The general idea behind structured data is that it can extend regular HTML markup and give more context and meaning to other content that is already available on the site.
Let’s say a website has a zip code on it. This could, in fact, be a very long house number or even a short phone number. If you look at the numbers themselves it is hard to tell if this is, in fact, a house number. Numbering systems vary from country to country. The idea behind structured data is to use existing information within HTML and then to extend it, essentially giving more meaning to this number and markup that this specific number is, in fact, a house number. Thus the crawler can understand what the specific text string is all about.
The most well-known type of structured markup is schema.org – an initiative that Google, Bing, Yahoo and nowadays Yandex are involved in.
The concept is generally the same. The goal is to give more meaning to different things on the website and to make it easier for machines, not only crawlers but also e.g. screen readers to make this content easy to understand.
The idea behind schema.org is to provide different types of annotations for different types of content on websites. If you are going to embed objects like audio files or a video, then there is a schema markup of an audio object or video object for it, where you can describe the content in those different files respectively – in way more detail.
From a more practical perspective, let’s assume you have content for an event on your site, you can use the event markup to provide more machine-readable contents such as
- the event’s location
- the event’s time
- other events that are going to happen
- where these events are going to happen
You essentially structure these details for a machine to be able to understand them. This is done by extending the already existing HTML markup, and it’s actually very simple to do.
You should go to schema.org to see what schema-markup is actually available specifically for your industry. There are lots of useful things already at your disposal. Say you work in the pharma- and healthcare industry, there are definitions for medical and health entities, but also symptoms, treatments and so on can be outlined in way more detail.
There is product markup for e-commerce sites and local businesses including all sorts of information about the organization like opening times and location. Any type of creative work (if we talk about say movies, books, etc.) can be described using schema markup. All of it is there, so you just have to understand what fits with your content.
Once you have implemented the markup, make sure that you test it properly. In GSC there is a structured data testing tool. It takes your HTML, extracts all the schema markup from the site and displays the output on the right-hand column. That section shows you what it has found, could process and if everything has been implemented according to the correct standards. Generally speaking, the tool tells you if the schema annotations are valid or not. If not, the chances that Google will consider it are close to zero. Invalid markup doesn’t help – so again, make sure you test it properly.
In Search Console, there is also the Structured Data tab for continuous monitoring – where you have validation errors may develop over time. Keep a close eye on that to ensure, e.g. when you update your website, that the markup hasn’t been broken. Changes to HTML can often result in markup not validating anymore.
One schema markup type that deserves specific mention is called “speakable”. This can help screen readers and audio devices, say Google home or Amazon Alexa, to understand which content on a website is relevant for those types of devices. Imagine you have a very long article and your site comes up as a result. Often it’s hard for these devices to determine which section they should read (and return) to their users. So with speakable, you can markup sections or paragraphs on a page or in an article, and these are the parts that machines will consider reading to the person who performed the query. Please understand this markup is currently pending review, but I think its super exciting to watch, especially if you care about voice search results.
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