Matthew Laurin

Which Type of Structured Data Should I Use for My Site?

A graphical representation of structured dataStructured data helps search engines understand your content and then display it in search results in a way that is helpful for users.  Information like address, phone number, images, video, reviews and other data can be marked up using HTML.  There are different kinds of structured data markup so which one is the right one to use for your SEO activities?

Types of Markup

There are many different kinds of markup formats.  The reason is that (for the most part) different formats were developed in an attempt to make content machine understandable.  For example is an initiative supported by Google, Bing, Yandex and Yahoo to have a structured data standard that webmasters can use.

Types of structured data include:

  • RDFa: Stands for Resource Description Framework and is markup first proposed by Mark Birbeck and is a part of XHTML 2.0 markup language.  RDFa is one of three formats supported by Google (meaning that their bots can understand it).
  • Microdata: This is an extension of HTML5 and is a way to embed microformats (information like name, address, phone number, reviews, etc) in a web page.  Microdata was developed over many years by members of the microformat community as well as support from major search engines.
  • hCard: A Simple open format for identifying people, organizations, places and other stuff online.  You may also see vCard in relation to hCard.  This is simply an element or class of hCard.


Thinking about microdataFor microdata and RDFa formats, you identify items using item types and item properties.  For example if you were to mark up address content using microdata, you would wrap your content in a div tag denoting the item scope and type for the content like so:

<div itemscope itemtype=””>


This tells machines interpreting the content that the text is an address.  The elements of an address would then be wrapped in a span element <span></span> and identified as a property of the postal address item type.

<span itemprop=”1234 NoWhere Lane”></span>

The good thing about microdata is that it uses the more specific “itemprop” rather than class.  This becomes important when elements that have styling applied also use classes that are referenced in an external style sheet.

For example in hCard, address content would still be wrapped in a div tag but identified with a class.

<div class=”vcard”>

<span class=”street-address”></span>

This presents an issue because an element cannot have two class selectors (one for the hCard and one for styling).  Of course you can always use the same hooks in your style sheet but you have to be careful about how you construct these documents.

So Which Is the Best?

Most open-source formats that are referenced by major search engines are the ones you should be using.  If your goal is to get your data to appear well in a particular search engine, you should use formats supported by those engines.  For instance Google currently supports Microformats (like hCard), Microdata and RDFa.

If you are adding structured data markup to an existing site and you don’t want to bloat up your code by adding additional HTML elements, you can add properties to existing elements however you should do so by adding microdata to avoid using multiple class selectors on HTML elements.

Ultimately if you are using any of the supported formats you shouldn’t have an issue with the end goal of getting your content to be more visible in search results.  The important part is that you implement your structured data markup properly.  You can double check your work and get alerted to any errors by Google’s structured data testing tool.

Which type of structured data do you use?  Join in the conversation by commenting below.

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