Search Engine Optimization and Structured Data

May 19, 2015

Here are four things digital marketing departments should know about SEO and structured data. But before you start reading, let’s ask this question: Who should read this post? The answer is digital marketers, analysts, content strategists and web developers who want to improve the effectiveness of their company’s online marketing.

If you are a technically oriented SEO, check out this post: The Cutting Edge of Structured Data, or this one: Ways to Leverage Markup instead.

What Is Structured Data?

Structured data is code that your developers can add to your web pages and apps to improve user experience. It gives users more information about your business. It’s a new and essential way to think about – and optimize – your online content. Just like mobile marketing, if you are not up to speed and taking action with structured data, you risk falling behind your competition.

Structured data is changing the way search results look

The goal of this post is to show you how this relatively new addition to the digital marketing toolkit can be used to improve the way users interact with your listings in search results on mobile, tablet and desktop.

With these techniques, you’ll drive more traffic to your website and to your other online properties (mobile apps, social media channels, etc.). And if you get started now, you’ll be ahead of most of your competitors.

Here are four examples of how structured data is being used. There are more examples and resources listed at the end of this post.

1. Rich Snippets in Search Results: Make Users Click

Rich snippets are bits of useful information that appear in some search results, like the rating and price information in the listing below. You can see the orange four-and-a-half stars, the rating, and number of reviews in numeric form, and a price range.

One form of structured data is rich snippets

This info appears because Yelp adds structured data to its review pages. Google uses the information to create enhanced search result listings. The review numbers are impressive, making the search listing more compelling and clickable than a result that doesn’t have them. On the other hand, if the numbers weren’t great, using rich snippets might not be such a good idea!

Even though businesses are including reviews on their website, snippets won’t appear in search results unless they add structured data to their pages.

So, if you have reviews on your site, make sure snippets appear in search results. If not, have your developers add the code necessary to get them to show up.

Now if you’re saying, “Been there done that! We already use rich snippets.” Stick with me. Rich snippets are just one way Google and other engines are changing the way information gets passed on to users.

2. Google’s Knowledge Graph: Add Better Information to Your Search Listings

Here’s another simple way to improve your visibility in search results. Google is using something it calls the Knowledge Graph to collect more detailed information to show in search results. Do a Google search for any large business, and you’ll see a feature box on the right side of results, like the one for Oracle below.

Google's Knowledge Graph uses structured data

Google includes icons for social media profiles in the box as long as it associates them with the business. You can see Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+ icons in Oracle’s above. But sometimes Google can’t find your profile information. There’s no Facebook icon in the box, for instance. This is a little odd because you can find the Facebook profile listed a bit further down the search results page! YouTube and Instagram icons are also missing, despite the fact that Oracle has thriving channels for these as well.

You want to connect with customers and prospects in as many different ways as possible, so people should be able to find as many of your social properties as possible. It’s the whole reason you have these channels.

This is easy to fix. Just add structured data markup to your website. If your logo or phone number are missing or incorrect, you can fix these too. You help Google, Google helps you.

These are basic examples, but it’s easy to see the importance. If you’re already convinced, jump to this page now and get all the info you and your web team need to rock the structured data world.

Still not convinced? Here are two more uses of structured data that should really make you a believer.

3. Deep Linking for App Content: Send Users Directly to Your App

To take full advantage of this new search feature, you need to offer an app to customers. Your company may not do this. But read on, because the concept is a window into the future of search.

Say you’re searching on your mobile phone. You type or speak a question into your Chrome browser. Click on a result, and, rather than being taken to a webpage, you are taken to a specific screen in an app installed on your phone. You just used a deep link.

Deep Linking takes users from search results to mobile apps

Deep links can appear anywhere. On a smart phone, you can set your Chrome browser to take you from search results directly into Google apps like Maps or Google Drive. A deep link from inside the Facebook app can point directly to a screen on the Pinterest app. But what’s even more awesome – what makes deep linking a window into the future – is that Google is crawling and indexing these links and serving them up in search results. These links can point to any app, not just Google’s. (Currently, they are only indexing links to Android apps, but they are now beginning to roll out deep link indexing for iOS apps as well.)

4. App Indexing for Google Search: Send Users to Your App from Search Results

Not only do deep links take users directly to screens on your app, some of these links are now being indexed by Google, which means they are going to show up in search results and compete with web pages for top rankings. Take a minute to think about this.

Google’s search results used to be an index of web pages, a massive collection of everything Google could find on the World Wide Web, ranked in order according to what Google thought would be the most pleasing results for a given search. Now Google is expanding its index to include screens in apps! For example, search for “Mexican restaurants near me” on a smartphone and one of the results Google will give you is a link to the Yelp app. If you have the app installed, you’ll go right to that screen. How does Google know it’s one of the best results? Simple. Users click and they don’t return to the search results page.

You can see the importance of deep links appearing in mobile search results. But there’s more.

When you click on a deep link from a Google search, the next time you do a similar search, Google personalizes the results by 1. adding the keyword you used into the “Suggest” menu (the list of keywords that pop up as soon as you start typing into the search box) and 2. putting the deep link listing at the top of the search results page.

The significance for search optimization is pretty obvious. If you click on a deep link, Google figures it’s the most relevant result any time you do a search after that. Given that most of us tend to click on the first result, it’s a strong recommendation.

Google is now indexing deep links to include in mobile search

Clearly there are advantages to using deep linking if your company offers an app, even if you have to use some web developer resources to make it happen. You’ll improve user experience, increase engagement and improve visibility in search results.

To get deep linking to work, have your developer add structured data to your links.

Here are some useful Google case studies on deep linking featuring Etsy and The Guardian.

These four examples – rich snippets, the Knowledge Graph, deep linking and indexing deep links – are really just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to uses for structured data. The most import point is that structured data is here to stay. Google wants your help improving user experience in search results. Google is constantly testing new ways to optimize user experience. If they are suggesting that we use structured data, we should pay attention.

Four more ways you can use structured data to improve user experience and click-through rates:

1. Add breadcrumbs to your search listings

You can use structured data to include breadcrumbs in search results

2. Add ratings to product listings

You can use structured data to add ratings to product listings

3. Add a search box to a search result listing

Use structured data to add a search box to your search results listing

4. Improve local business listings

Improve local search listings with structured data

Additional structured data and optimization resources: