Structured Data: A Missed Opportunity for Higher Ed & Education Institutions

Jun 09 2021

What is Structured Data?

As a general term, structured data refers to any organized data that conforms to a certain format. For example, relational databases — a cornerstone to all computation — rely on structured data. 

Structured data isn’t just an “SEO” thing — but it can benefit organic search visibility. When you want specific content on your website to be representative of a “thing,” like a faculty profile, an event, or a job posting, then structured data comes in handy.

Google says it this way, 

“Structured data provides explicit clues about the meaning of a page to Google. Structured data is a standardized format for: 

  • providing information about a page
  • classifying the page content”

How is Structured Data valuable?

Google uses structured data to gather information in general, but also understand the content of the page more effectively.

With this information about your domain, and understanding of your content, Google can more effectively return your domain as a search result.

We’ve all used Google to find information and content. The page we interact with when we’re doing this is known as the Search Engine Results Page or SERP. Since its beginning, Google has been developing its SERP. They’ve changed the design of the results page a number of times over the years. Part of the evolution of the SERP has been the inclusion of featured snippets of content. When you use structured data you give Google specific information about your content. This helps Google display the content in these featured snippets. 

Understanding the Key SERP Features

As Google has evolved, and they’ve refined their search engine, they’ve added a number of key SERP Features to the search results page. The main reason you should care about these developments in the SERP features is because they play a key role in the digital marketing tactic of search engine optimization (SEO). SEO is a main source of qualified traffic for most websites. 

A recent survey of our own education clients has shown that on average of 51% of all traffic comes from organic traffic — SEO. In every case we looked at, users coming from search engines are more engaged and took more action; more often than other channels of traffic, like paid or social.

SEO is very competitive though, so ensuring that you give Google the best, and clearest understanding of your content can help increase search visibility — this is the reason for using structured data. 

Featured Snippets

Featured snippets are excerpts of your site’s content. It will summarize an answer to a person's query, or keyword search. Google displays the search result in a card. It can consist of a paragraph, list, table, video, and sometimes a combination of those elements. 

People Also Ask

Another Google SERP is the People also ask feature. This is a list of questions related to the person’s query, or keyword search. It is presented in accordions. Each question reveals a featured snippet and even more related additional questions people have asked.

 

Knowledge Panel

This SERP feature typically appears on the right side of the search results page. It drills down into specific attributes of entities (people, places, organizations, things), using information gathered from the web — and even the structured data you’ve provided.

Important note: As people journey further down the path they will start to consider schools. This will almost certainly include using Google to research specific institutions. This can result in a variation of the knowledge panel-specific information about your organization — information like the address, phone number, events, etc. 

google shows lots of information in the searchclose up of search result

Expert tip: You have a notable level of control over the information that will be displayed in this SERP feature. It starts with establishing your business details with Google.

Register your digital experience with Google Search Console.

The first step in officially establishing your website as a presence with Google is verifying website ownership in Search Console. This verifies the owners and operators of your digital experience. Google Search Console is also a great tool to understand and monitor how Google displays your information.

Claim your local business.

To claim an existing physical business or create a new one, use Google My Business. As a verified owner you can provide or edit your address, contact info, business type, and photos. This will help your local business information to show up in Google Maps and Google knowledge panel.

Update your site’s Google knowledge panel.

Google algorithms find information — your site's name, corporate contact information, social profiles, etc. The nice thing about this task is that you can update, and provide more information for your site. If you’re verified as an official representative, you can update your Google knowledge panel to override the information Google will find automatically with its algorithms.

Add structured data.

Structured data helps to establish your organization, and fill out more of a picture of who you are and what you do. Two pieces of structured data features that all websites can benefit from:

  • Site logo: Specify what image Google should use as your organization's official logo in their search results, and your Google knowledge panel. To do this, add Logo structured data, this will specify the location (usually an absolute URL) of your preferred logo.
  • Breadcrumbs: Breadcrumb trails on a page indicate the page's position in the site’s information architecture. Breadcrumbs allow users to navigate the digital experience one level at a time by following the breadcrumb trail. To help Google understand this trail, you can add Breadcrumb structured data to your site.

In Conclusion

While establishing your business details with Google involves a few steps, we hope you can start to see the critical role structured data plays in elevating your domain's overall search visibility. 

In a study conducted in the UK, it was found that nearly 90% of 100 UK universities were not using structured data.

Most CMS options will have some functionality that allows site owners to easily implement structured data. This is something that you don’t want to do manually by hardcoding it into your site. 

Drupal has an excellent module — Schema.org Metatag — built off the very well established, and supported Drupal Metatag module. It will display structured data as JSON LD — Google’s preferred method to implement structured data. The Drupal Schema.org Metatag module includes a long list of structured data types that cover most of the information you’ll want to leverage.

If you’re unsure of where to start, then check if your digital experience might already be using structured data or not. 

  1. Go to Google’s Rich Results Test tool - https://search.google.com/test/rich-results
  2. Paste in your URL
  3. Click Test URL

If structured data has been implemented, then it will display a message similar to this.

It will tell you the type of structured data that was discovered and the values of the data.

HTML of structured data

 

If you’re not using structured data, then check if your current CMS supports it. 

 

Unsure where to start? Reach out to our team and we can talk you through how you can apply this to your organization.

 

Learn from us
Sign up and receive our monthly insights directly in your inbox!