Voices of Search
A Searchmetrics Podcast
Episode 3, Structured Data

Voices of Search arms SEOs with the latest news and insights they need to navigate the ever changing landscape of Search Engine Optimization and Content Marketing. From the heart of Silicon Valley, Searchmetrics’ CEO Jordan Koene delivers actionable insights into using data to navigate the topsy-turvy world now being created by Google, Apple and other search giants.

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 Episode Transcript

Ben:                 Welcome back to the Voices of Search Podcast. I’m your host, Benjamin Shapiro. And in this podcast, we’re going to discuss the hottest topics in the ever changing world of search engine optimization. This podcast is brought to you by the marketing team at Searchmetrics. We are a SEO and content marketing platform that helps enterprise scale businesses, monitor their online presence, and make data driven decisions. If you’re looking to understand how you can optimize your content, understand what topics you need to cover, or how to ensure that your writers produce effective content, go to searchmetrics.com for a free tour of our platform.

Ben:                 Joining us again today is Jordan Koene, who is both a world renowned SEO strategist and the CEO of Searchmetrics US. Today we’re going to chat about how to use structured data to boost your SEO performance. Jordan, welcome back to the Voices of Search Podcast.

Jordan:             Thanks Ben. Looking forward to the topic.

Ben:                 I have been calling you the general manager of the US market, but you’re actually the CEO of Searchmetrics Inc. Tell us what that means.

Jordan:             Yeah. That’s an interesting question. It depends on who you ask what that means. But generally speaking, I’m responsible for our US operations. For those of you who don’t know, we’re actually a German headquartered company, and actually a German startup, so funded by European investors. And we have a US division of that company, Searchmetrics Inc. And I manage that part of the business. And so there’s a variety of different responsibilities that comes with. But primarily it’s focused on generating growth and awareness of our brands and products and services in the US market and managing that here in the US.

Ben:                 When we first started working together, it’s been almost 10 years ago, we worked at eBay together. And I remember you handing me your business card, and you had a C level title back then, even though we were at eBay. You were the self proclaimed chief infographics officer.

Jordan:             That is correct.

Ben:                 Is this legit? Are you actually the CEO here? Or are you just making up your title?

Jordan:             This time it’s real. This time it’s real. I’m technically an officer of the company. There’s real documentation that actually states that I’m the CEO and that we could post up on the wall.

Ben:                 I guess I should stop busting your chops. But I knew you when you were just a lowly chief infographics officer.

Jordan:             That was self proclaimed and totally fake.

Ben:                 Yes. Yes, I’m pretty sure you actually got lectured by the business card team at eBay.

Jordan:             I have no idea how I got those printed, but it happened.

Ben:                 It was a classy move. Today we’re going to focus on talking about structured data. And I’ll be honest, as the person that knows the least about SEO in the room, I didn’t really know too much about structured data before doing the research for this podcast. Why don’t you start off by telling me and our listeners what structured data is? And why is it important?

Jordan:             Most people get really bored really fast when it comes to the structured data topic, largely because it’s part kind of organization, part acquisition, very, very boring, mundane things that you do on your website or you control on your website. But I believe that they are the backbone to the future, the backbone to the future of not just search, but to how consumers interact and understand what they’re reading and digesting from your website.

Ben:                 Important topic, no matter what it is, and since it’s a little mundane, you’re going to rap the rest of the episode.

Jordan:             Yes. I have no choice, but have to make it fun somehow.

Ben:                 We’re going to embarrass ourselves today, folks. Anyway, go on. What is structured data?

Jordan:             Yes. Structured data are standardized formats of information that you have available on a particular page of your website. The most traditional or easiest one to think about is if you have an eCommerce site, you have a product. Right? And products have product IDs, like a UPC code, or an ISBN. These standardized product IDs would be considered a piece of structured data. Other structured data elements are size or other elements that you might have.

Ben:                 Right, like in eCommerce, there’s the idea of a data feed, which is what you’re feeding into Amazon or Google Shopping. And it’s this standard metrics that every product needs to display, size, price, color. There’s formatting for this data.

Jordan:             That’s right. That’s right. For a travel site, it would be the destinations, or a particular hotel, and the type of room that it is, the rating of the hotel. There’s various forms and types of structured data. They’re actually all very neatly categorized and documented on a website called Schema.org. And this is where you can go to get a bunch of information about schema and how to both use it, embed it, and then also organize it and properly define it to search engines. And that’s where it gets exciting for me, is you can start to use structured data to inform things, inform things like a search engine, or some other feed, like a feed that you just described, like a product feed.

