In the world of e-Commerce and online retail, structured data is old news by now. In 2011, Schema.org launched as a collaborative project between the “Big 3” search engines: Google, Bing, and Yahoo! (Russia’s largest search engine, Yandex, soon joined the effort.) The goal of this initiative was to create a standardized method for websites to provide metadata about their content, making it easier for search engines to interpret the content and turn it into meaningful results for their users. Most major e-Commerce sites have since adopted this standard and include schema markup for a number of valuable data points, from core product data such as price and SKU, to user ratings and reviews, to operating hours, and more.
But is your website’s structured data—and the overall quality of your product data—really up to snuff? It’s easy to “set it and forget it” when implementing schema markup or other forms of structured data, so unless you conduct an SEO audit or some other project demands it, you might go several months or even years without reviewing your markup and data quality.
Ongoing trends in both organic and paid search suggest providing robust, well-optimized product data will become even more important for e-Commerce sites to remain competitive in the future. Let’s look at a few of these trends and see why now is a good time to think more about your site’s data quality.
Structured Data: The Key to Rich Snippets
Structured data is probably most visible in the form of rich snippets: those small, but eye-catching additions to organic listings in the Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs). We’ve all seen SERPs displaying the star ratings and price ranges for local restaurants, cooking times and calorie counts for recipes, and so on—these are rich snippets, and the data usually comes from the destination site’s schema markup.
While they’re nothing new, rich snippets continue to play a role in organic search. It’s doubtful whether structured data has any direct impact on organic keyword rankings, but rich snippets can help to improve click-through rates to your site—aside from the more immediate benefit of increasing traffic, there can be an indirect benefit to rankings as more users engage with your content and products.
Make sure your site has schema markup for any data points you want to appear in the rich snippets. Product price and availability, user ratings and review counts, contact information and opening hours for brick-and-mortar locations—these are all examples where rich snippets can mean the difference between earning a click, or losing a click to a competitor.
Supplementing Your Product Feeds in Google Shopping
Google recently started to offer free product listings in the Shopping tab for any businesses that are already Merchant Center users, or that opt into the “surfaces across Google” program.
While Shopping generally relies on separate product feeds to populate the results, Google may use structured data for automatic item updates to pull in the latest price and availability information, or as a backup in case of feed interruptions.
Google has also suggested that structured data may help to improve quality score and relevance in search.
If your product feed is on a daily fetch schedule, it may not reflect pricing or inventory updates made on your live site until the following day. Structured data can help to eliminate these discrepancies and shore up the overall health of your account.
Structured Data and Voice Search
Virtual assistants and devices such as Siri, Alexa, and Google Home are more popular than ever. Google cites that 27% of the global online population uses voice search on mobile, while Microsoft found 69% of respondents to a 2019 study have used a digital assistant. Those numbers are sure to grow.
The presence of schema markup alone may not play a significant role in voice search rankings, according to 2018 findings from Backlinko. But to the extent that structured data can benefit organic search rankings in general, it can benefit voice search rankings, as well.
There’s also evidence to suggest the role of structured data in voice search will only expand.
Google and Schema.org are currently testing a new form of markup called speakable, which allows websites to specify which elements on the page are best suited to text-to-speech conversion. This markup was initially designed with news sites in mind, so it may be some time before retailers can fully capitalize on it. But its development suggests that structured data could play a more direct role in voice search rankings in the future.
Looking for Gaps or Improvements in Your Structured Data
Google’s Structured Data Testing Tool is an easy way to check for any errors or warnings in your site’s markup. While not every warning is an urgent must-fix, it’s generally a good idea to resolve any issues flagged in the test results. An erroneous or nonstandard implementation can negate any potential benefits from providing structured data in the first place.
A few common opportunities for improvement:
- Google recommends JSON-LD as the markup format. Search engines accept other formats such as microdata and RDFa, but JSON-LD makes for a cleaner and more flexible implementation. If your site uses microdata or RDFa, consider converting to JSON-LD if possible.
- Ensure schema properties are correctly nested and organized. For example, markup for a product review should generally nest the Review property under the Product property, but in a sloppy implementation, the two properties might exist at the same level in the markup hierarchy.
- Review the Schema.org specifications for valuable fields not included in your existing markup. For example, your Product schema might mention the product brand in the name property, but there’s a separate brand property that’s also helpful to include. Similarly, it can be easy to overlook properties such as productionDate to specify a product’s model year, or itemCondition to specify if a product is new or used. It’s not necessary to use every available property—it’s possible to go overboard—but it’s worth reviewing your markup to see if any important information is missing.
- Aside from improvements to existing schema, there might be opportunities to mark up additional content and provide valuable context to search engines. User reviews, video content, and breadcrumbs are a few examples that don’t always get the proper attention.
It All Starts With Data Quality
Structured data won’t help much if the data itself isn’t in good shape. Unfortunately, there’s any number of reasons why product data (or any business data) can grow messy over time. Large SKU counts, database migrations, product names and descriptions that omit searchable keywords—these are a few factors that might contribute to poorly optimized data.
A few considerations about product data quality and whether your site is well optimized for search:
- Do the product names and descriptions include target keywords? Are you forgoing keywords with greater SEO value in the interest of sticking to an old or arbitrary naming convention?
- Are the product descriptions unique? Consider rewriting the descriptions if you’ve taken them directly from the manufacturer.
- Do the product images have keywords in the filenames, and in the image tag’s alt and title attributes?
- Do the product pages include supplementary content such as videos and user reviews?
- Do the breadcrumbs clearly convey the site’s category structure and where products fall in the taxonomy?
Optimizing product data for search can be a mammoth task on its own, but the long-term benefits are worth the effort for businesses that can invest the time and resources to improve in this area.
As the search landscape continues to evolve and grows more competitive, it’s important to stay on top of whatever opportunities will give your site an edge. Structured data is a well-established piece of the puzzle, but many sites don’t take full advantage of it, and ongoing developments suggest its significance will only grow. If you’re not sure how your site stacks up, take the time to look at this data with fresh eyes and make sure you’re well positioned for the future.