As a digital marketing professional, you’re used to writing for your target audience. You write with a person in mind—someone who’s interested in buying your product or service, right? But have you ever written content for a computer program?

If you’re working toward a search engine optimization (SEO) strategy, you should consider this often overlooked reader. SEO spiders and bots—the computer programs that crawl your site and help index your content for search engines—are a lot like your average blog reader. Not only do they love compelling, relevant content, they also love clear, concise, and clean code. That’s where structured data markup comes in.

What is Structured Data Markup?

In a nutshell, structured data markup is a standard form of writing blocks of HTML for a website in a manner that makes it easy for computers and search engines to understand.

When I write a case study, I need to interview developers and web designers to talk about what role they played in the website project and translate their knowledge into a narrative the average person can understand. If I were instead to let a developer or designer do his own writing, most of the jargon-heavy copy would sail right over a reader's head.

Structured data markup works the same way.

The webpages you see on a daily basis are built by curating and arranging blocks of data in a way that makes sense. Websites with product pages, such as Amazon, are a great example, as no one would want to manually write each product, price, quantity, and description on several pages—the amount of updating would drive a person crazy. That’s why we use databases to serve the right content to the right places.

Simplifying Data

Structured data markup allows developers to assemble the content from databases into readable, coherent configurations that not only we, the humans, can read, but also the bots.

In short, structured data provides the means to communicate directly with search engines for the benefit of getting your content indexed properly in Google and other search engines. When used correctly, your website can rank higher and be found easier by users.

How you structure your data depends on your strategic goals. There are many options, and you can explore more by visiting Schema.org, which contains the complete documentation for all types of markup.

Example of Structured Data

When you post a blog article on your website, you assign it a publication date, right? For many sites, the date displayed in the browser—how humans see it—looks great. We see the month, day, and year displayed in a manner comparable with your website’s style guide.

But while you and I immediately recognize this data as indicative of when the blog post was published, bots aren’t as sure.

Bots use rules and logic to determine things like publication dates. They don’t naturally parse that information out as a date. They can’t afford to assume a date on a page refers to the date of publication. What if the author included another date in the body copy itself? How would a bot know the difference? It can’t.

Time for some structured data!

By adding a <meta> tag between your <header></header>, you can explicitly tell the bots the publication date. You’ll want to add a line of code like this:

<meta itemprop="datePublished" content="2015-08-15T08:00:00+08:00"/>

where content equals (you guessed it) the date of publication.

Your CMS (content management system) can be set up to pass the data onto the HTML of the blog post. In fact, you can find plenty of plugins for your CMS that make this a relatively painless setup.

Rich Snippets — Benefit from Structured Data Now

So you’re probably thinking, “Okay, Rhen, that’s interesting, but not very exciting. What else you got?”

Let me introduce you to Google’s Rich Snippets. I say introduce, but chances are, you’ve experienced the world of Rich Snippets for several years now.

Google uses structured data markup to display rich text and media in its SERPs (search engine results pages). Ever tried searching for a recipe in Google and received a list of results with images, five-star ratings, and number of reviews? That’s Rich Snippets at work.

Some of the most popular websites utilize Rich Snippets to entice users on the SERP to choose their site over a competitor’s.

Let’s look at some popular examples you can start utilizing for your own website.

Products

If you sell products on your website, you’ll want to start implementing this markup immediately. At the very least mark up your product names, prices, and availability, but you can also include ratings and reviews.

Rich Snippets Product Review

eBay includes a number of markup types to encourage users to view its products.

Video

Video is one of the most powerful ways to market your business’s offerings, and Rich Snippets markup can help you drive more eyes on your video content. You can markup title, description, duration, thumbnail, and more to grab users’ attention.

Rich Snippets Video

Toys ‘R’ Us’s Rich Snippets give users the duration for the video as well as a compelling call to action to watch the video.

Events

If you host a number of events, your goal is to make it easy for people to register and attend them. Make it even easier by using the markup to tag your events, so they appear directly on Google’s results page. You can mark up event name, date, and location.

Rich Snippets Events

Instead of searching through the SanJoseCa.gov calendar yourself, Google serves up the upcoming events right in the SERP.

With Rich Snippets, you can enhance your visibility in search and attract more users to visit your site and explore your offerings. I encourage you to explore all your options by visiting Google's Rich Snippets page.

Integrate Structured Data

Depending on your strategic goals, structured data markup may require a large commitment on your part. You’ll need to discuss a plan with your web developers on how to implement the myriad of types of markup you require to benefit your business.

However, that doesn’t mean there are not steps you can take right now to make some headway. Review the Schema.org site as well as your Google Search Console (formerly known as Google Webmaster Tools) and decide what data you need to enhance your website.

In the meantime, find out how your site’s performing currently. Use Google’s Testing Tool to see how your code appears to Google.

Have some good use cases for structured data? Have any questions you want us to cover in future topics? Leave us a comment on Twitter or LinkedIn. Learn more about all the web development services our award-winning digital marketing firm provides.

You can also find me (Rhen) on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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