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Google’s Preferred Structured Data: JSON-LD vs. Microdata

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Google's Preferred Structured Data: JSON-LD vs. Microdata

Google uses structured data to better understand what a webpage is about by classifying the topic, identifying important parts of the webpages like logos and images, and displaying webpages prominently at the top of the page.

There are multiple kinds of structured data, but only one of them is preferred by Google, so it’s important to use the right format.

Which Types Of Structured Data Does Google Support?

Google supports three kinds of structured data:

  1. JSON-LD.
  2. Microdata.
  3. RDFa.

Each of those standards is a different way of communicating structured data and is specified on the official Schema.org website.

Screenshot by author, May 2022Screenshot of Schema.org Structured Data Examples

In the image above, it can be seen that the Schema.org structured data example provides examples in three formats.

There are three tabs. Each tab corresponds to a different form of structured data: Microdata, RDFa, and JSON-LD structured data.

What Is Microdata Structured Data?

Microdata is a way to add metadata within the HTML code and is a part of the HTML specification, also known as the WHATWG (Web Hypertext Application Technology Working Group) HTML standard.

Microdata is an  HTML specification for marking up a webpage within the HTML itself.

It is essentially metadata that is placed within the HTML code that is published within the <body> tags and is readable by machines like Googlebot.

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Schema.org, the non-profit organization that creates the structured data specifications, published a structured data explainer called Getting Started and used Microdata in all of their examples.

So, Microdata is still a valid way to communicate structured data and is currently supported by the Schema.org standards-making body as well as by Google (except in specific cases where it is explicitly not supported).

The microdata is nested within existing HTML like this:

<body itemscope itemtype="https://schema.org/WebPage">
<div itemprop="breadcrumb">
<a href="https://www.searchenginejournal.com/structured-data-google-prefers/451847/category/books.html">Books</a>
<a href="category/books-literature.html">Literature &amp; Fiction</a> >
<a href="category/books-classics">Classics</a>
</div>

In the above code, the microdata called, “itemprop” is inserted to specify the structured data Property, in this case, the breadcrumb structured data property.

This is what that code looks like without the microdata structured data:

<div>
<a href=”category/books.html”>Books</a>
<a href=”category/books-literature.html”>Literature &amp; Fiction</a>
<a href=”category/books-classics”>Classics</a>
</div>

There are other ways of doing the same thing by using the BreadcrumbList structured data type as well.

What Is RDFa Structured Data?

RDFa is an acronym for Resource Description Framework in attributes. It is an extension of HTML.

The reason it’s called an extension of HTML is that it extends HTML.

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Google describes RDFa like this:

“Microformats specify both a syntax for including structured data into HTML documents and set of microformat classes each with its own specific vocabulary of allowed attributes.

RDFa, on the other hand, specifies only a syntax and allows you to use existing vocabularies of attributes or create your own.

It even lets you combine multiple vocabularies freely. If the existing vocabularies do not meet your needs, you can define your own standards and vocabularies by creating new fields.”

RDFa offers an additional way of communicating structured data to Google that is less intrusive to the code than the microdata method.

Like microdata, RDFa is currently specified as a valid form of data by Schema.org and is currently supported by Google (except when explicitly not specified).

This is what a breadcrumb structured data can look like in the RDFa format:

<body itemscope itemtype=”https://schema.org/WebPage”>

<div itemprop=”breadcrumb”>
<a href=”category/books.html”>Books</a> >
<a href=”category/books-literature.html”>Literature &amp; Fiction</a> >
<a href=”category/books-classics”>Classics</a>
</div>

What Is JSON-LD?

JSON-LD is a scripting language that allows publishers to communicate important information to search engines.

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JSON-LD is an acronym for JavaScript Object Notation for Linked Data.

Because it’s a script, it’s relatively easier to use than Microdata and RDFa because JSON-LD is not embedded within the HTML as metadata or as an extension of the HTML itself.

