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If You Don't Care About Structured Data, You Suck at SEO

Published: March 11, 2013

Author: Mike Arnesen

Today’s post is by Mike Arnesen, Senior SEO at SwellPath.
if you don't care about structured dataThe impetus for this post came from a simple response I read in the comments of an only tangentially related blog post. It was something along the lines of, “I don’t know about rich snippets, because I’ve never needed to use that kind of markup.”
Now, this wasn’t a comment from a web developer or a copywriter; this was a comment from a self-professed thought leader in SEO, whom I’ve noticed is fairly well regarded in the community (occasionally). I repressed my gut reaction to fire off a comment at the time, and stored my would-be comment for later: “if you don’t care about structured data, you suck at SEO.”


So what’s the big deal? Why would I tell people that they “suck at SEO” for not caring about some geeky thing like structured data markup? If you don’t care about structured data and you’re an SEO, I’m calling you out for not doing your job. So, let me lay out what I think that job is.
The job of an SEO is to:
– Make sure sites can be crawled and understood by search engines.
– Help sites be valuable to searchers (to connect them to information and/or resources) and provide a good searching experience.
– Increase sites’ visibility in search engine results pages.
– Through the above, achieve an ROI for clients (or yourself) by increasing qualified organic search traffic.
Writing off structured data is a big mistake because the act of doing so causes one to fail at least two of the above duties: making sure sites can be understood by search engines, and increasing sites’ visibility in search results.
Semantic markup and structured data are a means to directly impact two of our core responsibilities to clients. Through giving our website data structure and applying semantic markup to it, we allow search engines not only to crawl and index our content; we allow them to understand our content.
If we have a page about a recipe, an event, a person, an organization, a product, a service, or nearly anything else, we can convey that information to search engines in terms they will understand. Semantic markup is the common language between the people who create web content and the search engines that are tasked with interpreting it. Sure, search engines like Google and Bing are awesome at what they do and, in a lot of cases, they can figure out tons about your site, but by being exceedingly clear with them, you stand to reap some serious rewards.
A concrete benefit of applying semantic markup to your structured data is that search engines can pull that data directly into their search results. Looking for “Rose Garden Events”? The search result for ticketmaster.com shows you three upcoming events directly on the SERP. They use schema.org/event to tell Google that they have event information on their page.
structured data event serps
Looking for a “WordPress SEO plugin”? The wordpress.org search result for WordPress SEO by Yoast shows you the average rating of that plugin, the number of times it’s been rated, and its price (it’s free, BTW) all through schema.org/product.
structured data plugin serps
Looking for a “Vegan Pad Thai Sauce Recipe”? (I know I am.) The search results page is full of recipes that display not only the average and total ratings for each recipe, but also the total preparation time. You can also click over to the “Recipes” search in Google and narrow results by the ingredients that they do or do not contain, by their prep time, or by total calories. Are you kidding me? That’s amazing!
structured data recipe serps
So structured data and semantic markup can do some incredible things. This isn’t just some hopeful fantasy for the future; this is real life, David. The best thing is: there’s even more on the way. There are schemas (established vocabularies for semantic markup) for richer product information, organizations and local businesses, higher education institutions, books, movies, and even medical conditions. As people who optimize for search for a living (or even a hobby), why wouldn’t we want to be ahead of the game and use this stuff sooner rather than later?
Now that we’re clear about what the benefits of structured data and semantic markup are, let’s review how this affects our SEO job duties.
– Structured data helps search engines understand what our content is about on a very meaningful and specific level.
– Structured data allows users to see the value of our sites before they even click in, when search engines use our structured data to generate rich snippets.
– Structured data increases visibility in search engine results pages and, without argument, increases CTR.
– Structured data helps engines understand our content, conveys our value to searchers through rich results, and drives more traffic though an increased CTR. All of these improve ROI for our clients (or ourselves) by increasing qualified organic search traffic.
As professional SEOs, it’s our job to do these things. If we’re not holding ourselves accountable to these responsibilities, we’re not doing our jobs. It’s 2013. If you’ve been shying away from implementing structured data because you weren’t sure of the value, you can now see all that you have to gain!
If you’ve been discouraged from implementing structured data because of the admittedly steep learning curve (especially for non-technical SEOs), there are tons of great resources out there. Google provides loads of easy-to-understand information on structured data and semantic markup (hey, maybe it’s important to them). There are also plenty of experts online who are massively geeked about structured data and who are willing to lend a helping hand.
I believe that SEOs have the opportunity to make the web a better place while simultaneously helping our clients accomplish their goals. Structured data is a tool that can help us realize that opportunity, and it’s one that’s simply too big to pass up or brush off as irrelevant or “too much work”. We’re all moving toward a higher-value semantic web together. I want you on my team.

Resources for Structured Data & Semantic Markup

Aaron Bradley
Matthew Brown
Jeff Preston
Richard Baxter
Mike Arnesen (Ask Me Anything)
About Rich Snippets & Structured Data – Google Documentation
WordPress Schema Creator – Raven’s tool for embedding structured data into WordPress posts
What Schema.org Means for SEO and Beyond – Oldie but goody by Aaron Bradley
What are you waiting for? Get crackin’.
mike arnesen swellpath– Mike Arnesen is a self-described “massive SEO geek” and is active around the web and real world promoting exciting things like Google Authorship, semantic markup, and blogging strategy. Bonus: Mike will be speaking alongside PPC Associates’ own Hillary Read at SMX West 2013 on the “Blow Me Away Blogging” panel.

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