Jul 27

Structured Data and SEO (With a Brief Note on JavaScript Indexing)

If you know anything about SEO, you probably also know (or at least have heard about) structured data. Today we’re going to talk all about structured data: what it is, how it can help your site, and how to go about implementing it.

What is Structured Data?

Simply put, structured data is code that you add to your website to tell search engines more about what’s on it. We take search engines for granted, but have you ever stopped to consider how exactly Google matches a query to millions (sometimes billions) of results? The simplest explanation is that Google looks to see if the words in your search appear on millions and millions of websites on the internet. If your search words appear, it’s a match. If not, no dice. An example being that if you searched for “toilet repair in Cincinnati,” Google would look for websites where the words toilet repair in Cincinnati” appear. While Google does use this method to determine search results, it’s one of hundreds of factors Google uses to determine the best match for a query.

When you search “toilet repair in Cincinnati,” it’s obvious to human beings that you’re looking for a plumber, since they’re the ones who typically repair toilets. But does Google realize that? Sure, Google will point towards plumbers, since they’re the only ones likely to mention toilet repair, but would Google point you to a Cincinnati plumber even if the words “toilet repair” didn’t appear on their website? They never used to, but they sure do now.

Take this example: What if we wanted to do a search for the PlayStation console, but we forgot the name, so instead we type a description: “Grey console developed by Sony.” Take a look at the results:

The search results make it clear that, even though the exact phrase doesn’t appear on any of the pages (though “grey console” does pop up quite a bit), Google knows we’re talking about the PlayStation. This might seem trivial at first, but think about it: Google is able to recognize that the PlayStation is a specific object (a gaming console) that has both physical characteristics (being colored grey) and abstract ones (having been developed by Sony). It’s easy for humans to grasp these concepts. Machines? Not so much. That Google is able to understand this is astounding. And that’s what schema does: help Google understand, rather than simply be aware of, a page’s contents.

The Different Types

There are three different kinds of structured data: JavaScriptON-LD, Microdata, and RDFa. Given that JavaScriptON-LD is the one that Google officially recommends, you shouldn’t use anything else. Microdata and RDFa are HTML based, but JavaScriptON is a type of JavaScript notation. This means that to properly implement structured data on a website, you’ll need to know how to write JavaScript, or hire someone who does (hint: us!)

The Effect of Structured Data

Okay, okay. Structured data helps Google understand webpages better. So what? One answer to that question is that it helps Google to be more accurate and confident with their search results. If Google knows you’re a plumber, that’s a lot better than Google being pretty sure you’re a plumber. But structured data does more than just help with understanding. It also allows for some pretty cool search results, like:

Showing you the steps, total time, calories, and rating in a recipe,

Highlight relevant news items, and my personal favorite…

Give you a succinct breakdown of a fact-checking campaign.

Now, structured data isn’t an actual ranking signal, so you won’t receive a boost in traffic just because you implemented it. But it will allow your results to have the specificity and detail that they need to raise your clickthrough rate and user experience, which will lead to happier website users and more conversions.

How to Implement It

Implementing structured data, provided you know how to write the code, is pretty simple. All you do is write the code, enclose it in a script tag, and upload it to the header of your webpage. You can have structured data that’s the same across all pages, or structured data that’s specific to just one page. And you can mark up just about everything.

For example, if your page is about a book, you can tell Google:

  • Whether or not the book is abridged
  • The edition of the book
  • How many pages it has
  • What the book is about
  • The illustrator of the book
  • The person who is legally accountable for the book
  • Any awards the book has won
  • And so, so much more

You can see the standards that have been set for schema by visiting https://schema.org. It has plenty of examples of properly written schema, so take a look.

JavaScript Indexing

JavaScript is so powerful because it can dynamically generate HTML. That means that sometimes, the code of a website doesn’t actually exist until you view that page, because JavaScript generates it on the spot. That’s why JavaScriptON-LD is the preferred form of schema. It can be set up to automatically do things like create schema for a new blog post using the title of that blog post as the schema title.

However, sometimes sites use JavaScript to generate much of their site content, like this one. The problem with those sites is that Google used to only see the JavaScript on those pages, not the HTML that was generated. For SEO purposes, this meant that certain parts of sites were effectively invisible.

I mention this because it’s still a big question in the SEO community. To oversimplify a complex situation, Google has gotten much about about crawling and understanding JavaScript, so don’t worry when you use JavaScript on your site. Google got it right.

Call us for Structured Data Help

Hopefully this blog got you started on structured data and how to implement it. Structured data is a tricky subject and can be difficult to get right. If you followed these steps and find that you’re having trouble, consider hiring us to take care of it for you. We have a history of getting structured data right on websites, including our own. Just check out our source code!

About The Author

Kory (called "K" around the office) is the SEO Content Specialist at webFEAT Complete. He helps businesses grow by creating unique and engaging web content for them. When he isn't busy blogging or tweaking websites, he enjoys digital card games and taking care of his needy tortoise.

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