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The Role of Linked Open Data in SEO

Apr 19, 2021
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In this post we're going to look at the role of linked open data and how it impacts SEO and why it's important to the search community as a whole. 

At a high level, linked open data is open data on the web that is linked using RDF. It helps us add context to our content in a way that AI machines can understand. 

 

Video Transcript:

In this video, we're going to be looking at the role of linked open data and how it impacts SEO, and why it's important to the search community as a whole. We've done some videos on the semantic web and semantic SEO, and how the internet has changed quite a bit in the last few years.

Now, if you don't have any background in that, that's okay. We're going to be going into this step-by-step so that you can actually leverage the power or at least start to look for ways to leverage the power of linked open data.

What is Linked Open Data (LOD)

So what is linked open data? From w3.org, they define it like this. "Linked open data defines a vision of globally accessible and linked data on the internet based on RDF standards of the semantic web. Linked open data is often thought of as a virtual data cloud, where anyone can access any data they are authorized to see and may also add to any data without disturbing the original data source."

It opens up data to be used by everybody. It allows us to access data, to use data. We use a format known as RDF, which we'll talk about in a little bit, in order to make statements about certain pieces of content or in order to mark up our content so that it can be used and leveraged in this virtual data cloud.

It allows us to add context without disturbing the original data source. It's extremely powerful, and if you want to go much deeper into it, there are lots of things that you can do.

At a high level, linked open data is open data on the web that is linked that we can use using the language RDF.

 Tim Berners-Lee, 5-star Open Data plan

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Tim Berners-Lee is the inventor of the world wide web and he has this five-star open data plan. Today we are at star five. There are a lot of places on the internet where you can use five star linked open data. Let's talk a little bit about the different types of linked data.

The first one is making stuff available online in any format. This could be like a PDF, right? YOu can get a PDF online, you can download it, but you can't do anything with it. You can't edit the PDF. You can't link out from that PDF and connect it to other sources. It is what it is.

The second type of linked data is structured data, and you can think of this as an Excel table where you can download it, you can manipulate the data, but you have to have Excel in order to use that.

Now three star open data makes it available in a non-proprietary format. This is where we could have assets using CSV. It's not tied into Excel, but anybody who has a program that can read a CSV file would then be able to access that data and use it on their own.

Four star open data allows us to use URIs to denote things so that people can point to your stuff. This is where you may have a table, a structured table on your website with data information in it. It's not in a CSV format. It's in HTML format so it can be linked to, it can't be used to provide context. It's just a web table. And five star linked open data is data that's linked to other data to provide context.

This is where you maybe have a table of prices of a certain thing that you're selling online. You'd have a table of the different prices, but with linked open data underneath that, you would also have linked data to more context about the products themselves. Are they in stock? Are they not in stock? This is where you would add all that structured element with linked open data, providing context to what each of those data points inside that table actually mean.

RDF Triples

We've talked a little bit about data points and linking to data, and we use this term called RDF. So what is RDF and what are RDF triples? RDF stands for resource description format, and it is the standard for web data. It allows data to be linked anywhere and to be grounded in semantic descriptions of that data. The core data model is very simple. We use something called a triple that organizes this data into an RDF graph.

As we can see right here, this is the simple formula for RDF. We have a subject, we have a predicate, we have an object. If you think about that at a high level, you can go back to basic English or basic language principles that we learned about in elementary school.

My name is Bob. I'm talking about me and I'm giving you a predicate. Name is or is, and the object Bob. Me, my name is Bob. I follow that subject-verb agreement, which is what we would call it in the English language.

But it's very similar when we're talking about triples. If that helps, that's a way that I use it a lot at how triples describe things. The only thing that we're doing differently is we're describing it within a data format.

If we look at an example online, you could do it like this. Your company, or your organization, what does it do? Or what is it doing? It sells a product. You can have an RDF statement like that. You'd have your company, Widget World, and point to the product that you sell, the widget, and the action you take is that sale. And you can create that annotation within RDF to say your company sells a product.

But it's not so simple as that all the time. There are a lot of other factors that we can add to this.

This is the power that RDF has. This is the power that linked open data has. Because if we look at this, it's very ambiguous. We don't know who the company is. We don't know what the product is. We don't know anything about the product. We just know that a company, your company, some company sells something.

But we can use these RDF triples to expand the context so we could have company, and with that, we can link out to the company name. We can link to the company's location, who founded the company. And then if we go to the other side and we look at products, we can add more predicates and more connections. We can talk about the name of the product, the price of the product, the description of the product, and is that product even in stock.

We take the same information and we keep attaching more and more levels of information and data to it. It completes the sentence that we're saying, and it allows us to have a lot more context. This is why the linked open data structure is so important to the web today because it allows us to have that deep context.

RDF is a simple concept that can be expanded into making what we said before, an RDF graph. Where now we've got more and more information compounding on it, we can go deeper and deeper and add more context.

Why is Linked Data Important?

Why is this even important? Linked data places structure on the worldwide web so that it may be found, shared, and combined with other people's data. It frees that data up from a proprietary container so that we all can use it. This allows us to take data and information online and add more context to it. It allows us to add more context to our own information, our own content, our own data that we have and allows us to really expand the use of that information on the web.

Why does Linked Data Matter for SEO?

