The Role of Structured Data in SEO: Markup Types and Implementation

This information is a combined effort of Google and Microsoft to improve the web, particularly the business to consumer eCommerce segment. At the moment, this documentation is not indicative of the current feature set available. However, it explains the vocabulary and the potential future features, which is useful for understanding and preparing for what’s next.

There is a wealth of information on the Internet about structured data in general, plus its different types and their implementations. Despite the fact that search engines have collectively provided a significant amount of information on the subject and Google has gone as far as creating a tool which reads and tests structured data, there is not a lot of information on markup implementation all in one place. This document details the implementation of all types of content used in the examples in microdata and JSON-LD structured data format. This information is geared towards webmasters and developers interested in the SEO effects of structured data on their content, and using structured data in general to enhance their site’s search result appearance.

Benefits of Structured Data in SEO

Search engines are able to provide better search results. In terms of visibility, all four search engines have agreed to use the same standards for structured data, and in doing so have provided a way to make the data more visible. In addition to being used for rich snippets, structured data has enabled knowledge graph cards, rich cards, and various forms of rich results. An example of this is when searching for a film, you are able to access the rating, genre, reviews, and more. Rich snippets and rich results can dramatically improve the search result of a web page, making it more noticeable and compounding the benefits of SEO. High quality and more reliable rich snippets will be rewarded with higher organic search rankings. This, in turn, will increase the website’s visibility and possibly lead to an increase in traffic. Structured data is known to be indirectly correlated with higher page rankings, which further gives the incentives of better search results and visibility. Rich snippets and cards help online users to know and understand whether the information on the web page is relevant to what they are searching for. This saves the user time and effort clicking through to a web page only to find out that the information they’re looking for isn’t actually there. Named as the ‘no click through’, this can potentially have a detrimental effect on the web page traffic, even though it is offering the right information. Now that search users are able to see what the web page is offering before clicking through to it, there will likely be an increase in traffic from users who are finding the information they were looking for.

Improved Search Engine Visibility

Most often, search engines seem like a black box – no one knows exactly what is happening inside. A decision on the 1st page can be as good as random, with the 2nd or 3rd page being “penalized” for no apparent reason. Structured data markup is like using a torch to see inside the black box, and also providing a map of what is found. Although search engines say that use of markup does not guarantee rich snippets in search results, the addition of greater detail can only be a positive factor. is sponsored by all the big search engines, who have agreed on a specific vocabulary to use. This means that the use of the vocabulary is essentially a signpost pointing to the search engines, saying “this is what this is”. This in itself should be a strong indication to utilize markup, as often search engines are purposely vague in how webmasters can optimize content. An example of this is that Google has stated that structured data may allow a feature in the future that showcases marked up content, giving an extra incentive to utilize markup.

Enhanced User Experience

It is no news that user experience is now a chief indicator and SEMs one of the algorithms for search engine. Yet, it is to be known that there are a few techniques in the structured data which aid in improving the user experience. A user judges the relevancy of a webpage in half a shake when the landing is made on the site after a click through from search engine results. At this point of time, the user decides whether to stay on the current webpage and also how deeper to click through the other internal pages of the site. One thing that most users find annoying or time-consuming is when searching an event on a website, similarly to what rich snippets do in the SERPs, an event snippet can help the user to know whether the event is what they are looking for without click through to the events page or can show all the information of the event will entice the user to click through again showing them the on-site value. The same theory applies to the markup for the second benefit as it can be used for products on e-commerce websites. Users are also attracted by the sites having revealing reviews, ratings of the products which they are looking to buy. A higher-rated product has more chances of getting clicked. Imagine a user looking to buy a new smartphone, typing the product name and seeing a comparison of reviews and ratings of the top-rated smartphones in the SERPs. With this markup, a user has found what he wants without even going to the target site, and it’s very probable that he will be on the site on page 3 or the internal page of the competitor site.

Increased Click-Through Rates

A study by Raven Tools states that the #5 result in Google’s search engine has a 4.5% click-through rate. By the time you get to the last listing in the top 10, that rate decreases to 2.5%. Another study by Slingshot SEO showed that 18.5% of all organic clicks go to the #1 position, 10.05% of all organic clicks go to the #2 position, and 7.2% of all organic clicks go to the #3 position. These statistics show a clear trend that a higher ranking in search results pages has a much higher click-through rate. Although the studies only show the trend and not a causation, there is reason to believe that structured data will directly affect a website’s click-through rates from search engines. Rich snippets have the potential of increasing a website’s click-through rate to an astronomical degree. In a study by Catalyst Search Marketing, it was shown that in only one month of implementing RDFa rich snippets, above merely the first search result, they saw a 41% increase in click-through rate for their client. An example of a recipe website that implements rich snippets would show a list of ingredients, and sometimes even a picture depicting that recipe. This visual appearance is more likely to attract the attention of users, and clicking on that search result will lead the user directly to the page containing the recipe. Even if the recipe website was originally ranking at #3, their search result now has the potential to receive approximately the same amount of clicks as the #1 search result, which only has a 7.2% click-through rate. Other than enhancing search result appearances to entice clicks, Google also enables other enhanced search result features using structured data for software applications, video sites, and many others. This, in turn, increases the diversity of potential visitors and can affect a website’s overall conversion rate.

