What is structured data?

What is structured data? Structured data is essential information that is organized in a standardized format. This type of data can be easily processed by computers, which makes it ideal for use on the web.
Published
June 16, 2022
Category

Strategy

Structured data is essential information that is organized in a standardized format. This type of data can be easily processed by computers, which makes it ideal for use on the web.

Structured data is beneficial for search engine optimization (SEO). When used correctly, it can help improve your website’s ranking on search engine results pages (SERPs) or make it stand out through rich results.

Why do you need to use structured data for SEO?

Structured data is important because it provides search engines with key information about your website and its content. When you add structured data markup to your pages, you are telling search engines what type of data your page contains and how it should be displayed.

The tags and elements within structured data, also known as metadata, helps search engines and their users better understand your website and its content. For example, if you've created a how-to guide on your website, you can use structured data to feature the list of steps anytime someone searches for the topic on Google. 

Structured data vs. unstructured data vs. semi-structured data 

Structured data is the most organized type of data. It is information that is organized in a specific format so that it can be easily processed by computers and machine learning algorithms.

Unstructured data is information that has not been organized and does not have a specific format. This type of data is typically found in documents such as articles, emails, and blog posts. While search engines get better and better at understanding unstructured data, they prefer and reward structured data.

Semi-structured data is information that has been partially organized. It has a specific format but does not follow all the rules of structured data. The best example is HTML code, which uses different tags for a simple content structure, such as headlines, paragraphs, tables, and lists. 

Type

Definition

Examples

Structured data

Information that is organized in a specific format so that it can be easily processed by computers.

Schema markup, rich text, rich results or rich snippets, and featured snippets.

Unstructured data

Information that has not been organized and does not have a specific format.

Text, audio files, video files, and social media posts.

Semi-structured data

Information that has been partially organized.

HTML and XML markup

Pros and cons of structured data

There are a number of pros and cons to using structured data:

Pros

Cons

Structured data is easy for computers to process, which makes it ideal for use on the web.

Adding structured data markup to your pages can be time-consuming.

Structured data provides search engines with key information about your website and its content. 

Google and other search engines don't support all forms of structured data.

When used correctly, structured data can help improve your website's ranking on search engine results pages (SERPs).

If you make changes to your website's code, you may need to update the structured data markup as well.

There are many use cases for using structured data. Given the hyper-competitive nature of many industries, structured data can often give a web presence a competitive edge. However, it works best in conjunction with excellent content and a website that is fully compliant in terms of Core Web Vitals.

What is Schema markup?

Schema.org vocabulary can be used to markup web pages for various search engines such as Google, Microsoft Bing, Yahoo, and Yandex, with different types of structured data. Search engines often use this data to create ‘rich snippets’, i.e. search results listings that are enhanced with additional information and visuals that make them stand out. This usually improves their click-through-rate, and, as a result, brings additional visitors to a website.

When creating structured data, you can produce Schema code for the following common types of content, among a list of more than 30 types of rich results in Google:

  • Article

  • Book

  • Breadcrumbs

  • Course

  • Event

  • FAQ

  • How-to

  • Local Business

  • Movie

  • Reviews

  • Podcast

  • Product

  • Recipe

  • Services

There certainly is a little bit of a learning curve when it comes to the possibilities of structured data. For the use of SEO, a good starting point is to take a look at which types of Schema markup your competitors are using.

Once you have determined what type of structured data you want to utilize, you can use one of the following data formats to embed the Schema.org markup in the HTML code:

  • JSON-LD

  • Microdata

  • RDFa

The key differences between these formats are the ways they are embedded. While JSON-LD uses a JavaScript object, Microdata uses inline HTML tags and attributes. 

Google supports all three formats, but recommends the use of JSON-LD because it can be loaded asynchronously and therefore doesn’t impact page performance.

Implementing, testing, and monitoring structured data

There are a number of ways that you can add structured data markup to your pages.

The best way to get started is by using Google’s Structured Data Markup Helper. The tool will help you determine what type of data your page contains and how it should be marked up. 

After the markup code has been added to a page, you can use Google’s Structured Data Testing Tool to make sure that it has been implemented correctly.

You can also use Google Search Console to monitor for structured data issues through the Enhancements report, which can be found at the bottom of the Overview tab, as well as by using URL Inspection tool.

Please be aware that there’s no guarantee that search engines will use your structured data to enhance search results, even if you implemented everything correctly.

What data is being used frequently changes and can also differ from user to user, based on location, search history, and user intent. But no matter if it is used or not, it sends a strong signal to search engines that you are making an effort to help them understand your content and that’s always beneficial for SEO.

Ready to see structured data in action? Sign up for a free Contentful account or check out our Developer Portal for more resources and tutorials.


Frequently asked questions (FAQs)

Q. What are three types of structured data?

The three types of structured data are Microdata, RDFa, and JSON-LD.

Q. What is the best format for structured data?

Google recommends the use of JSON-LD because it can be loaded asynchronously and therefore doesn’t impact page performance.

Q. Is HTML structured data?

HTML is semi-structured data, since it uses a simple tagging structure to organize content for the primary purpose of rendering a web page.

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