Structured data is the label that’s applied to a number of markup formats that allow Google to better understand the data it is indexing. Structured data is then nothing more than metadata (data about data) implemented for search engines rather than people.
Google, Microsoft (Bing) and Yahoo worked to establish schema.org which is an independent, W3Capproved way of implementing structured data across the web. Unfortunately, many SEOs believe that this is a shortcut to better rankings, which it’s not. Semantic search is all about structured data. The entire effort that Google has undertaken involves indexing the unstructured data that is found across the web and then placing it in structured data format within its index.
That does not mean, however, that structured data on a website is a ranking signal. It helps in better indexing, but ranking depends upon other factors including the quality of the content, its value, uniqueness and even freshness. Despite the fact that Google is one of the founding organizations behind the Schema.org structured data markup initiative, Google will also attempt to extract entity information from unstructured data through its own efforts.
There are several good reasons for this:
• Adoption (structured data markup is notoriously difficult to implement if you do not know any coding)
• Accuracy (the moment human agents are involved in the markup of data, mistakes happen)
• Consistency (even when structured data is applied without errors, there are still differences in the categorization of content and a confusion as to how to best apply semantic identifiers)
• Reliability (there will always be a temptation to game search by implementing structured data markup in ways intended to boost ranking; Google has already had a number of manual action penalties in search designed to remove such spammy results).
The million dollar question is: is there anything you can do to help Google index your site better if you do not implement structured data markup?
The answer is yes; implement all the search engine optimization tools you have in your arsenal in a way that makes sense for a human user, first, and a search engine second.
Namely, your on-page SEO should help a reader better navigate your content and make sense of it at a glance. The keywords, synonyms, and entities you use in your content should also do the same. Any links you include, and the anchor text of those links, must similarly fill in those blanks.
If you’re running a bricks & mortar business, all the relevant information should be included on your pages, such as your name address and phone number. You should interlink your web properties (such as your site and social media accounts) with your Google+ presence.
Where possible, on your site, make use of Google’s structured data highlighter tool (http://goo.gl/0Sp10z). Finally make use of Google My Business (http://www.google.com/business/) and ensure have a cohesive presence on the web, whose effectiveness you can measure. Use Schema.org to help search engines better understand the content of your pages.
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