Types of Structured Data Markup

Microdata is a WHATWG HTML specification used to nest metadata within existing content on web pages. Search engines, web crawlers, and browsers can extract and process Microdata from a web page and use it to provide a richer browsing experience for users. Often, this will be a title, if there’s a product, the price or availability may appear in Google’s rich snippets. Although it is the easier and faster method, it has been described as more difficult to maintain as pointed out by Luke, and it is more difficult to reuse the data on other parts of websites or other web-based applications. This type of markup also has a rather heavy reliance on HTML5 so developers using XHTML may encounter complications using this. Use the Markup Helper to provide search engines with detailed information about your structured data and to generate markup.

JSON-LD may not be the most popular, but it is widely regarded as Google’s recommended schema markup. By comparison to other methods, it is human-friendly, as it is implemented in the script section of the HTML and does not rely on tagging data within HTML content, making it easier to convert from existing tagging systems and content. JSON-LD is a way of structured data implementation using JavaScript that we can add to our page on the client side. The JavaScript fetches JSON data from a remote location and inserts the data into the page. This method is by far the easiest way of inserting structured data into a page and it is the most recommended by Google since it’s a version of data it can easily understand. Use the Structured Data Testing Tool to validate the markup.


Created by W3C, JSON-LD (JavaScript Object Notation for Linked Data) is a method of encoding Linked Data using JSON. From the ground up, it is intended to be simpler to program than its close relatives. The simplicity of JSON-LD compared to Microdata and RDFa is striking. Rather than having to muddle through the documentation of several new vocabularies and implement complex parsers, Webmasters can use their pre-existing JSON skills and the standard JSON parsers that are now built into most server-side languages. JSON-LD is particularly easy when used alongside JavaScript events for content that changes – by outputting JSON-LD with the event, there is no need to modify the HTML of the page. This is in stark contrast to Microdata, where the script would also have to be modified to output the new microdata. Another advantage is that JSON-LD data is separated from the content that it describes, meaning that it is truly secondary metadata. This is said to make JSON-LD the safest form of structured data, but it does mean that in comparison to Microdata and RDFa, search engines may place less trust in the data and offer less significant rich snippet results. When deciding between the three markup types, Webmasters would be best off investing in learning JSON-LD as glowing future prospects and its clear shot as the successor to Microdata and RDFa will make it the most common form of markup in the years to come.


Microdata is the oldest of the Schema implementations; it was first introduced in 2009 with Schema’s inception. It is a WHATWG HTML specification used to nest data within existing content on web pages. Microdata uses a supporting vocabulary to label the data being added to the web page (e.g. [Link] The data and the nested tags for the data are placed within the body of the HTML content of the web page. Microdata is geared towards the initial introduction of Semantic Data and its incorporation with HTML content. If the data being tagged is not visible content to the end user, it is strongly recommended that the author provides some sort of indicator that data has been added. This may be a visual indicator or change on the page, or additional notices/warnings in the viewing source of the page. An example of microdata can be seen below. Microdata is a WHATWG HTML specification used to nest metadata within existing content on web pages. Search engines, web developers, and web users can discover, learn, and use this metadata, so it is in their interest to standardize on the most up-to-date version of HTML.


The Resource Description Framework in Attributes (RDFa) allows web developers to include structured data on their web pages. This structured data can then be used by search engines to improve search results. RDFa uses a mark-up language that can be used with XHTML, HTML5 and even in legacy HTML4 webpages. It extends HTML linking by adding a resource attribute in a tag. This specifies where the information about the term can be found. As search engines crawl webpages, they will stumble upon RDFa and other mark-up language syntax and will make note of it. Any schema can be used with RDFa. The syntax is relatively easy to learn and is suitable for those new to semantic mark-up. An example of RDFa might be to tag the title of a recipe webpage with ‘recipe name’. This will give the search engine an indication of what the title represents. When somebody searched for a recipe, it’s more likely that the marked up page will appear earlier in the results than the non marked-up page.

