Structured data and schema markup are confusing topics for bloggers, but by the end of this post you will have an understanding of what they are. While the two terms are used interchangeably, they actually are two different things.
What is Structured Data?
Structured data is data that's been organized. Your address book is a perfect example of structured data. Everyone's contact information (data) is neatly organized (structured) in alphabetical order.
Unstructured data would be when you scribble someone's name and number on a scrap of paper then throw into a drawer with 50 other scraps of paper.
Structuring data makes it much easier to search. You can flip to the S page of your address book to get my number, but you might have to look at all 50 pieces of paper to find it if it weren't structured.
In that address book, there are fields for:
- Phone number
- Email address
There could also be fields for company, job title, and even birthday.
What Does Structured Data Mean for Blogs?
As I mentioned, structuring your data makes it easier to search. Google, Bing, and Yahoo are in the business of searching the internet, so we want our blogs to be set up in a way that makes it easier for them to find us.
Think about each of our blog posts being on a scrap of paper thrown into the internet drawer with millions (if not billions) of other blog posts. That makes it super hard for search engines to find the best results on the search results page.
History of Structured Data
Back in the day, search engines each tried to create their own way of structuring data, but because it wasn't standardized, it didn't work well.
Back to the address book analogy, one search engine may have called it “street address,” another called it “mailing address,” and a third just called it “address.”
That didn't make it easy for search engines or for content creators.
So, in 2011, Google, Bing, and Yahoo got together and came up with a standardized structured data method called schema. The schema.org site is where all the information about it is stored.
Basically, the search engines created a common vocabulary so that they all use “address” rather than each of them calling it something different.
What Does This Mean for Blogs?
Now that we understand what structured data is, we need to understand how it's applied to websites.
Let me start with another analogy.
Let's say we have a pile of different kinds of forms sitting on our desk. For some of these, we can figure out what kind of form it is by the types of information it asks for–basically the blank fields on the form.
A job application is going have fields for your work history, education, references, desired starting salary, etc.
A medical form that we fill out at the doctor's office has fields for the symptoms that brought us to the office today, our medical history, our insurance information, etc.
Fields on an order form include the name of the product we want to buy, the quantity, our payment method, and our shipping address.
If I look at a form that has fields for my medical history and insurance information, I know that it's a medical form.
So if a blog post has a form with fields such as cuisine type, cooking time, and nutritional information, the search engines can assume that post has a recipe.
A form with fields such as supplies, tools, and step-by-step instructions tells the search engines that the post is probably a how-to post.
What is Schema Markup?
Schema markup is code that can be added to the HTML code of our sites. It structures our sites so that it's easier for search engines to understand them.
It also gives the search engines the information they need to show rich results.
Are you ready to learn more about all the information Google Search Console can tell you about your blog? Sign up for my course, “The Nuts & Bolts of Google Search Console!”
What are Rich Results?
Google defines rich results as, “An enhanced result in Google search with extra visual or interactive features.” They used to be known as “rich snippets.”
Here is an example of a search for “chocolate chip cookie recipe.”
See the elements such as images, ratings, and ingredients? That's what makes up a rich result for recipes.
Here is a result for the same search that doesn't have a rich result.
There are lots of types of rich results. You can see more examples in Google's search gallery.
Note: You can see data about your rich results in Google Search Console.
How Content Creators can add Schema Markup to Sites
Schema markup can be added to our blogs manually, but for the vast majority of us, that's not feasible–we're bloggers, not coders.
Instead, most bloggers who use WordPress will use plugins to add the code.
For example, in the Yoast Search Appearance settings, we can set our defaults for schema markup code.
We can indicate whether our site represents an organization or a person on the general tab. If we choose organization, we'll be asked for the name and logo.
What we probably don't realize is that in the background, Yoast is adding schema markup code to tell the search engines that this site is about an organization named Painless Blog Analytics with this logo.
The content types tab asks us for a default page type and a default article type for our posts.
Again, Yoast adds the schema markup for us.
These plugins are limited in the type of schema markup that they can output, so if we want other types, we'll need to find another alternative.
My favorite plugin is Create by Mediavine. It's free for anyone (not just Mediavine publishers).
Create supports recipes, how tos, lists, and FAQ Schema markup.
What Types of Schema Markup do Bloggers Use?
There are so many types of schema markup. Check out this list, but don't let it overwhelm you.
Some of the most popular Schema types that bloggers use are:
- How tos
Most bloggers have heard of recipe cards. While we see them as a nice visual way to see our recipe that makes it easy to print, they are actually adding Schema markup code to our post so that Google will know it's a recipe.
If your post is a how to (like how to make robots out of toothbrushes), the Schema markup will tell Google, “Hey, this post tells people how to make toothbrush robots.”
How does Schema Markup Help SEO?
As I mentioned earlier, Schema markup gives the search results the information they need to display a rich result. So if you don't have Schema markup, you are ineligible for rich results.
Because they're so eye-catching, rich results will have a higher click through rate than non-rich results. If you don't have them, you probably won't get as much traffic as blogs that do.
So, what can we expect when we add Schema markup?
For my Cub Scout blog, I have a couple of recipes including the infamous armpit fudge one. I never thought about adding a recipe card because I'm not a food blogger. A fellow blogger suggested that I should have one.
Look what happened to my search traffic after I added the recipe card in April 2020.
You can see how my organic search traffic started ramping up after that, so it's definitely worth your time to add Schema markup to your site.
Hopefully, this helps you understand what structured data is and how to implement it with Schema markup on your site.