What is structured data? A beginner's guide

Mackenzie Griffith

  | Published on  

May 26, 2021

Have you ever noticed how some websites in search results just have a bit more... oomph to them?

With sub-menus, star ratings for reviews, and embedded search functions, it's almost as if their search results are a mini-website. These special search results are called rich results and you don't need a close relationship with Google to get that, nor do you need a friend on the inside. All you need is structured data.

But what exactly is structured data and how do you use it? 

In this post, we'll explain the ins and outs of using structured data for SEO and how it can help to get you to the top of Google's results.

What is structured data?

Structured data is information (or data) that is organized (structured) for search engines to understand.

Structured data is typically organized on a website page in the form of JSON (Javascript Object Notation). This is a standardized way of organizing information for computers and search engine crawlers to understand.

The purpose of using structured data is to provide certain necessary information about a web page in order for it to be considered a valued result in Google's algorithm. 

Think of your website like a giant recipe. Structured data is that last bit of salt and pepper, the finishing touch. If you add structured data into your recipe, it will become richer, and you might see your rankings improve. What Google does with structured data is read the code, then use it to display your search results in a much richer way than if you did not use structured data at all.

"Marking Up" Structured Data

 In the world of structured data, SEOs and developers will often use the term "structured data markup" or talk about "marking up your structured data."

 So what does it mean to "mark up" structured data?

Markup is actually a kind of computing language, so in "marking up structured data" you are computing a code for your structured data.

How does this work? Well, what structured data does is similar toHTML code: it communicates data in an organized way so that search engines like Google can display its content in an appealing way to users.

In using marked up structured data, search engines can better analyze your website, which will allow your website to benefit from enhanced results in SERPs.

What can you do with structured data?

Structured data is a way to "talk" directly to a search engine, and the sky really is the limit for how much you can say with it.

Structured data is most effectively used to tell Google information about your website pages. For instance, if your website provides recipes for home cooks, structured data will provide Google with each of the ingredients in your dish. Through structured data, you can tell Google how many calories the recipe contains, the preparation time, and so on. 

Or, structured data can allow you to set up a mini website menu in the search result for your homepage, helping you stand out from competitors and lead potential visitors down your funnel.

Structured data can also help Google understand the type of content on your website better. For example, if you run a medical practice you can specify that with structured data.  manage a local business with a brick and mortar store, you can use structured data to set your address, which can help you rank for 'near me' searches.

After your structured data has provided Google this information, Google will then decide where to display it in search results.

Why is structured data important for SEO? 

A site that wants strong search results on Google should use structured data. Why? Because structured data helps to provide rich search results and sites that have higher search results on Google will receive more traffic.



The above image of search results for "how to make chocolate chip banana bread" shows an example of these rich results on Google. These three sites rank at the very top of the first page because they use structured data.

In the screenshot, the images, the star reviews, the website name, and all of the information that we are given was communicated through structured data.

While using structured data, you will see many benefits to your SEO strategy. For example, relying on structured data can lead to rich search results including styling, images, and other visual enhancements. Structured data can also include enriched search results such as interactive and immersive features.

These enhanced search results can improve your click-through rate and increase the traffic to your website. Implementing structured data on your site will also place you on the cutting edge as Google refines its search engine results to lead website visitors to an immediate answer to their questions.

However, using structured data does not guarantee that your site will have a rich search result on Google, it only makes the page eligible for one.

How to add structured data to your website.

The preferred version of structured data to use is JSON-LD (which is a script) as Google works with this version the best. JSON-LD is one of the markups you can find on Schema.org. There are other versions of structured data, but with Google, JSON-LD is the easiest to work with.

Other forms of structured data can change and cause problems with the HTML page, but JSON-LD is independent of the HTML. You can place JSON-LD anywhere within the code of your web page without experiencing any issues.

JSON-LD is also easy to edit. Simply copy and paste it into any code editor and it will work. This is something that other forms of structured data can't do, which is why it is best to stick to using JSON-LD.

Organizing the code for structured data is kind of like sorting and folding your laundry: it is fairly simple once you figure it out.

Common Ways to Use Structured Data


After reading about the benefits of structured data for SEO, you may be wondering, how I can use structured data on my website? The answer to that question varies but there are a few ways you can begin using structured data to enhance your SEO strategy.

For example, if your company starts to gain traction and wider recognition, Google will place what is known as a Knowledge Graph to the right hand side of a SERP. By knowledge graph we mean the information box that appears in search when you are searching for information about something, for example, here’s the knowledge graph that appears for the 1993 classic, Jurassic Park:


You can edit the information found in this graph but it is important to know that Google uses structured data to populate this Knowledge Graph Box.

Structured data also allows content marketers to add things like articles, recipes, products, star ratings,product reviews, and videos to enhance their web pages.

You can also use structured data in your AdWords ads which you often find at the top of a SERP. Leverage structured data to add more information into your ad copy, which will help people better understand your product and improve your click-through rate.

Structured data can also be used in email marketing campaigns, as it is possible to use structured data markups to advertise your products or business. For examples, companies like Amazon or airlines often use structured data in email marketing when you purchase a product from them.

Going Forward

Now that you understand the basics of structured data, you can begin implementing it into how you advertise your company and the products you sell. Structured data is one of the more technical elements of SEO, but with a bit of research and the help of your web developer you'll be able to provide more information to Google about your website and set up rich results in no time.

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