and became less popular. This has led to a great opportunity for developers and organizations to use this triumvirate of tools to optimize their websites for search in a way that was never possible before. This article aims to enlighten you about how Google Structured Data can play a major role in your online presence and SEO strategy.

WHAT IS STRUCTURED DATA?

Structured data is a standardized format for providing information about a page and classifying the page content to search engines. For example, does this web page include news stories or events? If so, you can use structured data to make this clear to Google in addition to providing context by marking up your web page with structured data. As a result, this will enhance your appearance in Google’s search results.

Google Structured Data is a best practice recommended by Google and one that Google is very particular about. Simply adding structured data to your website does not guarantee anything as Google has strict standards as to what it considers notable enough to actually validate your structured data. Google offers a structured data-testing tool so you can ensure your structured data is properly formatted, therefore increasing your chances of Google displaying your content in the format in which you structured it.

Where do I begin?

It’s important to begin with the big picture: your website. To do so you will need to write some structured data that will be on every page of your website and give search engines contextual data about your website and the organization behind it. By providing Google’s crawlers with structured data, you can enhance how you appear in search results. Let’s start with the end-result of marking up your website with structured data related to the organization behind your website. We’ll use the NFL as an example:

<script type="application/ld+json">{          "@context": "https://schema.org"          "@type": "SportsOrganization",          "name": "NFL",          "alternateName": "National Football League",          "url": https://www.nfl.com,                  "description": The official source for NFL news, video highlights, fantasy football, game-day coverage, schedules, stats, scores and more.,                                  "logo": https://static.nfl.com/static/content/public/static/img/navigation/shields/header-shield.png,          "sameAs": [              "https://www.youtube.com/user/NFL",              "https://twitter.com/nfl",              "https://www.facebook.com/NFL",              "https://www.instagram.com/nfl/",              "https://www.linkedin.com/company/national-football-league",              "https://www.pinterest.com/NFL/",              "https://plus.google.com/+NFL"          ]  }  </script>

By adding this snippet of code to every page of the NFL’s website, Google can now better understand the organization behind the website. In addition, if Google determines that the organization meets their requirements, this data will appear on Google’s Knowledge Graph Display as shown below.

NFL Knowledge Graph

Enhancing your Appearance in Google Search

While getting on the Knowledge Graph Display panel to the right of search results is a major upgrade for any organization, structured data goes way beyond the display panel. In fact, you can enhance how your website appears in actual Google search results using structured data. To show you just how much you can enhance your appearance in search, let’s start with a website that has no structured data and see how it looks in search results.

structured data in search results

Simple enough. The website title appears, a link to the domain, and a short description below it. In terms of action, there is little you can do and very little context is provided. Now let’s explore how Google Structured Data can impact how your website appears in search results. Let’s start with your organization’s contact information. Wouldn’t it be nice for your contact information to appear in Google Search results in addition to the Knowledge Graph Display panel? As you can see below, on desktop the contact information appears in the display panel while on mobile it appears above search results.

contact information in search results

This can be accomplished with only thirteen lines of JSON. Below is an example of structured data that will create this same functionality for your website in search results.

<script type="application/ld+json">  {    "@context": "http://schema.org",    "@type": "Organization",    "url": "http://www.your-company-site.com",    "logo": "http://www.example.com/logo.png",    "contactPoint": [{      "@type": "ContactPoint",      "telephone": "+1-401-555-1212",      "contactType": "customer service"    }]  }  </script>

The world is obsessed with social media. It’s how consumers and businesses across the globe primarily interact with one another. Wouldn’t you like to have your social profile links appear in Google’s search results? Of course. Let’s take a look at an example and then we’ll provide some example code to get your website structured in a way that can display your social profiles in search results.

social profiles in search results

Keep in mind that in order for your social profiles to populate, your markup must include a person or organization object as specified by schema.org. Below is some example code to get your social profiles appearing in search results.