Why does this matter for SEO? Linked data is what drives enhanced search results, 100%. This is what Google uses. It's building their knowledge graph, and we've talked a little bit about knowledge graph building and the importance of it on this channel before. What it does is it allows machines to understand the context of your website.

If we go back to this example here, a lot of people on their website, if your company sells a product and you have all this information in maybe four star data, it's just in table. A search engine can gather some information about it.

But when we mark it up using Schema.org, which is a way that we can annotate using linked open data, we can add context. We can use organizational mark-up here and give the name and the location of our company. We can mark up our prices and the name of the products we're selling and the descriptions, and that allows us now to earn those enhanced search results.

It's extremely important today in the world of SEO to leverage linked open data, because it gives context into our webpages in a way that a machine can understand. Just because people can understand it, it doesn't always mean that the machine is going to gather the right understanding. This is what allows us to set that context on our website to ensure that the search engines understand our meaning and that we can earn those enhanced search results.

Searching for SEO

Let's go onto the internet to look a little deeper at linked open data. This is a site called Wikidata, and Wikidata is a database of data. It's got linked open data in points that are pulling information from Wikipedia and other sources on the linked open web.

If we do a search for the term SEO, as you can see at the top, we've got the term search engine optimization, but right below it, we see a disambiguation page. This is important to understand because SEO can mean a few different things. It could mean search engine optimization. It could mean the Spanish Ornithological Society. It could mean a family name in Korea. There are a lot of different things that SEO itself could mean.

The search engines and the web crawlers will look at the context of your page to try to understand it, but we can set that understanding using linked open data.

Wikidata allows us to see some special things. It allows us to see SEO in different languages. We can go, it's an instant of, so here we're talking about triples.

SEO could be an instance of a professional skill. It could be a specialty. It could be a subclass of, that's the predicate of internet marketing. It could be spoken text audio, and here they are talking about SEO. It could be a pronunciation. You could pronounce it a certain way. It can be practiced by. As you can see, there's a lot of triples that are attached to the term SEO.

And why does this matter? Well, if I'm an SEO, I need to understand that SEO is a subclass of internet marketing. And if I'm not using the terms internet marketing, I might not be extending the full comprehension of the term I'm using on my website. And also I can mark up my website to say that we're talking about SEO, which is a subclass of internet marketing. We can do that within linked open data, whether it's Schema.org or a traditional RDF statement.

Now what's really cool about Wikidata is they've got a query service. So you can run a query here and put in the Wikidata ID that you want to look at, and visualize what this means. I like to do this just to get an understanding sometimes of the depth of where we can go. SEO is an intentional human action. It's something that people have to do. It doesn't happen by accident.

It's also marketing. It's also digital marketing and internet marketing. It's also an activity. It's done by people, so someone can do SEO. It has a process to it. It can be planned. There's ways that we can mark up these terms on our website and mark them up as an entity. That's separate from a keyword, and we've talked a lot about entities on this channel, and add these different attributes in order to make our site more machine-readable from an SEO standpoint.

Our Website and SEO

What does this look like from an SEO standpoint itself? Here we've got a simplified search and this is our website where we sell our structured data courses and we talk a lot more specifically about structured data and give free resources. We've got tools on this site that can be used to generate structured data.

But we also use structured data on this website. Now, if we use this Chrome browser here, we can see that there's a lot of microdata on this website. Simplified search is a webpage. It's got navigational elements. This is all the microdata that we're pulling.

If we look at the JSON-LD, you can see some more. There are search actions. There is an organization behind this website. We've got articles here using Schema article. We use a website. We've got a name, alternative names. We've got a publisher connected to it. There's multiple RDF statements. There are multiple linked data points right here. If we're using WordLift on this site to build our knowledge graph underneath this site, and now we can annotate these pages.

The same thing goes for a case study or a blog article that we have here. Again, if I run this same structure data tool, we can see that we've got a person and that person has a name, and his name is Ryan Shelley. That's me.

And if we look at the JSON-LD, we'll see some of the entities that we've tagged on this page. We've got the entity rich feature, which is a thing. And we've got a link to open data point right here to our featured snippets that we're talking about, but we also have connections here with Google, as well as other URLs.

Now we use these same connections, again to create context, and this is what allows our entities to be found, indexed and understood from the machines. As you can see, linked open data can play a huge role in adding context to a webpage and influencing how the search engines understand our page.

The end goal of a search engine is to deliver the most intentional based results, the results that meet or match the intent of the search user. They first need to understand the context of our content.

You can see this plays a huge role in giving that context by using linked open data to structure our content and feed into the world of linked open data, but also into Google and their knowledge graph so that they can have a better understanding of our site and give us a higher chance to earn that ranking that we believe we deserve.

Today we talked about the role of linked open data and how it plays a role in the world of SEO. If you have any questions, please comment below. We'd love to continue the conversation with you. And until next time, Happy Marketing.

Mastering Structured Data

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Ryan Shelley, CPBI

By Ryan Shelley, CPBI

Ryan is passionate about helping companies make a more personal connection online with their customers and prospects. He is a regular contributor to Search Engine Land, the largest and most popular SEO news site on the web. His works have also been featured on the HubSpot Blog, Business2Community and by LinkedIn Marketing Solutions.

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