Structured Data Simplified

If you're like most Web professionals, your eyes gloss over at the mere thought of "schema" and rich snippets.


That could be corrected, however, if Web professionals could simplify the approach they take to structured data integration. While it will always be somewhat complicated to those not truly code savvy, it will undoubtedly remain the responsibility of search engine optimization professionals (and others) within the digital enterprise for the foreseeable future. Fortunately, it's never been easier to start simplifying how content and digital assets are presented to search engine crawlers and, ultimately, to end-users as well.


For some reason, however, most websites just don't take advantage of structured data markup today. That is likely due to the complexities of the practice, as well as software solutions not simplifying the process of automatically adding such markup for their users, and the modest impact (if any) it has had on search marketing in general (although the influence on the user experience is undeniable).

The digital choices a company makes today, however, most certainly influence its future path; and this likely holds true in the case of structured data as well.


As search engines become more sophisticated, and modify and evolve the way in which they present listings to users, it's time for enterprises to get serious about using structured data regularly in their development.


Structured data is simply a type of markup (code) that makes it possible to annotate content so search engines (or, really, any "machine" for that matter) can understand (and more importantly process) it. Using structured data essentially makes it possible for search engines to understand larger or broader concepts and, ultimately, helps them index website content in a way that it can be presented effectively (e.g., more prominently) in the search results (specifically in Google's Knowledge Graph, or as a rich snippet).


There are many different types and methods for integration of structured data, including:


RDFa & Microdata: The more traditional/established markup types and methods of integration, RDFa and Microdata are the most common formats used to describe elements on a page - indicating which schema field names correspond with the on-page text. In issues past, Website Magazine has covered both markup types, showcased the required code and even offered up a few tools to help developers and SEOs get started easily.


JSON-LD: The newest way of expressing rich markup, JSON-LD describes elements of a Web page without having to hand code the markup into HTML. Thanks to its ease of use, JSON-LD is particularly appealing to developers, and may just be the tipping point structured data needs as a practice to reach critical mass.


In early February, in fact, Google announced JSON-LD support for reviews and products structured data markup.


Manually integrating structured data into Web pages can be a herculean task (particularly when sites have numerous pages, hundreds or thousands).


There are a variety of tools, thankfully, to simplify development to a point where it's more a "cut-and-paste" job and less hardcore coding.


The good news is that many of the best content management and ecommerce systems on the market today offer some form of module, extension or plugin to make structured data a reality - and it's time to fully consider their use.


Magento, in fact, provides several extensions for those getting started with rich snippets. The Rich Snippets Suite (costing approximately $70 U.S.) from MagModules, for example, provides online retailers an opportunity to use structured data for Google, Bing, Twitter Cards, Pinterest Pins and more (including Yotpo reviews) according to the markup. The newest version of the module, released in Dec. 2015, offers support for organization snippets, sitename snippets, custom breadcrumb titles and JSON-LD even works on Enterprise versions of Magento and within multistore environments.


There are some popular free alternatives for retailers on Magento using structured data, as well, including the Rich Snippets extension from MagPleasure (available only for the community edition).

Magento isn't the only ecommerce system to offer support for structured data - see what other platforms are doing to support their retailer customers.


While a great deal of attention is paid to how online retailers can use structured data, Web publishers and service providers can also get in on the action, and their content management systems do provide some support in this regard.


The Google SEO Pressor for Rich Snippets from SmackCoders, for example, can help publishers automate structured data for WordPress sites from an SEO and social perspective. The plugin supports all the snippets recommended, from the basics like events and people, to the advanced like breadcrumbs and reviews. While WordPress might be the most popular solution for publishers, there are many other content management systems (and in many instances, more powerful too).


Leveraging structured data is not going to rocket a website to the top of the search results, but it will (and does) improve the appearance of a listing. While taking advantage of rich snippets can be a cumbersome process, it is an important one - and it's getting easier.


Take advantage of the features, capabilities and opportunities offered by your existing software system - be it ecommerce or publishing focused - and a better digital presence will result.