Google’s John Mueller answered whether it’s useful to use structured data that doesn’t result in rich results. Mueller answered that it may be useful for Google but to not go overboard with it.
Should You Use Structured Data That’s Unsupported by Google?
There are thousands of structured data types and options that can be selected for use on a web page. One can even extend Schema.org structured data to incorporate virtually anything that’s described in Wikipedia using ProductOntology.org.
Google only uses a fraction of the possibilities inherent in Schema.org structured data.
A publisher asked whether there was any use in using these strutured data types that are not supported for rich results.
This is the question:
“There are lots of Schema.org structured data but only a few of them are listed in the Google Developers Help.
Should we spend time implementing something like image object?”
Google uses image object and Mueller addressed that:
“My understanding is that we use image objects. I need to double check the documentation. But that’s kind of my understanding there.”
Then he answered what was at the heart of the question:
…But, going back to the more general question, should we use types of structured data that are not in the developers documentation?
So, in practice what happens here is we would not use them to do anything visible with your pages.
So if you’re using a type of structured data that we don’t support. Then you would not see any visual effect there.
…Maybe you have a car on your page and there’s a structured data type for a car, then just using that won’t automatically transform your search result into something that looks like a car because if we don’t have that type of rich result then we wouldn’t be looking at that markup.
And if we did have that type of rich result we would have that documented appropriately in a developers guide. That’s it.
Takeaway 1: Visible Rich Results
This is obvious, that if you use structured data that’s not supported and described in Google’s developer pages then it won’t result in visible rich results.
The next part though is where it gets interesting:
All types of structured data helps us to better understand the entities on a page.
So, in particular, like going back to the car example, if you have something that uses a lot of words that could be interpreted as maybe an animal or a type of car, then that’s something where if you tell us this is actually about a car then would give us a little bit more information and… would allow us to try to rank your pages more appropriately.
Takeaway 2: Unsupported Structured Data and Entities
Mueller said that unsupported structured data helps Google better understand entities on a page. So if there’s a possibility of confusion of what an entity is on a page, then using unsupported structured data that doesn’t result in rich result may help Google better understand what your page is about in terms of entities.
Entities are like nouns, persons, places and things. In Mueller’s example, the entity was a car (like Jaguar the car as opposed to Jaguar the animal).
Takeaway 3: Not a Ranking Boost – It’s About Relevance
Mueller offered the caveat that this will not offer a boost in ranking. It’s just about relevance, in communicating a point about an entity in a manner that makes it crystal clear.
This is what Mueller said:
So it’s not that you would rank higher but rather we would try to show you in the queries a little bit more where we better understand your page and where we better understand that your page matches the users intent.
So with that in mind, if you’re limited or severely limited by time, I would focus on the types of structured data that are really visible. And if you do have a bit more time or you have a CMS that’s flexible that allows you to expand on things that maybe that you’re talking about then that’s something where there’s definitely no downside to adding more types of structured data.
Takeaway 4: Don’t Overdo Unsupported Structured Data
Mueller cautioned against overdoing unsupported structured data. It seems that what he wanted to communicate is to focus on the actual content and that if there’s any chance of an entity being unclear that this kind of unsupported structured data may be helpful for helping Google understand what the page is about.
This is what Mueller said:
The one thing I would watch out for here is that you can easily get lost in the weeds with all of the different structured data types.
So like it’s very possible that you’d mark up every other word on a page and say well this is like this element and this entity’s related to this entity…
And at some point you spend more time on the structured data than you actually spend… on the content and that’s not going to be useful for your website.
So, trying to find a balance there is something that I’d recommend.
And if you’re really limited by time and you really need to focus on things that have a clear result then I would focus on the types that are documented in the developers guide.
Relevance and Ranking Boosts
It’s easy to confuse factors that are related to relevance and actual ranking factors. In this case, using structured data that’s unsupported by structured data could be useful for helping to communicate entities discussed in the page.
Doing this will not provide a ranking boost. It will only help clarify what the page is about (which is a relevance thing).
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