The Semantic Web is a way of adding structured information to web pages, making it easier for software to pull information out of them. This information is called linked data. For a long time, it was a mostly academic exercise, but it’s become a valuable way for pages to gain SERP visibility.

Two developments have made this possible: the establishment of widely recognized vocabularies by Schema.org and their representation in JSON-LD.

What Is Linked Data?

Linked data is data on a web page that associates a named item with a value. The value is often a URI, which is where the “linked” part comes from.

It can also be a detailed structure or list. Ordinary links on the Web just go with some text, so web crawlers can’t easily tell what they mean. Linked data labels each piece of information with a standardized name.

Schema.org provides those names, along with a structure for the information to go with them. The structure is called a schema. For instance, the Person schema provides many fields for describing a person, such as “givenName,” “familyName,” “address,” and “relatedTo.” Each field is expected to have a certain data type, or sometimes a choice of two or more types. All fields, except the ones necessary to identify the schema, are optional and repeatable.

How Does It Help Search Traffic?

Search engine optimization is a matter of accuracy as well as rank. If your site gets a lot of search results, but mostly with searches that aren’t relevant to your site, that’s of little benefit. Linked data helps them to figure out what your page is about. It usually isn’t visible to the user, but it’s visible to the web crawler. Having a good set of linked data lets you grow search traffic which will engage visitors rather than just getting a casual glance.

Read also: 9 Web Design Mistakes Killing Your SEO and Conversion

Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, and Yandex founded Schema.org, firmly grounding it in the search engine world. Linked data alone won’t get an irrelevant page to appear in search results, but it will let the software better determine which terms are relevant to the content and which just happen to be on a page.

Having linked data doesn’t appear to improve a page’s search rank, but having it appear in the correct search results will get a higher click-through rate.

Besides, pages that have it are more likely to have rich snippets appear in their search results, calling more attention to the page and making its purpose clearer. Some pages with linked data may even appear in featured snippets, which are direct answers to questions that the search string poses.

A Couple Benefits of JSON-LD

Schema.org describes only a set of terms and data relationships. It doesn’t say how to represent them. Several methods of incorporating linked data have been around for a while, including RDFa and Microdata.

However, RDFa requires following XML standards, and Microdata intermingles semantic attributes with HTML. Both of them are complicated to add to a page, even with the help of software tools. They’re hard to read and aren’t well suited for lists and hierarchies.

JSON-LD was designed to be simple. It’s built on JSON, which is the data structure representation of JavaScript. It can be embedded in an HTML document using the script tag:

<script type=”application/ld+json”>
{
 “@context”: “http://json-ld.org/contexts/person.jsonld“,
 “@id”: “http://dbpedia.org/resource/George_Washington“,
 “name”: “George Washington”,
 “born”: “1731-02-11”,
 “spouse”: “http://dbpedia.org/resource/Martha_Washington“
}
</script>

Inserting that script in a page asserts that it has something to do with George Washington, specifically with the one by that name who was born in 1731 and was married to Martha.

In case you need something more visual: here are George and Martha Washington / Boston Public Library under CC license

A person without any special training can read JSON-LD and understand most of it. Someone with a small amount of training can write it.

When generating the code, it’s necessary to remember that many fields have a prescribed format. Dates have to be in ISO format; “February 11, 1731” isn’t acceptable. Using consistent formats lets software parse the information without ambiguities.

You can express the same data in RDFa, Microdata, or JSON-LD. Google recognizes all of them but has designated the JSON representation as “preferred.” There are software tools for generating it, as well as templates which require just changing the values and dropping them into a document.

Another benefit of JSON-LD is that it’s easy to inject dynamically into a web page as a separate file. It’s just JavaScript. This is a boon to sites built with a CMS. Magento extensions and WordPress plugins are available to generate the data for each page. JavaScript code can parse it without difficulty.

You can use Google Tag Manager to add JSON-LD to your pages. It doesn’t generate the JSON for you, but it lets you create it independently and then automate its insertion.

Useful Schemas

Several schemas are useful for growth in search traffic. We’ve already mentioned the Person schema. Some others are of special value to online businesses:

  • The Product schema has obvious value on e-commerce pages. It includes fields such as “manufacturer,” “brand,” “category,” and “model.” A page for a single product can describe it for the search engine in unambiguous terms.
  • The Organization schema can formally identify the business. Its fields include “legalName,” “name,” “parentOrganization,” “address,” and “employee.”
  • There are subcategories for many schemas, to make them more specific. LocalBusiness can be used for any business, franchise, or branch with a physical place of business. It has its own subcategories, such as FoodEstablishment, and that has subcategories such as Bakery and Restaurant. There’s a schema for almost every purpose.

The Hidden Advantage

The SEO benefits of JSON-LD aren’t widely known. Incorporating it into your website can give you an advantage over the competition, with more accurate placement and perhaps some rich snippets in the search results.

While it doesn’t require an experienced coder to create it, it is necessary to get the syntax right. The Moz Guide to JSON-LD for beginners is a good place to start. It’s very helpful to study Schema.org enough to find the best schemas to use and the important fields to include. Working from templates is a convenient shortcut.

When people who are looking for a site like yours find it, you win and they win. JSON-LD gives you a little-known advantage over your competitors in being found.