Jordan:             And that’s where it really becomes unique and valuable because as you look at structured data, structured data has various elements to it. It has hierarchy, so there’s certain levels that you can go into. It has different categorizations. It also has different use types, and it really becomes somewhat complex when you are a web master and you’re trying to think about: What is the best way for me to utilize this information so that consumers can get more insight when they’re looking at my content, say on a search result page, or in the future, in a voice result? And that’s what gets really fascinating because structured data is going to be the backbone of that kind of information.

Ben:                 What I’m hearing is there’s a bunch of different types, depending on probably different industries or different use cases, where you can take these formats of data and submit them to various search engines, whether it be product search, or just sort of Google universal search. Tell me a little bit about how the data is used. How is it actually shown to the end consumer?

Jordan:             Yeah. The most common one that most people can think about is when you do a search on Google, and all of a sudden you see the star ratings, or you see some sort of the amount of items available, or the price for a product. You see that right in front of you, right in the search result. That’s structured data. That is a website deliberately telling Google, “Hey. This is what I have, and this is a very specific unit of information that I would like for you to display.”

Ben:                 Is it as simple as Google knows what the most likely, what the answer to the question is, so it’s what ends up equaling spot zero in search, whether it’s here’s the YouTube video that you’re looking for, here’s the flight time. Is it as simple as Google is just taking structured data and putting it on top?

Jordan:             This is great because this is where it’s going. You can use structured data to help influence experiences in the search result page, like position zero. Right? Position zero being the holy grail, which is the one all, be all answer within the search result. You can use structured data to influence that, and there’s many ways to leverage structured data to generate position zero result. But at the same time, what you’re ultimately doing by using structured data is, you’re sending the additional signals needed to help Google better understand what it is that’s on your page, what are all the elements that are on your page. And so it’s very unlikely for a page to say, rank and position zero, or to say, showcase a star rating, or to showcase a video that’s available with the content if you don’t have structured data.

Jordan:             And by having that structured data, you send very explicit and direct signals to Google. And that’s why I think it’s exciting, because in the past, so much of the work that’s been done around search is subjective. But now we can be very, very specific about what we have available.

Ben:                 Okay. Structured data essentially allows Google to better understand the content on a specific page that you have because you’re putting it in a format that’s easy for it to digest.

Jordan:             Correct.

Ben:                 Okay. And there’s different types of verticals where you can decide, I want to present this information as a travel site, or a product, or a local listing.

Jordan:             That is correct. And it’s super important because it’s not about supplying every single piece of data, because many websites, especially the big enterprises, have way more data than they really need to surface. It’s about supplying the most complete and accurate data that’s most useful to the users. And so that prioritization exercise is where it gets fun and challenging and demanding to web masters and SEO geeks out there.

Ben:                 Talk to me a little bit now that you’ve explained this to the non professional SEO in the room, talk to the SEO geeks here about what they need to do to prioritize. Where should the emphasis be in terms of what structured data is submitted and what isn’t?

Jordan:             One of the things that I find fascinating about this topic is that nobody’s experimenting with it. Everybody kind of thinks, and again, because everyone thinks it’s boring. Everyone just says, “I’m going to get the task done.” I know that I have certain elements on the page. I’m going to get my schema in there. I’m going to get this consumed by Google, and I’m done. It’s all over. But that’s where it really just gets started in my opinion. What I find interesting and what we’ve seen in the market is where there’s brands and businesses who actually go in and start to test various utility around schema and are constantly either adding or subtracting different elements based on new data that they’re acquiring, updates that they’re making to their site, or even consolidations. Right?

Jordan:             Maybe you take six recipes you once had. You consolidated it into one recipe. Or you say, “I’m only going to keep one recipe.” Oftentimes, what you might want to do is revisit the different schema elements that you’re using on the page because you’re saying, “Hey. I’m putting all my eggs in one basket. I’m saying this is the best recipe,” for whatever you’re cooking, baking. And I want Google to get all the available information that I have about this particular recipe. And oftentimes, what we try to do is, we try to check the box with this process. And we don’t actually go through the process of testing, and then also revisiting our work that we’ve done in terms of changing on the website.