JSON-LD can be placed anywhere on a webpage, even in the Head section of the webpage code which is where metadata usually goes.

JSON-LD can also be placed at the end of the code or within the content section of the code (it will not be visible to site visitors).

Another benefit of JSON-LD is that, because it’s separated from the HTML and exists within its own script, it can be easily edited and reviewed.

A breadcrumb list structured data markup can look like this:

 <script type="application/ld+json">
{
"@context": "https://schema.org",
"@type": "BreadcrumbList",
"itemListElement": [{
"@type": "ListItem",
"position": 1,
"name": "Widgets",
"item": "https://example.com/widgets"
},{
"@type": "ListItem",
"position": 2,
"name": "Blue Widgets",
"item": "https://example.com/widgets/blue-widgets"
},{
"@type": "ListItem",
"position": 3,
"name": "Reviews"
}]
}
</script>

Troubleshooting a script that is completely separated from the HTML is so much easier than trying to code the structured data within the HTML, which is how Microdata and RDFa are done.

According to the official JSON-LD website:

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“Data is messy and disconnected. JSON-LD organizes and connects it, creating a better Web.

It is a way to create a network of standards-based, machine-readable data across Web sites.”

JSON-LD scripts can be added to a webpage in a manner that can be templated within a website, making it easy to add, update, and remove.

The official Schema.org structured data specification can be found at Schema.org (surprise!).

Which Type Of Structured Data Does Google Prefer?

Even though Microdata continues to be supported by the Schema.org standards-making organization, what matters is the version that Google supports.

In a Google Office-hours hangout from March 2019, a participant asked the following question:

“What type of Schema markup is preferable for Google? Should I use Jason or… microformats? Which format is preferable?”

John Mueller answered:

“We currently prefer JSON-LD markup. I think most of the new structured data that are kind of come out for JSON-LD first. So that’s what we prefer.”

Google Prefers JSON-LD Structured Data

Google’s John Mueller made it clear that Google preferred JSON-LD structured data.

A benefit of JSON-LD structured data is that it is non-intrusive.

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It’s non-intrusive because it keeps structured data separate from the HTML code.

That makes reading, troubleshooting, and updating structured data so much easier because it’s more simple to implement and maintain.

Additionally, the JSON-LD scripting language follows a set of easily learned rules and can easily be added or removed from a site.

How To Implement JSON-LD Structured Data

The official Schema.org JSON-LD structured data Schema.org website has many examples of how to write the structured data code. Just take an example and use it as a template.

Here’s an image of an example without structured data:

screenshot of content without structured dataScreenshot by author, May 2022screenshot of content without structured data

This is an example of the exact same content expressed as JSON-LD Schema.org structured data:

Screenshot of json-ld structured data from schema.orgScreenshot by author, May 2022Screenshot of json-ld structured data from schema.org

Google Prefers JSON-LD Structured Data

Google’s preferred format for structured data is JSON-LD.

Because that’s Google’s preference, it’s a good idea to make sure that all structured data used within a webpage is using JSON-LD and not the JSON-LD structure.

Watch the Google Webmaster Office-hours hangout at the 22:33 minute mark:

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More Resources:


Featured Image: Helder Almeida/Shutterstock

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8 Pillar Page Examples to Get Inspired By

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8 Pillar Page Examples to Get Inspired By

Pillar pages are high-level introductions to a topic. They then link to other pages, which are usually more detailed guides about parts of the main topic.

Altogether, they form a content hub.

Example of a content hub

But not all pillar pages look the same. 

In this guide, we’ll look at eight examples of pillar pages to get your creative juices flowing.

Excerpt of beginner's guide to SEO by Ahrefs

Key stats

Estimated organic traffic: 1,200
Backlinks: 6,900
Referring domains: 899

Overview of Ahrefs' beginner's guide to SEO in Ahrefs' Site Explorer

This is our very own pillar page, covering the broad topic of search engine optimization (SEO)

Why I like it

Besides the fact that I’m biased, I like the custom design we created for this page, which makes it different from the articles on our blog. 

