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A publisher asked Google’s John Mueller if there were any benefits to using structured data other than rich results and featured snippets, because maybe Google will use it in other ways.
Google’s John Mueller reiterated the benefits of rich results and featured snippets. Then he began answering how Google uses structured data for ranking related purposes.
What is interesting about his answer is that he mentioned that Google uses structured data information to better understand the entities on a page.
An entity are basically like nouns. So if you are reviewing a book, your structured data can communicate the book title, author and so on in a convenient way so that Google can better understand the entity on that page, which is the book. (See Bill Slawski’s article, Search Engines and Entities for a comprehensive overview of the topic)
This is what Mueller answered:
“With regard to using structured data in general for ranking, I think that’s kind of tricky.
So, on the one hand we do use structured data to better understand the entities on a page and to find out where that page is more relevant.”
That’s actually pretty good information. It aligns with the most basic and fundamental benefit of search engine optimization, which is to make your content easy for search engines to crawl and understand.
That’s not a ranking factor type boost for rankings though. It just gives you the ability to communicate the substance of your content in an efficient manner.
John Mueller goes on to explain why this isn’t a ranking related factor:
“But that doesn’t mean that just because people are doing things in a technically correct way on a website that that page is a better page than it would be otherwise.
So we will try to use that to show it in more relevant search results that would perhaps bring more users to your pages that actually match the topics of your pages.
But it doesn’t mean that we would show it to more users or that it would rank better.”
That sounds contradictory, doesn’t it. Mueller is mixing two thoughts together and he goes on to clarify.
The three ideas are:
1. Structured data communicates information efficiently and that’s good.
2. But it’s the content that matters most.
3. Being technically superior doesn’t compensate for less relevant content.
Here is what Mueller said:
“So that’s something where I don’t really see that changing in the future. That’s something that kind of goes back to… way in the beginning where people would ask… is valid HTML a ranking factor because clearly a page that has valid HTML they spent more time on the page.
Where from our point of view, they might have spent more time doing these things technically correct but does that mean the page is actually a better search result, is that really something that provides more value to the user or is it just that someone was a little bit smarter in creating that page and the actual content people would read is not actually that much better.
So that’s… the tricky balance there and I don’t see that changing in the sense that we would suddenly say any page with structured data will have a ranking boost because structured data is invisible so even that would be something that we would be ranking things higher for technical reasons that users would not even be able to appreciate.”
Structured data isn’t part of a ranking factor. But it does help communicate on-page content factors like the entities that are the subject of the page. Mueller left it up to the publisher to decide whether to spend time adding structured data that won’t result in immediate benefits like rich results and featured snippets.
It almost seems like if your content is well crafted, engaging, relevant and useful, that that should be enough. But for those who like to add that extra sparkle…
Watch the Google Webmaster Hangout here: