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What is Structured Data, and Why is it Important?

If you’re relatively new to marketing, you may have heard the term “structured data” being bounced around before. This term refers to a certain strategy and style of data management that specifically benefits SEO by “structuring: the appearance of the data, usually via markup or shortcodes. Search engines interpret this structurization and are more easily able to determine what the data contains and how it should be classified.

Wait…That’s Complicated!

Don’t panic! It’s less complex than it seems. So, let’s simplify it a little with a few real-world examples. If you’ve ever searched Google for a restaurant, a recipe, or the answer to a question-format query, you likely saw structured data at the top of the page.

Here’s a (slightly tongue-in-cheek) example:

Google checks your question and then looks for the answer on high-authority sites. It then shows you the answer in a handy box at the top, irrespective of search ranking (although top-ranked sites tend to win that coveted spot.

Structured Data and Rich Snippets

Structured data can also be used to display Rich Snippets on Google. These are small information sets that display in a specific way – like stars for a review or how expensive a restaurant is.

Here’s an example of that in action for a Chinese restaurant in Los Angeles, California:

In this case, the structured data is the review stars, the number of reviews, the “$$” and the category of restaurant (Chinese).

How to Structure Your Data

Structuring data is a much (much) bigger topic than we can discuss here in a blog. Moz has a full guide available here, but here’s a few of the basics.

  • While structured data does have a place in big data management, we’re mostly discussing it for the purposes of search engines.

  • Most of the “big three” (Yahoo, Google, and Bing) accept and actively use structured data in SEO. All rely on Microdata, JSON-LD, and microformats, three specific web markup technologies.

  • You can’t just toss in markup and hope for the best. Each of the big three have specific formats and/or syntaxes you must use in order to be recognized. For Google, you’ll find that information here.

  • Structured data works by helping you pull out specific types of information. What this means is that you can’t just decide to bold or highlight something and have Google see it as more important. Instead, you use  standardized markup to highlight specific information (e.g., a review rating).

  • Structuring your data may be best left to the pros. Google is exceptionally sensitive to manipulation in this format; they can and will sandbox you if they think you’re trying to game the system. But ultimately, it comes down to memorizing the various formats and applying them where needed.

If you’re feeling a little spun around by all of this information, we get it. Structured data is an advanced (but highly effective) SEO strategy; not everyone understands it, and that’s okay. Go Digital WSI is always available to give you a hand, if needed!