Even though the design is custom, our pillar page is still a pretty classic “hub and spoke” style pillar page. We’ve broken the topic down neatly into six different chapters and internally linked to guides we’ve created about them. There are also custom animations when you hover over each chapter:

Examples of chapters in the SEO guide

We’ve also added a glossary section that comes with a custom illustration of the SERPs. We have explanations of what each element means, with internal links to more detailed content:

Custom illustration of the SERP

Finally, it links to another “pillar page”: our SEO glossary

Takeaway

Consider creating a custom design for your pillar page so that it stands out. 

Excerpt of Doctor Diet's ketogenic diet guide

Key stats

Estimated organic traffic: 92,200
Backlinks: 21,600
Referring domains: 1,700

Overview of Diet Doctor's ketogenic diet guide in Ahrefs' Site Explorer

Diet Doctor is a health company focusing on low-carb diets. Its pillar page is a comprehensive guide on the keto diet. 

Why I like it

On the surface, it doesn’t exactly look like a pillar page; it looks like every other post on the Diet Doctor site. But that’s perfectly fine. It’s simply a different approach—you don’t have to call out the fact that it’s a pillar page. 

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Diet Doctor’s guide is split into 10 different sections with links to its own resources. The links bring you to different types of content (not just blog posts but videos too).

Video course about keto diet for beginners

Unlike the classic pillar page, Diet Doctor’s guide goes into enough detail for anyone who is casually researching the keto diet. But it also links to further resources for anyone who’s interested in doing additional research.

Takeaway

Pillar pages need not always just be text and links. Make it multimedia: You can add videos and images and even link to your own multimedia resources (e.g., a video course).

Excerpt of Wine Folly's beginner's guide to wine

Key stats

Estimated organic traffic: 5,600
Backlinks: 2,800
Referring domains: 247

Overview of Wine Folly's beginner's guide to wine in Ahrefs' Site Explorer

Wine Folly is a content site devoted to wine knowledge and appreciation. Its pillar page, as expected, is about wine. 

Why I like it

Wine Folly’s pillar page is a classic example of a “hub and spoke” style pillar page—split into multiple sections, with some supporting text, and then internal links to other resources that support each subsection. 

Supporting text and links to other resources

This page doesn’t just serve as a pillar page for ranking purposes, though. Given that it ranks well and receives quite a significant amount of search traffic, the page also has a call to action (CTA) to Wine Folly’s book:

Short description of book; below that, CTA encouraging site visitor to purchase it

Takeaway

While most websites design pillar pages for ranking, you can also use them for other purposes: capture email addresses, sell a book, pitch your product, etc. 

Excerpt of A-Z directory of yoga poses

Key stats

Estimated organic traffic: 11,100
Backlinks: 3,400
Referring domains: 457

Overview of Yoga Journal's A-Z directory of yoga poses in Ahrefs' Site Explorer

Yoga Journal is an online and offline magazine. Its pillar page is an A-Z directory of yoga poses.

Why I like it

Yoga Journal’s pillar page is straightforward and simple. List down all possible yoga poses (in both their English and Sanskrit names) in a table form and link to them. 

List of yoga poses in table form

Since it’s listed in alphabetical order, it’s useful for anyone who knows the name of a particular pose and is interested in learning more. 

What I also like is that Yoga Journal has added an extra column on the type of pose each yoga pose belongs to. If we click on any of the pose types, we’re directed to a category page where you can find similar kinds of poses: 

Examples of standing yoga poses (in grid format)

Takeaway

The A-Z format can be a good format for your pillar page if the broad topic you’re targeting fits the style (e.g., dance moves, freestyle football tricks, etc.).

