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Structured Data 101: How to Tell Google What Stuff Is

Google announced several weeks ago that they’ve started supporting Structured Data and using it to develop rich results on their results pages. So, into the world of Structured Data Markup we go! First, some basic definitions.

“Structured Data” is basically “information that is organized so that a computer can easily understand it.” Mostly, in terms of Google, ‘Structured Data’ means ‘data that has been thoroughly explained by metadata.’

“Metadata,” as you might have guessed, is “data about your data.” For example, “City of Angels” is data — it’s a name. Google has to guess whether or not you’re using it in the context of the 1998 movie by the same name, the 1996 movie (The Crow: City of Angels), the actual city of Los Angeles, the city of Bangkok (whose name, in Thai, is ‘city of angels’), or any of a number of songs, plays, or books using that name. To clarify for Google, you would add a line of metadata that says “Hey, this next part is about a movie. The movie was made in 1998 and stars Meg Ryan and Nicholas Cage.”

Google then has a lot more ‘hooks’ that it can use to place your page among other pages like it. It also means that Google is far more likely to give your page a ‘rich’ entry on its results page — an entry that is larger, has more information contained in it, and generally gets 10%-25% more clicks than a normal entry.

JSON-LD (JavaScript Object Notation with Linked Data) is Google’s preferred language to read metadata in, but it has a critical problem: the documentation for JSON-LD (pronounced “Jason led,” at least in our office) is written by experts, for experts. (And so is all the other metadata markup stuff!) There’s no documentation out there that doesn’t include ridiculous jargon and impenetrable copy. So we’re going to make this process as simple to implement as we can.

What You Can Point At
As of right now, metadata can tell Google about:

  • Local Businesses
  • Restaurants (offers more specific data fields than the Local Business entry)
  • People
  • Products
  • Offers (“this product is available for $399”)
  • Aggregate Offers (“this product is available between $399-$459”)
  • Events
  • Organizations/Brands
  • Apps
  • Websites
  • Breadcrumbs (creates the “blades.com > swords > gladius” line in the rich results.)
  • Navigation (creates the big panel that has several important pages within your site.)
  • Music Albums
  • Music Playlists
  • Movies
  • Books
  • Videos
  • Recipes
  • Reviews
  • Aggregate Reviews
  • …and they’re adding more all the time!

This is just the list that Google is definitely using to generate rich results. There are many more options as well — find the full list at schema.org. It’s unlikely that Google will add most of them in the near future, though. There’s just not a lot of reason to put metadata information about game servers, taxi reservations, or crematoriums up on the search. (Yes, those are all real entries under the category of “things that have specific metadata syntax built for them!”)

Creating the Code
The easiest way to generate metadata markup code for any of those things is to go to Google and type in “metadata generator thing“, where thing is whatever you want markup for. No one has created a truly universal metadata code generator yet, but there are individual generators for every kind of thing on the list above — just find one. It will ask you to put in a bunch of useful information, and it will spit out a chunk of code. The most generally useful items can be found on Google’s Structured Data Markup Helper and on the Ultimate Microdata & Rich Snippets Generator.

Testing the Code
The next step is to copy the code out of that page, open a new tab and go to Google’s Structured Data Testing Tool. Click on ‘code snippet,’ and paste the code into the resultant window. If it checks out, save it to a document for now. If not, and you feel competent to try and fix it, take a shot at it. If you don’t feel competent enough, try a different metadata generator and repeat until you find one that works. (Keep in mind that you have to use the same kind of metadata across your entire page — so using a JSON-LD metadata generator one time and then a RDFa metadata generator the next will give you huge problems.)

Implementing the Code
This is the easy part. All you have to do to implement JSON-LD is put a <script type=”application/ld+json”> tag on your webpage just below the <head> tag, paste each of your code snippets in line under the <script>, and then of course close with a </script> tag after your code snippets have all been posted in. (Take the whole shebang back to the Structured Data Testing Tool one more time before you publish just to be sure.)

And that’s it! Google has made the metadata markup significantly easier on every webmaster with this latest announcement. Now anyone who wants to take advantage of rich results…can! If you want to get a little deeper into the rabbit’s hole, we suggest starting here.

Next time: how Structured Data can enhance your content marketing efforts!

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