what is structured data for seo and rich results

What is structured data?

8 min read

Structured data is code we can add to web pages to help search engines better understand the content. It allows us to tag specific content elements to tell search engines exactly what they are.

Structured data works similarly to HTML tags in that it helps search engine bots quickly and accurately identify what is on the web page using standardised formats. Think of it as signage for search engines. 

How is structured data helpful for SEO?

Improving search engine understanding of your content

Let’s say you’re putting together a blog on how to make a delicious spaghetti carbonara. Without structured data, Google and other search engines would crawl your blog post, trying to discern the ingredients, cooking time, calories, and so on, just from the written text. If your writing is clear, they might pick up most of this information. But there’s always room for error, and nuances could be missed.

With structured data, you can tag every key piece of information in the recipe:

  • Recipe: Spaghetti Carbonara
  • Preparation time: 20 minutes
  • Cooking time: 15 minutes
  • Total time: 35 minutes
  • Calories: 500 kcal/serving
  • Ingredients: spaghetti, eggs, pancetta, parmesan cheese, black pepper, etc.
  • Instructions: A step-by-step breakdown of the cooking process.
  • Author: Your Name
  • Rating: 4.8 stars (based on reader reviews)

By tagging this information with structured data, you make it super easy for search engines to recognise these details, index your page contents properly, and showcase these details in the search results. These are absolutely essential for SEO

Highlighting important details 

You may be wondering, can all of that stuff in the recipe above really be tagged?  The answer is yes.

Schema.org provides specific sets of vocabulary for structured data markup on websites, and in taking a quick browse, you’ll see it covers almost anything you can imagine. Structured data markup is a great way to translate the details of your content to search engines.

For our recipe example above, here’s a breakdown of some of the dedicated recipe schema tags (properties) that we might use:

1. Recipe Schema
  • @type: Recipe – This specifies that the content is a recipe.
  • name: The name of the recipe. E.g., “Spaghetti Carbonara.”
2. Basic Information
  • author:
    • @type: Person
    • name: Name of the person (or organisation) that wrote the recipe.
  • datePublished: The date the recipe was published. E.g., “2023-01-15”.
  • description: A short description or summary of the recipe.
3. Cooking Information
  • prepTime: The time it takes to prepare the recipe. E.g., “PT20M” (20 minutes).
  • cookTime: The time it takes to cook the recipe. E.g., “PT15M” (15 minutes).
  • totalTime: The total time it takes to prepare and cook the recipe. E.g., “PT35M” (35 minutes).
  • recipeYield: The number of servings or yield size. E.g., “4 servings”.
4. Ingredients & Instructions
  • recipeIngredient: An array or list of ingredients used. E.g., [“spaghetti”, “eggs”, “pancetta”, …].
  • recipeInstructions: A list of instructions for the recipe. This can be broken down further into individual steps using the HowToStep schema.
5. Nutritional Information (Optional)
  • nutrition:
    • @type: NutritionInformation
    • calories: The number of calories per serving. E.g., “500 kcal”.
6. Reviews & Ratings
  • aggregateRating: If the recipe has been rated by users.
    • @type: AggregateRating
    • ratingValue: Average rating value. E.g., “4.8”.
    • reviewCount: The number of reviews. E.g., “150”.
7. Media (Optional)
  • image: URL of an image of the finished dish or of a step in the recipe.

And, believe it or not, this list above is by no means exhaustive!

Understanding all of those smaller details in context gives Google a much clearer picture of what search intent your pages might fulfil. This is the key to great rankings in search for relevant queries.

Creating opportunities for rich results 

Rich results are search results that display more than just the standard title, URL, and meta description. They offer users valuable, content-specific information to help them determine the relevance of a result to their query, providing a better search experience. 

Rich results get greater than 50% more clicks than standard search results, so are also very valuable from an SEO perspective. There are many kinds out there, from recipe cards to event listings, FAQs, product reviews, and of course, the knowledge graph. This is that box in search information about topics like celebrities, places, and organisations.

Structured data is the key to attaining rich results, because they efficiently provide all those details needed to populate the features that searchers will see.  Typically each type of rich result has its own set of required structured data elements. 

Entity Clarification  

Structured data also helps with entity SEO.  Entities are distinct things, concepts, or units that can be definitively identified and linked to within the vast knowledge graph that search engines use. An entity can be a person, place, item, idea, event, etc.

When you publish content online, the intent and specificity behind certain pieces of information might be clear to human readers but not always to search engines. Structured data comes into play to bridge this comprehension gap. It gives search engines explicit clues about the meaning of a page and the significance of its components.

Structured data also lends specificity in cases that could be ambiguous to a search engine.  For example, Michael Jordan is a fairly common name, and it’s likely that human readers would immediately think of the basketball player. But, you could also be referring to the computer scientist Michael I. Jordan. Structured data allows you to specify which “Michael Jordan” you’re referencing by accompanying it with other relevant data (like occupation, known for, associated teams, etc.).  

The same goes for words that have multiple meanings.  Web content is rife with homonyms (words with the same spelling but different meanings) and other potential ambiguities. For instance, “apple” might refer to the fruit or the tech company. By using structured data, you can indicate which interpretation is accurate for your content, thereby preventing misinterpretations by search engines.

E-E-A-T signals 

E-E-A-T is important for SEO because it’s associated with Google’s Search Quality Rater Guidelines. The acronym stands for Experience, Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness, and these criteria are used by this team of human readers whose job it is to check the quality of search results.

Structured data can be used to boost E-E-A-T for SEO in a variety of ways.  For example, structured data can help verify the identity of authors and organisations. “Person” schema can include details that connect them to outside sources related to their education, qualifications, awards, and professional affiliations.  

Schema can also link people and organisations to other recognised platforms like LinkedIn or a university faculty page. You can think of these as an extension of entity clarification, as well.  

Is structured data a ranking factor?

No, the presence of structured data is not a ranking factor in search engine algorithms. Still, it can help search engines better understand your website’s content more efficiently. 

A search engine’s goal is to offer results that match the searcher’s intent as closely as possible. So, the more clearly it can categorise your pages, the better chance of having your pages rank well in a search query.

Will adding schema change my rankings?

It might, if it makes your page more understandable to search engines.  Again, it’s not the mere presence of the schema that has an impact. If used thoughtfully to tag relevant parts of your content, however, it’s possible that it could give you an edge in the rankings.  Structured data could also improve your clickthrough rates if you’re fortunate enough to get rich results. 

What is Google’s preferred structured data format? 

Google’s preferred structured data format is JSON-LD, though Microdata and RDFa are also supported. Schema.org provides a set of standardised vocabularies for structured data that search engines can use to understand and categorise website content better. 

No. Including schema does not guarantee that search engines will display your content as rich results. However, it can help search engines understand the content and make it easier to display your content as rich results if they choose to do so. Ultimately, search engine algorithms consider various factors, such as the quality and relevance of your content and compliance with Google’s content policies.

How can I see what schema my web pages have?

Google’s Schema Markup Testing Tool is a great way to check if your web pages have structured data. The tool allows you to enter a web page URL, and it will search the page for schema markup. It will display any structured data found, along with any errors or warnings. 

How can I generate structured data?

Many web tools and extensions can help you generate structured data code.  For example, Google’s Structured Data Markup Helper allows you to submit a URL and select specific aspects of the content from that page to highlight in the structured data.                                     

Schema markup generators, such as this one from Merkle SEO Tools, can also help generate different types of structured data. Just fill in the form with the required information and test the code generated on your website.

Finally, you can use SEO plugins and extensions such as RankMath to assist you with the generation and addition of structured data to your website. These can be ideal for adding correctly formatted and placed schema in bulk across your website, as they have various pre-set options.

Not seeing the structured data you need or want within these tools? If you’re feeling bold, you can also generate the code yourself using guidance from the Schema.org website.  

Or, ask ChatGPT to help get you started!  We won’t judge.

But, be sure that you test any structured data that you generate before putting it on your site, especially if you’re hoping for rich results.

How do I test structured data for SEO?

Google’s Rich Results Test is a great way to make sure your structured data is valid for rich results before putting it on your site. It allows you to enter a web page URL and search for structured data that is found. It will display any errors or warnings in addition to listing the types of features that it’s able to detect.

How can I see what rich results my pages are eligible for?

Google Search Central outlines the structured data types eligible for search engine features such as rich search results. Check out their list to see what your pages might be available for.

Google Search Console also monitors rich results and the status of eligible pages. Google’s Rich Results Reports offer a comprehensive view of your website’s performance in Google SERPs. This report identifies any rich results on the site and highlights any potential problems Google experienced while parsing them so you can address them quickly. This can be especially helpful for e-commerce websites that want to ensure their products are correctly surfaced in searches. 

In sum…

Structured data is a powerful tool for website owners and visitors alike! Providing search engines with more relevant and accurate details about your website’s content helps improve visibility and usability for everyone. 

You can benefit from increased website traffic due to higher rankings in search results, and your consumers enjoy a better user experience from being able to locate the information they seek quickly and easily. 

I want rich results! Can you help me with structured data?

We sure can. If you want to get started with structured data, our SEO team is here to help. Request a proposal today and let’s get started!