<script type="application/ld+json">  {    "@context": "http://schema.org",    "@type": "Organization",    "name": "WebCorpCo",   "url": "http://www.webcorpco.com",    "sameAs": [      "http://www.facebook.com/webcorpco",      "http://instagram.com/webcorpco",      "http://www.linkedin.com/in/webcorpco",      "http://plus.google.com/webcorpco"    ]  }  </script>

Next up is a sitelinks search box. In case you’re not sure what this is, it’s a secondary search option that can populate under your search result. Here is an example search result for Pinterest on Google that returns a sitelinks search box for the Pinterest website:

search results for Pinterest

This makes the search experience easier as the user can query your entire website from within Google’s search results. This drastically increases the chances of searches turning into website visitors.

Note: This is assuming you have already added search functionality to your website. Below is an example of the JSON-LD required to populate a sitelinks searchbox when you appear in search results.

<script type="application/ld+json">  {    "@context": "http://schema.org",    "@type": "WebSite",    "url": "https://www.example.com/",    "potentialAction": {      "@type": "SearchAction",      "target": "https://query.example.com/search?q={search_term_string}",      "query-input": "required name=search_term_string"    }  }  </script>

We covered some of the primary ways to enhance your website’s appearance in Google’s search results. In the next section, we will show you ways to markup content within your website in order to enhance its appearance in search results.

What kind of website content can I markup?

Many organizations fail to see beyond the Knowledge Graph Display when it comes to structured data. As long as they get their data display on the knowledge graph panel in search results, they’re happy and rightfully so. However, there is significantly more power behind structured data than simply enhancing how your organization appears in the knowledge graph display panel. In fact, marking up your website content with structured data will drastically improve your ranking in search engines as well as enhancing your appearance in search results. There are a large number of content types that you can markup on your website and for the sake of brevity, we will pick out three and show you how to mark up the content and show the end result.

Articles

  • Books
  • Courses
  • Datasets

Events

  • Fact Check
  • Job Postings
  • Local Businesses
  • Music
  • Podcasts

Products

  • Recipes
  • Reviews
  • TV and Movies
  • Videos

We’re going to cover the most common content types that can be marked up with Google Structured Data including articles, events, and products. We will go through the purpose of structuring the content, the structuring of the content itself, as well as exploring the benefits of the end result.

Articles

Since 2012 news articles starting appearing in Google Search results as a result of the inception of schema.org, Google Structured Data, and the Knowledge Graph. The way these news stories are populated when you search is through structured data that gives Google context on the content of the article as it relates to your query. Below is the code required to markup an example news article.

<script type="application/ld+json">  {    "@context": "http://schema.org",    "@type": "NewsArticle",    "mainEntityOfPage": {      "@type": "WebPage",      "@id": "https://google.com/article"    },    "headline": "Article headline",    "image": {      "@type": "ImageObject",      "url": "https://google.com/thumbnail1.jpg",      "height": 800,      "width": 800    },    "datePublished": "2015-02-05T08:00:00+08:00",    "dateModified": "2015-02-05T09:20:00+08:00",    "author": {      "@type": "Person",      "name": "John Doe"    },     "publisher": {      "@type": "Organization",      "name": "Google",      "logo": {        "@type": "ImageObject",        "url": "https://google.com/logo.jpg",        "width": 600,        "height": 60      }    },    "description": "A most wonderful article"  }  </script>

In Google Search results, your news article would appear similar to the screenshot below due to the structured data you added to the article.

news articles in search results

Events

Integral to everyday life, events are increasingly promoted on the web and that extends from simply displaying an event’s information on your website to structuring that content so it appears as an event in search. Without structured data around your events, they will not appear in Google’s search results as events if they even show up at all. So let’s take a look at an example of how structured data makes events appear in search results when searching for “jazz concerts this weekend.”

events in search results

The websites with events that use Google’s Structured Data to markup their content appear above anything else with dates, times, locations, and directions. One of the secondary benefits of using structured data to markup your website content is the added web design that is applied to your content so that it is optimized for search. Rather than a few lines of plain text, structuring your events make them visually appealing in search results. Here is how you can structure your data to have your events appear in search results.