Implementing Structured Data Markup

To effectively integrate markup, it is important first to identify what markup should be used for the content on a specific page. For any given webpage, there can be many items on a page that could be marked up. For example, a blog post could have not only the blog posting itself but also the author, when it was published, and any comments that are made about the post. In this case, you would want to markup the blog post content as a BlogPosting item, the author and when it was published as properties of that BlogPosting, and the comments. This ensures that search engines know exactly what each piece of content is, thus they can show it the way you intended in search results, potentially with special rich snippets. You should start by marking up the most important and central items on the page, and not all markups are guaranteed to show up in search results. Items marked up are eligible to be shown as rich snippets. Events and Products rich snippets are two examples of rich snippets that are known to have certain markups that can make their respective items eligible for rich snippets in search results. Rich snippets can make your web results stand out and potentially increase CTR.

Identifying Relevant Markup

It is incredibly important to ensure that implemented structured markup is relevant to the page content, as this will grant search engines an understanding of what your content represents. It is therefore important to identify the most relevant schema markup for the page or section. Currently, provides a database of markup types on their website, which is the best place to start. This lists all types of schema which can be used to mark up content, and provide the schema properties in a clear and understandable format. Another method to identifying suitable markup would be to use the data highlighter feature in Google webmaster tools. This records the types of data highlighted. This process essentially marks up data by highlighting content, without directly changing any code. This tool is valuable as it shows the webmaster the way in which search engines understand the content on the pages. This is useful as if structured data can be derived from the highlighted data, it may be worth actually implementing the markup, though manually, comparing how search engines understand the data to the derived data markup. This can also be used to verify the implementation of manual markup, and anything derived can then be changed where necessary. This tool is really targeted towards improving the way that search engines interpret data. Data highlighter currently supports event, article, local business, product, software application, restaurant and TV episode using microdata. Presently, this is a very useful tool for marking up data in supported verticals as data can be marked up without changing any code and the visual way to do this allows to easily compare the highlighted data to the derived markup types. It is possible that this tool may support more verticals with schema types in the future.

Adding Markup to Webpages

Sometimes there are no suitable existing HTML tags to add markup to, particularly when the markup is about the page as a whole rather than specific content. In this case, adding meta-data to the head of the page is the best approach. JSON-LD (an implementation of JavaScript Object Notation) is a particularly straightforward and flexible method for adding meta-data to the head of a page. It involves adding a script tag, with the type attribute set to “application/ld+json”. JSON-LD data is separated from the rest of the page, making it easy to add and remove during development, and keeping it in a format separate from microdata that is less likely to be erroneously edited. JSON-LD can also be generated dynamically using server-side script. This can be a very efficient method of adding markup to a page for those with the expertise, allowing data to be taken directly from a database and output as JSON-LD along with the specified content. Although JSON-LD is the recommended method, there may be some cases where microdata or RDFa is used instead. Choose the method which is most maintainable and least intrusive for your particular situation.

There are many ways to add structured data to a webpage, depending on the web development tools at your disposal. For small changes, it might be easiest to simply edit the HTML of your pages directly. This means adding the appropriate annotations to the existing HTML elements on your pages. Typical places for markup would be within the ‘head’ of the HTML for metadata about the page, and as attributes within HTML tags that specify the data being described. Each type of data has predefined properties, and each property has expected value types. For example, the ‘organization’ type has a required property ‘address’ of type ‘PostalAddress’ and a recommended property ‘telephone’ of type ‘text’. It is important to read the documentation for the type you are marking up to ensure you are providing all information in the correct format.

Testing and Validating Structured Data

Enter the URL of the page that you’d like to test. This will likely be the URL of the page on your site that you’ve added the markup to. Google provides a rich snippet testing tool specifically for testing the markup of a URL, Bing has announced a preview of a similar tool, and Yahoo (using the same Bing index) supports the Bing tool. You’ll get to preview the snippets, but remember, these tools only test the URL entered. If the markup exists on the page and no new page is generated based on the markup, as with most Ajax or similar applications, you can simply enter the code into the rich snippet testing tool. To test a new or edited sitemap, attempt adding just the URL of the page that the specific markup points to. This might not work, but it’s the easier route because the alternate method validating complete sitemaps is more complex. Speaking of testing sitemaps, we should note that Live testing of sitemaps in Webmaster Tools doesn’t seem to show off any rich snippets, and won’t give details about which specific markup might be causing errors. This is very different from Google’s rich snippet testing tool for URL testing, which helps to identify which particular pieces of markup are done right or wrong. In any case, once you use rich snippet testing tools, it’s very easy to identify the current status of the search engine support for a wide variety of rich snippets. You’ll see details on which rich snippets might be displayed and when, what structured data Google has extracted from the page, and any errors or suggestions related to the page’s structured data that can be used to help fix up the markup.

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