What is structured data? And how can it improve your search ranking and click through rate?


Rich Cards, formally Rich Snippets have been around for some time now, as has Google’s knowledge graph, which was added to search engine result pages (SERPs) way back in 2012. And since early 2016, we’ve started to see structured data, which is used to implement these different displays of information, become an even greater influence on SERPs, especially Google.

On May 17th 2016, Google rolled out a number of changes to how their search engine handles structured data, with the most important changes being the introduction of rich cards. These are a complete restructure of Google’s documentation about structured data, alongside a new report function in Google Search Console for data relating to rich cards.


Before we delve into the technical stuff, let’s take a step back here and clearly define what structured data is and what it can be used to do…


What is structured data?

Structured data refers to information that is organised in such a way as to allow for search engines to easily understood and categorised it, and then display that information in creative ways, which gain higher levels of engagement, within SERPs.

Structured data is built using a text-based markup that typically uses the vocabulary, a result of collaboration between Google, Bing, Yahoo! and Yandex. Its aim is to clarify what information search engines need to be better able to understand your content and give the searchers a better and more engaging search experience. is made up of three forms of code:

  • RDFa
  • Microdata

The most common being the latter, which stands for JavaScript Object Notation for Linked Data. Below is an example of JSON-LD code, which would be used to show contact information for your company in a rich result.

By providing structured data markup on your company’s website, you ensure that your content is eligible to appear in creative ways within search results. Taking Google as an example, your content can appear in one of two categories:

  • Rich Results/Cards
  • Knowledge Graph Cards


So what are Rich Cards and Knowledge Graph Cards?

Let’s take a look at these forms of structured data categories.

  • Rich Cards: Rich Cards took over from Rich Snippets, providing a more mobile experience. These now account for the majority of page one search results, using Schema Markup to provide searchers with results that include images, reviews, and contact information.
  • Knowledge Graph: Google’s Knowledge Graph is used both behind the scenes by Google and to present knowledge graph cards within SERPs, providing direct answers to questions and queries.


So, what can you do to ensure you are making the most of Rich Cards and structured data?

Here are 5 Rich Card strategies you should be using…

1. Use markup on your web pages

Using schema markup may be daunting due to the need for coding skills, but many web developers should be able to set up a system so that marking up your content is as simple as filling in a few fields, and if your site is built on WordPress there are a number of Plugins you can use to help easily mark-up your content. This will allow your content creators to take on the task and mark-up content as they produce it.

And with only 20% of businesses currently using schema markup on their website, now is a great time to start implementing it across your business’ website to help get ahead of your competitors.

Here are just a couple schema markup types that might be really useful for you to use:

  • News articles: Using schema markup for your articles makes them more likely to appear in the news section within Google results. This is the perfect form of schema to be used by content producers, working on both engaging value driven content and company news stories.
  • Videos: We all know that videos are a powerful tool to have in your marketing arsenal, and though seen less frequently within SERPs, they can still be found for certain searches. One great way to include video schema markup is with ‘How to?’ posts, ensuring your search results take up more page 1 real estate and help you stand out through the use of video to potential customers.
  • Rating/Review: Searches for products and businesses can all be marked up using the ‘rating and review’ schema code, allowing you to show your product ratings and customer reviews within your search result snippets.

Example of review rich card

2. Research your target search terms

As part of your SEO and content marketing strategies, you’ll conduct keyword research and choose specific terms that you want to rank for. But what you possibly don’t do, and you really should, is investigate how the search result page’s look now, for those key phrases. By doing this you allow yourself the opportunity to identify which competitors rank for such terms, the types of content that rank highest and, most importantly, what forms of structured data seem to work best for your target keywords. This will give you a better idea of what types of schema markup you should be implementing on your website.

3. Targeting local customers

If your business sells or provides a service where customers can come to a storefront, then it’s key to ensure that you show up in local searches. When Google sees that individuals are looking for nearby results, they will present a map that includes a cluster of local businesses.

Now, for those concerned with coding, you’ll be pleased to read that for this form of rich result you won’t need to implement any form of structured data; simply create a business listing in Google and follow the same actions that are recommended for local SEO in general.

4. Focus on extensive and not just simple answers

One downfall of rich results is that for simple questions, such as “how to boil an egg”, Google will simply provide an answer in its answer box at the top of SERP. This makes it unlikely that searchers will scroll down and click on an organic result, due to having the answer right there in front of them.

However, ensuring the answer to your customer’s questions should still be a staple of your content strategy, as long as those questions require extensive answers that show off your company’s industry knowledge and expertise.

5. Always pay attention to changes

Rich snippets have been around for a while now but Google and other search engines are always updating and evolving their platforms for users and business alike. So it’s important that you keep up to date with the latest updates in both organic and paid search, so you know exactly what the landscape of the SERPs looks like when an ideal customer searches for one of your targeted terms.

As mentioned earlier, May 2016 saw Google release its rich cards, which have created a better user experience and have massively changed the dynamics of how a user interacts with search result pages. Meaning those lower ranking page one results, which had hours of content and SEO work put into them, are often over looked for those rich card optimised pages which are eating up the search result pages real estate.

What’s next?

As search engines, begin to place more emphasis on structured data and mobile devices, including the soon to be, mobile first index flip from Google, it is key that marketers understand just how the two can work together to generate high performing search traffic.

And staying on top of the current trends to ensure that you’re using structured data correctly, to present your information in Rich Cards and therefore giving searchers more information about your business and products. While also grabbing yourself a larger share of page one real estate, and increasing click through rate and, ideally, in turn, sales.



Note: This blog is an updated version of a blog I wrote in 2016 for Smart Insights


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