<script type="application/ld+json">  {    "@context": "http://schema.org",    "@type": "Event",    "name": "Jan Lieberman Concert Series: Journey in Jazz",    "startDate": "2017-04-24T19:30-08:00",    "location": {      "@type": "Place",      "name": "Santa Clara City Library, Central Park Library",      "address": {        "@type": "PostalAddress",        "streetAddress": "2635 Homestead Rd",        "addressLocality": "Santa Clara",        "postalCode": "95051",        "addressRegion": "CA",        "addressCountry": "US"      }    },    "image": "http://www.example.com/event_image/12345",    "description": "Join us for an afternoon of Jazz with Santa Clara resident and pianist Andy Lagunoff. Complimentary food and beverages will be served.",    "endDate": "2017-04-24T23:00-08:00",    "offers": {      "@type": "Offer",      "url": "https://www.example.com/event_offer/12345_201803180430",      "price": "30",      "priceCurrency": "USD",      "availability": "http://schema.org/InStock",      "validFrom": "2017-01-20T16:20-08:00"    },    "performer": {      "@type": "PerformingGroup",      "name": "Andy Lagunoff"    }  }  </script>

Products

So many e-commerce websites are missing out on the opportunity to have their products displayed prominently in search results due to their lack of knowledge of Google Structured Data. By structuring your product content type, not only will it affect the appearance of your products in Google Search, it will also enhance the appearance of your products in a Google Image query. Below is an example of a product that has utilized structured data.

product in search results

You would be correct in thinking wow, I have a lot of products, and do I really need to markup every single one of them? The answer is yes. However, many web content management systems have structured data baked into their platforms so as you add products to your website, they will be marked up dynamically. If your CMS does not do this, you can always write custom scripts that will crawl your product catalogue and mark them up accordingly. Below is an example of a single product being marked up:

<script type="application/ld+json">  {    "@context": "http://schema.org/",    "@type": "Product",    "name": "Executive Anvil",    "image": "http://www.example.com/anvil_executive.jpg",    "description": "Sleeker than ACME's Classic Anvil, the Executive Anvil is perfect for the business traveler looking for something to drop from a height.",    "mpn": "925872",    "brand": {      "@type": "Thing",      "name": "ACME"    },    "aggregateRating": {      "@type": "AggregateRating",      "ratingValue": "4.4",      "reviewCount": "89"    },    "offers": {      "@type": "Offer",      "priceCurrency": "USD",      "price": "119.99",      "priceValidUntil": "2020-11-05",      "itemCondition": "http://schema.org/UsedCondition",      "availability": "http://schema.org/InStock",      "seller": {        "@type": "Organization",        "name": "Executive Objects"      }    }  }  </script>

Structured Data and your Web CMS

While we covered some of the big ideas, concepts, and main implementations of structured data, the types of data you can structure are rapidly growing. In addition, there are so many ways you can use structured data to enhance the way your website appears in search results. With that said, you shouldn’t be spending hours upon hours combing through your website and marking up different content one piece at a time. While not impossible to hardcode structured data around your content, it’s extremely tedious and time-consuming. As a result, several CMS platforms dynamically add structured data to your website. However, many CMS platforms require plugins for each content type you would like to structure. For example, if you are using WordPress, you would need to install a plugin for the event content type and a separate plugin for the articles content type and so on.

Conclusion

The power of Google’s Structured Data is vast and expansive, as you may have gleaned from this article. Organizations of any size, including individuals, can and should utilize structured data. Your structured data may not be validated immediately by Google which is why this is a mid to long-term SEO play. There is no good reason your website should not have structured data wherever it is applicable.