Structured data helps computers understand your web content more easily and accurately, enabling automated consumers of data (such as Google’s search engine) to create new engaging experiences for users.
For example, if you have put your Grandma’s favorite apple pie recipe up on the web and then annotate it with structured data, Google search has the option of displaying it differently to other search results, such as by including a photo and cooking time. (The exact information that Google displays is subject to change as Google is always performing user tests to achieve the best possible results for end users.)
Structured data can be encoded in HTML pages in multiple formats – as JSON in a tag (my personal preference) or as additional attributes annotating the HTML markup.
One type of structured data that I am personally interested in with my e-commerce focus is product information (name, title, price, etc). This can be used by Google to more reliably determine characteristics of products such as price and discount level. Scraping an HTML page is much less reliable to correctly identify the actual price, bulk discount price, sale price etc. This data can feed into Google Merchant Center, which in turn feeds other Google systems such as shopping ads and selling via Google Shopping Actions.
But there are other forms of content that might help attract more traffic to your site. Rather than only relying on potential customers searching for products, why not publish more content for people earlier in the sales funnel, people that are trying to solve problems they have before they even know what they need to buy. For example, if you are a manufacturer, provide support information to reduce the number of support calls you receive. Or if you sell plumbing tools and parts you might build up your presence by publishing FAQs or answering questions people ask. Write a post on or create a video on how to replace a washer for different types of taps, and the right tools to use when doing it.
If you decide to go this route, there are other forms of structured data that may be useful to help raise the profile of your business as someone who cares about and supports their customers. Users with specific queries to solve particular problems
The relevant forms of structured data include:
FAQ (schema.org/FAQPage) – have a list of frequently asked questions on a single page
HowTo (schema.org/HowTo) – provide step by step instructions
Q&A (schema.org/QAPage) – have a list of questions and answers, possibly to your user community.
Marking up your page using these forms of structured data can help Google better understand the purpose of the content, and thus surface it in appropriate contexts and display it in a more appropriate way.
Further, use of structured data can help with more leading edge use cases such as Google Assistant. Understanding the data better can help form more concise verbal responses to queries, or help identify the correct information to show on a screen. Again, the quality of the data can be higher than Google trying to understand the intent behind HTML markup without such structured data. And if you want more of a taste of what is to come, check out this recent CNBC article on Google Duplex placing a restaurant booking on your behalf. It is becoming more and more important to have content that both humans and machines can consume effectively.
So is structured data worthwhile for your site? Like all things, it depends. If you have such content on your site then it makes complete sense to add the small amount of additional markup required to add structured data to your site. It is also worth trying to add the structured data if only to learn from the experience. As more diverse use cases emerge, as search engines continue to expand in sophistication, the value of providing data that is both human and machine readable will increase.