Structured Data: Why Schema Markup is the #1 SEO Priority for 2020

If there is one SEO effort you need to focus on in 2020, it should be to scale the implementation of structured data across as much of your content as possible in order to maximize the potential visibility of your content in search engines.

What is Structured Data?

Structured data is a standardized format for providing and classifying information about Web page content. Common examples include schema for videos, reviews, organizations, FAQ, and many more. Implementing schema markup to create structured data that describes your content allows Google to better understand what your content is and in many cases that results in stronger rankings and more efficient and frequent indexing. Structured data can also enable rich search results, which can provide more opportunity for visibility within search results.

What kinds of Structured Data should I use for my Website?

You should implement any and all schema markup that is relevant to your content. Obviously, you will want to prioritize based on ease of implementation and potential impact on business results. But in theory, to scale forward as effectively as possible, any structured data that can be implemented cost-effectively at scale should be.

The following page on Google illustrates how the various schema markups for different types of structured data are reflected in search results by Google:

It should be noted that there are literally hundreds of potential Schema markup opportunities, but Google currently only uses a much smaller subset of those to augment search results. That being said, the list of enhancements continues to grow at a rapid pace and it definitely makes sense to evaluate all schema opportunities and implement any appropriate schema assuming it isn’t cost-prohibitive to scale, regardless if it is currently being used by Google or other engines.

Currently, the most popular variants that should be on your shortlist for immediate implementation are:

  • Articles – For news and blog posts
  • Breadcrumb Navigation – Ensure breadcrumb is displayed in SERPs
  • FAQ – Question and answer format, helps rank for featured snippets.
  • How To – For instructions, helps rank for featured snippets.
  • Local Business – Maximize inclusion in all local universal search results
  • Logo – Controls which image is included in Knowledge Panel
  • Organization – Controls company information in Knowledge Panel
  • Product – For any product that is being sold online
  • Reviews – Displays your 3rd party reviews in SERPs
  • Sitelinks –  Display internal search box in SERPs
  • Videos – Rank based on video content, display thumbnails in SERPs

These markup opportunities deserve your initial focus as they tend to be the most impactful for most businesses, but you should evaluate all the opportunities that are applicable to your business and content and prioritize based on business objectives.

The good news is that once you do implement these markups, you will be able to leverage Google Search Console to see if you have correctly implemented the Schema and you will also be able to see the performance of the schema markup as well.

What is the Best Way to Implement Schema Markup for Structured Data?

The two primary means of constructing schema mark-up are to code it by hand (preferably using JSON-LD) or use the Structured Data Highlighter Tool. Either is a fine choice depending on your proficiency with coding and what you want to mark up.

You can find instructions for the Data Highlight Tool here.

Keep in mind that it only works on the following data:

  • Data Highlighter: Articles
  • Data Highlighter: Book Reviews
  • Data Highlighter: Events
  • Data Highlighter: Local Businesses
  • Data Highlighter: Movies
  • Data Highlighter: Products
  • Data Highlighter: Restaurants
  • Data Highlighter: Software Applications
  • Data Highlighter: TV Episodes

If you want to target data beyond that list, which you should, you will need to code it by hand. If you are writing code by hand, Google recommends that you code all of your Schema markup in JSON-LD versus the potential alternatives.

All of the Schema examples listed above link to pages that have example code.

If you are looking for a resource outside of those Google help pages, you should be aware of with Microdata. 

However, that site can be confusing, especially for those new to Schema Markup. The other Google help pages are probably the easiest resource to learn from.

The Structured Data Testing Tool is a good addition to your QA process before implementation and will help you debug errors.

What are the Best Practices for Using Schema Markup for Structured Data?

Here is a summary list of best practices you should use when creating and implementing Schema Markup for Structured Data:

Structured Data Best Practices

  1. Markup content that is only visible to users on the page
  2. Define additional recommended features when possible
  3. Utilize the JSON-LD markup format 
  4. Validate any schema markup before implementation with the Google Structured Data Testing Tool
  5. Implement the Schema as per the instructions found at the end of this article
  6. At a minimum, implement organization markup on the homepage
  7. A couple of days after implementation (or as soon as Google re-indexes and processes your new schema markup), check Google Search Console to ensure there are no errors and to understand the effect the schema is having on your SEO performance.
  8. Update your markup as frequently as information and pages change
  9. Monitor your performance in Google Search Console as well as your rankings for things like brand names, featured snippets and video placements to better understand potential opportunities for improvement.

While using structured data enables features to be present, it does not guarantee a rich results feature. Google’s algorithm tailors search results based on what it feels provides the strongest user experience. Device type, search history, and location are among many other factors that play a role in the algorithm. By referencing Google’s structured data guidelines before making your updates, you will have the best chance at guaranteeing a search results feature.

In terms of actual implementation, here is a solid 5 step approach to good results:

5 Steps to a Structured Data Implementation Strategy

  1. Determine site-wide markup that can be implemented across all pages (i.e. name, URL, description). Review the schema markup for Thing, the most generic page type.
  2. Determine site sections that would benefit from schema markup. Product, Event, and Service pages all commonly used page types. Browse the full schema hierarchy for ideas.
  3. Utilize schema vocabulary to implement itemscope, itemprop and itemtype specifications. Define all required and as many recommended attributes as possible.
  4. Utilize the structured data testing tool to verify correct implementation.
  5. Publish a handful of pages. Refer to the Rich Cards or Structured Data report in Search Console to monitor results. If you find errors within your structured data, retest on Fetch as Google. Once all errors have been identified and fixed, launch the rest of your pages and repeat the process.

The trend towards using and repurposing structured data is clear and it will become increasingly more important as time goes on in terms of opportunity for visibility and competitive positioning. The time to get a well thought out plan for implementing schema markup for all potential structured data on your site is now. Be sure to create a system that periodically reevaluates changes and updates to how search engines and others are using Schema so that you can be proactive in your structured data strategy.