Structured Data and Marketing
Structured data should be a tool in every digital marketer’s tool belt. When used correctly, structured data can drive a website’s brand value and provide users with an excellent experience. Structured data has received a bit of a bad rap as some argue it keeps users off of website pages, thus lowering click-throughs. While this may be true in some circumstances, structured data truly can be used in an effective way for most websites. Consider the advantages and disadvantages, as well as how your data will display, before structuring your own data. If you do decide to mark up data, Schema is super easy to incorporate immediately into your current HTML code.
With the advent of “search by voice” enabled devices (Siri, Google, Cortana, Alexa), utilizing structured data is an effective way to be found when a user asks their mobile device a question.
Let’s use a local restaurant as an example. We’ll call it “Number One Café”. If Number One Café has the phone number, address, and hours of their business successfully marked up, Google and other search platforms will pull this data and know how to categorize it. When a user asks Siri what time Number One Café closes, Siri will pull the correct information from this categorized data. When a user has a pleasant experience with your business before arriving, they are more likely to become a customer.
Through some testing, we find this to be true with other searches as well. If I ask Siri to provide me a list of the Disney princesses, the data is pulled from a non-Disney website that has the profiles, names, etc. of each Disney princess marked up. I can then click through to that site that has taken the time to mark up the data, whereas the actual Disney website doesn’t appear until almost the 4th page of results.
In the voice-search world, the top result is usually what will be clicked on. Marking up pertinent information will help your website be relevant and clicked on.
Structured data can also be leveraged as a brand booster within the search engine results pages (SERPs). As an example, I will use the Google search results that come up for “how do i change the oil in my car?” The top result I receive is this:
This featured snippet from Dummies.com takes up a large chunk of the search page real estate and it is likely that the user will click on this link for a full explanation on how to change his car oil. This result also makes Dummies.com appear authoritative. With the Dummies article in the back of his mind, he is likely to choose one of their books to purchase for any future needs that he may have on that topic.
Structured data can also boost branding in other ways. Structuring data correctly can give you some control over how your website appears when users share your links on different social media platforms. Content pieces like images, page titles, and content can be marked up to display in a professional way when a user copy/pastes your URL on social platforms.
These examples just scratch the surface regarding the usefulness of structured data. With users demanding relevant content very quickly, structured data is not going away anytime soon. Digital marketers and business owners would do well to begin marking up at least some of their content. Keep reading to learn how the technical aspects of marking up your site content.
A common way to structure data on a site (and in fact the way that Google looks for structured data) is to take advantage of Schema.org. Schema.org is a community-driven set of guidelines on how to structure data for everything from books and people to events and deals on products. Ultimately, virtually any entity that visitors may want to easily access through a quick Google search can be structured following Schema.org’s guidelines. To structure data this way takes no more than 5 minutes on a given item. Just add an itemscope attribute referencing the correct Schema.org page to the item you want to structure, and then add the specific itemprop attributes around the data that needs to be structured.
Google provides the Structured Data Testing Tool to help structure data. Once data on a page has been structured, it can be pasted into this tool, and it will show exactly what will be presented to Google users when they search. This can be helpful in defining exactly how much data really needs to be structured and presented. For instance, review scores would be essential to present with a product, but it will not be necessary or even possible to fill in the 100+ fields for every single product. The Structured Data Testing Tool will also note any required fields that are missing, so that this item can correctly appear as intended.
However, what happens if the code of a website isn’t directly or easily editable? Google has accounted for that for any users of their widely used Google Tag Manager platform. Even users without coding experience can use the Google Data Highlighter tool to quickly and easily structure data for their sites. This tool still works based off Schema.org’s data structures, but rather than going into the markup of a site to add attributes the Data Highlighter allows non-technical users to select the data type they are highlighting, and then click and drag to highlight specific items they would like to include in this data. Structuring a business listing is a simple matter of highlighting the name, address, phone number, and any other information important to that business.
Google isn’t the only company looking to use structured data to more easily engage their users. Open Graph is another quick and easy way to provide structured data to users. Open Graph is primarily used by social media platforms including Facebook. Open Graph works by including <meta> tags in the <head> of a page. Open Graph information is much simpler than Schema.org with only about 10-15 definable properties, but that allows a more focused data structuring for social platforms. Further, Open Graph data structuring doesn’t interfere with Schema.org data structuring or vice versa, so both can be used together on a site to specifically target how Google and social media simultaneously. Twitter uses another type called ‘Twittercard’, so anyone managing a site that aims to be highly visible on social media should keep it in mind which to use and how to nest them.
The best sites will know their prospective clients well enough to pre-answer the questions before they have to use their sales force or customer service teams to answer them. Structured data allows the standardization and exposure of certain elements on your site. The information displayed in your listings will better qualify your visitors. These bits of code also allows your staff to address the higher revenue questions that your visitors may have, while letting your site work for you as much as it can in the search engines.