Ben:                 Give me an example. You mentioned recipes. Let’s talk about a cooking site. There’s tons of different recipes, multiple different styles of food, ethnicities, ingredients, volumes. I’m sure that there’s plenty of data on a cooking site that could be fed to Google in a structured way. How would you prioritize getting a mass amount of diverse pages? And what would you feed to Google.

Jordan:             One of the things I would look at is, I would look at testing various experiences and see how they result, how they generate a result in Google. What I mean by that is, you brought up a really interesting topic when you were summarizing that, which is ingredients. What if I created a chart or a list of all the ingredients in the recipe on the page? Pretty standard thing to do. But I also included that as part of my schema. Does that mean that then Google is going to take that list and show it in the search result as a list of ingredients associated to my recipe? You can test that. You could also test another list that you could use schema markup as well to outline, which are the steps. Maybe there’s six steps to that particular recipe. And then you outline those six steps. You use schema to highlight those six steps.

Jordan:             Does Google have a preference on the steps of the recipe or the ingredients of the recipe? And now you can start to test those things and see, by not only changing the experience on the page, but also using the markup, the structured data markup, to deliberately tell Google that these are the elements that are on the page, you can start to see what kind of a result is generated from that. And it could very well be that you get a position zero result out of that. It very well could be that Google changes the actual SERP or SERP layout to include these kinds of elements. But by doing that kind of progressive improvement and modifications not only to your experience, but the data that’s behind it, you start to generate a much stronger affinity with your users as well as with Google. And ultimately, what that creates is better rankings, better click through rates.

Ben:                 Is structured data becoming more of a priority for Google, or has it always been a priority and just hasn’t been very well utilized?

Jordan:             That’s an interesting question that I-

Ben:                 I don’t know if there’s a good answer.

Jordan:             I would almost say that I wouldn’t ask that question.

Ben:                 Oops.

Jordan:             Not because it’s a bad question, but because there’s a couple of different ways to look at it. There is, Google needs this information. Google needs this information to become smarter about what results they want to show in an ever consolidating set of results because it’s really now becoming a game about position zero, being number one. Right?

Ben:                 Being number zero.

Jordan:             Being number zero. There’s that component to it. And then the second component is, I think that many web masters and SEOs combined have undervalued structured data simply because it is painful to get priorities with your product and engineering teams. And if the thing that you’re asking them to do is to make these tiny tweaks with structured data, it doesn’t seem all that exciting. It doesn’t seem very invigorating. And so it oftentimes gets deprioritized. And I feel like that’s a huge shame because there’s tons of opportunity here for businesses to capitalize, not only in the present form of search, but where search is going as well.

Ben:                 I have a followup to the question that I probably shouldn’t have asked before, which is: If structured data is becoming more of a priority, does that mean things like keywords or back links are becoming less of a priority? Should you focus more on fixing your structured data to make sure Google knows what’s on your pages and worry less about who’s talking about those pages?

Jordan:             That’s opening a whole new set of topics, which is great. And there’s a couple components to that. The first one is that structured data is still very much a supporting element to your whole search strategy. If you have really crap content with really crap keywords, it’s just not going to work. Structured data isn’t going to help you whatsoever. And so you still have to have useful content, useful experiences, that are targeting specific keywords that are going to help generate awareness to your business. That has to happen.

Jordan:             Now going into these other tactics around SEO, like back linking and linking, again, linking is about awareness. Right? Google needs to be aware of your content. Without the awareness, Google’s never going to see the structured data and is never going to understand what’s on the page. The reality is that, and I hate using this word, it’s about having a holistic approach to search. And structured data is one of the key elements to it, and in particular for sites that are mature, that have a history with Google, and are looking for new ways to generate better positions in Google. This is a great place to revisit.

Ben:                 It sounds like where I’m questioning what the priority should be, keywords versus back linking, versus structured data. It sounds like having good keywords and just having great content to begin with is table stakes. And if you don’t have that, it’s the foundation of your SEO strategy. The back links are about awareness, and so if you have great awareness, or if you’re a mature brand, then it might be time to prioritize structured data or look back at structured data if you’re already submitting it. But if you’re early on in creating a site or if your site doesn’t have a lot of awareness, you’re not getting a lot of SEO value, structured data might not be the top priority.

Jordan:             That’s right.

Ben:                 Okay.

Jordan:             Absolutely.

