As we head into the new decade, content writers face at least two major problems as they strive for increased visibility of their content in search engines:

  1. The declining attention span of their target audience
  2. Google’s struggle to keep up with an increasingly complex internet.

Why Technical SEO Matters for Content Writers Now

First, the human attention span has been steadily declining for decades now.

In fact, a recent study demonstrates it has dipped below the 9-second attention span of a Goldfish, declining from an average of 12 seconds to 8 seconds since 2000.

For search results, this reality has manifested itself in a lot of consequential ways – on the average search results page, for example, users scan the content in a “pinball” pattern and consider options for just 5.6 seconds before making a selection. You have a precious few seconds to win over your target customer.

pinball 37

Image Source

Second, if you think about the sheer amount of new data that is created on a daily basis, in addition to the number of new websites, complex coding languages, and design standards – it is no surprise that Google is struggling to keep up with its mission statement of “organizing the world’s information to make it universally accessible and useful”.

Fortunately for content writers, both of these problems can be addressed by a single solution rooted in technical search engine optimization.

In this article, we’ll cover:

  1. How structured data can be leveraged to help search engines understand your website and present your content better
  2. How rich results can grab the attention of your target audience and entice them to click-through to the rest of your content and website.

Your path to increased visibility: structured data and rich results

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) encompasses the technical, on-page, and off-page process of increasing the quantity and quality of traffic to your website content through search results.

Here, we will focus specifically on one of the technical best practices: implementation of structured data for the purposes of increasing visibility in the organic channel.

Supported by Google since 2014, structured data is the authoritative vocabulary that contextualizes information for Search Bots so they have a greater understanding of your website and are able to accurately match content to relevant search queries.

For example, on the blog page of your website, you might include markup that highlights properties such as author, description, publish date, and image so that when Google visits the page, it is able to recognize when it is crawling an article and can index the content accordingly.

One of the major benefits of marking up your content with structured data is that you qualify for a feature called “rich results.”

Rich results are a new organic search experience from Google that enhances the appearance of your results beyond the standard blue link in organic search.

Screen Shot 2019 12 17 at 4.51.02 PM

Image Source

This is made possible by Google’s thorough understanding of your content. Not only are they able to match it with more applicable queries, but they are also able to enhance those listings with over 30 embedded features including frequently asked questions, how-tos, ratings, reviews, and product and service information.

These are the rewards for making it easy for the search engine to crawl and index your content. And as I will show you next, they have the added benefit of commanding attention and enticing more click-throughs from your target audience.

Screen Shot 2019 12 11 at 7.27.32 PM

Pictured: Examples of an event rich result embedded directly on the search results page.

Image Source

Screen Shot 2019 12 11 at 7.27.52 PM

Pictured: Example of a recipe rich result embedded directly on the search results page.

Image Source

Screen Shot 2019 12 11 at 7.28.15 PM

Pictured: Example of a how-to rich result embedded directly on the search results page.

Image Source

How to add structured data to your content

If you are a blogger, naturally at this point, you may be asking the question: how do I get started with structured data and which rich results should I target?

For your domain, one of the obvious types to consider is article markup, which qualifies your content for rich results like inclusion in a top stories carousel. Then, consider branching out to other applicable opportunities based on the nature of the content like event markup, recipe markup, and how-to markup.

Here’s is a good step by step process to follow:

First, define what type of markup you want to add to your content. In this case, let’s use article markup for the example.

Screen Shot 2019 12 11 at 6.29.11 PM

Pictured: Google’s documentation on article markup

Image Source

Second, Determine the required and recommended properties to generate the markup. In this case, let’s use the database to determine these properties.

Screen Shot 2019 12 11 at 3.05.44 PM

Pictured: database for structured data article markup properties.

Image Source

Required properties include Author, Headline, Date Published, Image, Logo, Publisher, Publisher URL, and Publisher Logo. These are the minimum properties you must include to qualify for article markup.

Recommended properties include things like Date Modified and Article Description. The more comprehensive you can be marking up your articles, the more you help Google’s Search Bots understand your content and optimally index your links in search.

Third, generate the code for the markup – either in microdata format (annotations in the HTML) or JSON-LD format (Javascript tags inserted in the headers of pages).

Screen Shot 2019 12 11 at 3.13.08 PM

Pictured: Structured data markup in the JSON-LD format (method preferred by Google).

Image Source

Screen Shot 2019 12 11 at 3.13.17 PM

Pictured: Structured data markup in the microdata format.

Image Source

Fourth, check the markup for any errors through Google’s Structured Data Testing Tool. Simply paste a URL into their test and it will detect whether structured data are present, as well as if there are any errors or warnings associated with the markup.

Screen Shot 2019 12 11 at 3.18.00 PM

Pictured: test for a recently published NYT article with various types of market detected.

Image Source

Fifth, check the page for any applicable rich results through Google’s Rich Results Testing Tool. Again, simply paste a URL into their test and it will declare whether the page is eligible for rich results. It will also show any markup types detected on the page as well.

Screen Shot 2019 12 11 at 3.19.04 PM

Pictured: test for the same recently published NYT article confirming eligibility for rich results.

Image Source

Finally, a reminder – it is critical to consider the various methods of implementation, which range in nature from manual to automated. Google, for example, offers a structured data markup helper to help with manual implementation, while Huckabuy has an automated software service that does it for you and keeps everything accurate and updated.

Weigh the associated pros and cons of each option.  For those who pursue the manual route, for example, the possibility of markup errors are frequent, the time and resources needed to stay updated on the markup is significant, and you have to be on a constant lookout for Google’s release of new types and rules.

The benefits of structured data and rich results

Structured data markup comes with a number of benefits.  Here are just a few.

  1. Google understands, crawls, and indexes your site better.
  2. Your content is qualified for rich results in the organic channel.
  3. You can create content actions based on news, recipes, and podcasts for the Assistant.
  4. Your content will be future-proofed for voice search results.

And as a result, there are a number of benefits to gaining rich results.

  1. The appearance and information quality of your organic listings are enhanced.
  2. Click-through rates may increase over standard blue links.
  3. Target customers are able to solve their queries more efficiently.

Screen Shot 2019 12 11 at 3.26.23 PM

Pictured: An organic search results page for the “SEO news” query.

Image Source

Here, a search for “SEO news” highlights the utility of article markup and the benefits of the associated “top stories” rich result. You can see how the three Search Engine Journal articles – all powered by structured data – appear above the fold with a much more enticing appearance than the alternative organic listing.

Summary: structured data markup is mandatory for content writers

Content writers in 2020 will face at least two major obstacles in their quest to increase visibility in the organic search channel: they will need to communicate more efficiently with Search Bots and improve the quality of their listings over the standard blue link in order to capture the attention of their target audience.

The solution requires leveraging structured data to improve the technical conversation with these Search Bots and qualify for the rich results that will give your target audience the information they need faster and further entice them to click-through to the rest of your content.

You will only hear more about the importance of structured data and rich results in the next year. Consider this your head start to a future-proofed SEO strategy that increases visibility and readership of your content!

I saved 2 hours uploading this article from Google Docs to WordPress using Wordable. Try it yourself here.