Excerpt of Atlassian's guide to agile development

Key stats

Estimated organic traffic: 115,200
Backlinks: 3,200
Referring domains: 860

Overview of Atlassian's guide to agile development in Ahrefs' Site Explorer

Atlassian is a software company. You’ve probably heard of its products: Jira, Confluence, Trello, etc. Its pillar page is on agile development.

Why I like it

Atlassian’s pillar page is split into different topics related to agile development. It then has internal links to each topic—both as a sticky table of contents and card-style widgets after the introduction: 

Sticky table of contents
Card-style widgets

I also like the “Up next” feature at the bottom of the pillar page, which makes it seem like an online book rather than a page. 

Example of "Up next" feature

Takeaway

Consider adding a table of contents to your pillar page. 

Excerpt of Muscle and Strength's workout routines database

Key stats

Estimated organic traffic: 114,400
Backlinks: 2,900
Referring domains: 592

Overview of Muscle and Strength's workout routines database in Ahrefs' Site Explorer

Muscle and Strength’s pillar page is a massive database linking to various categories of workouts. 

Why I like it

Calling it a pillar page seems to be an understatement. Muscle and Strength’s free workouts page appears to be more like a website. 

When you open the page, you’ll see that it’s neatly split into multiple categories, such as “workouts for men,” “workouts for women,” “biceps,” “abs,” etc. 

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Workout categories (in grid format)

Clicking through to any of them leads us to a category page containing all sorts of workouts:

Types of workouts for men (in grid format)

Compared to the other pillar pages on this list, where they’re linking to other subpages, Muscle and Strength’s pillar page links to other category pages, which then link to their subpages, i.e., its massive archive of free workouts.

Takeaway

Content databases, such as the one above, are a huge undertaking for a pillar page but can be worth it if the broad topic you’re targeting fits a format like this. Ideally, the topic should be about something where the content for it is ever-growing (e.g., workout plans, recipes, email templates, etc.).

Excerpt of Tofugu's guide to learning Japanese

Key stats

Estimated organic traffic: 39,100
Backlinks: 1,100
Referring domains: 308

Overview of Tofugu's guide to learning Japanese in Ahrefs' Site Explorer

Tofugu is a site about learning Japanese. And its pillar page is about, well, learning Japanese.

Why I like it

This is an incredible (and yes, ridiculously good) guide to learning Japanese from scratch. It covers every stage you’ll go through as a complete beginner—from knowing no Japanese to having intermediate proficiency in the language. 

Unlike other pillar pages where information is usually scarce and simply links out to further resources, this page holds nothing back. Under each section, there is great detail about what that section is, why it’s important, how it works, and even an estimated time of how long that stage takes to complete. 

Another interesting aspect is how Tofugu has structured its internal links as active CTAs. Rather than “Learn more” or “Read more,” it’s all about encouraging users to do a task and completing that stage. 

CTA encouraging user to head to the next task of learning to read hiragana

Takeaway

Two takeaways here:

  • Pillar pages can be ridiculously comprehensive. It depends on the topic you’re targeting and how competitive it is.
  • CTAs can be more exciting than merely just “Read more.”
Excerpt of Zapier's guide to working remotely

Key stats

Estimated organic traffic: 890
Backlinks: 4,100
Referring domains: 1,100

Overview of Zapier's guide to working remotely in Ahrefs' Site Explorer

Zapier allows users to connect multiple software products together via “zaps.” It’s a 100% remote company, and its pillar page is about remote work. 

Why I like it

Zapier’s pillar page is basically like Wine Folly’s pillar page. Break a topic into subsections, add a couple of links of text, and then add internal links to further resources. 

In the examples above, we’ve seen all sorts of execution for pillar pages. There are those with custom designs and others that are crazily comprehensive.

But sometimes, all a pillar page needs is a simple design with links. 

Takeaway

If you already have a bunch of existing content on your website, you can create a simple pillar page like this to organize your content for your readers. 

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Keep learning

Inspired by these examples and want to create your own pillar page? Learn how to successfully do so with these two guides:

Any questions or comments? Let me know on Twitter.  



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