Ben:                 Tell me a little bit about: What are some of the resources out there that can help SEOs manage structured data?

Jordan:             Earlier I mentioned Schema.org. And this is a must use resource. It’s predominantly there to help inform folks on the various elements that exist, the structure, the hierarchy. And it’s really the core behind organizing your structured data. Also, Google has provided a set of guidelines behind structured data. They also have a structured data tool that helps you test whether the implementation is done correctly. And there are various ways to implement. And maybe we can talk about that later. But there are these tools the Google provides. They also have a reporting within their Google search console. And then there’s a variety of other third party tools that exist out there, predominantly there to just track and ensure that the implementation is correct.

Ben:                 Those are basically like web crawlers, like your webmaster tools, where it’s telling you how much your structured data is being consumed by the search engine, kind of counting your crawl count.

Jordan:             Sure.

Ben:                 Okay. What does Searchmetrics do to support its clients using structured data?

Jordan:             Yeah. Interestingly enough, it’s really not so much about the technology component. It’s more around the consulting and advice portion of our business. And we focus our time in helping businesses understand how to better utilize structured data and prioritize structured data within their organization. And so partly due to just having a collection of customers, we get to see a variety of different problems, challenges, and opportunities. But also, because of maybe the … kind of going back to the core topic here of structured data not being the most exciting topic to cover, we often encounter the opportunity with our clients to bring back the spirit of utilizing and implementing structured data.

Ben:                 Searchmetrics is bringing sexy back to structured data.

Jordan:             Yeah. I’m sure there’s an acronym in there for that.

Ben:                 We’ll have to check with Justin Timerberlake. See if it’s okay if we use it. Okay. Last couple tidbits. Tell us. What are the other things that the SEOs listening, if they’re not Searchmetrics clients, can do to start doing a better job implementing their structured data, any actionable tips.

Jordan:             Actionable tips. The first one is if you’re not consistently monitoring what structured data is being consumed by Google and used by Google, shame on you. So go in there and start looking at what is actually getting utilized.

Ben:                 Good tip.

Jordan:             Yeah. It’s painful work sometimes. But just even going into search console and seeing how many of your pages have certain elements. Structured data is just the starting place.

Ben:                 Hire an intern. Just get to it. Start checking your structured data more often.

Jordan:             Exactly. Exactly. And then the second thing that I would highly recommend is creating this test and learn environment where you can start to tweak and change structured data. And especially with JSON-LD as the prominent recommended format for embedding structured data, there are various ways to even get your engineering and product teams, especially on big enterprise sites, to start building tools and capabilities where you can start to manage these changes within a user interface instead of it being a product request and a manual change on your site, which is historically how these things were done. And so giving you guys maybe some insight into how you can become more scalable about making your changes and improvements around structured data, I’d say is the number two.

Jordan:             And then number three is start getting creative. There are a lot of different ways that you can use structured data. And connecting that to the experiences that you have on your pages is a forgotten art. For whatever reason, it’s a totally forgotten art. And I really push web masters and SEOs to think about that long and hard because it really becomes the driving force behind elements like position zero, elements like various SERP integrations, and that’s really where the competitive landscape is at today when it comes to SEO.

Ben:                 Structured data, Schema.org, SERP integrations, and JSON-LD, you heard it here first, people. Okay. That wraps up this episode of The Voices of Search Podcast. Thanks for listening to my conversation with Jordan Koene, the CEO of Searchmetrics Inc. We’d love to continue the conversation with you, so if you’re interested in contacting Jordan, you can find links to his bio in our show notes, or you can shoot him an SEO related tweet to JT Koene, that’s JT K-O-E-N-E, on Twitter. If you have any general marketing questions, or if you want to talk about podcasting, you can find my contact information in our show notes, or you can send me a tweet at Ben J. Shap. That’s B-E-N-J-S-H-A-P. If you’re interested in learning more about how to use search data to boost your organic traffic, online visibility, or to gain competitive insights, head over to Searchmetrics.com for a free tour of our platform.

Ben:     If you like this podcast, and you want a regular stream of SEO and content marketing insights in your feed, hit the subscribe button in your podcast app. Lastly, if you’ve enjoyed this show, and you’re feeling generous, we would be honored for you to leave a review in the Apple iTunes store. It’s a great way for us to share our learnings about SEO and content marketing. Okay. That’s it for today, but until next time remember, the answers you’re looking for are always in the data.