Incorporating schema markup on your site offers an incredible opportunity to improve search visibility and boost organic click-through rate.
Google announced that beginning April 6, 2020, the data-vocabulary.org markup will no longer be eligible for Google rich result features. Google also announced on January 21, 2020 that Google Search Console will begin the process of issuing warnings for pages using the data-vocabulary.org schema so that site owners have time to prepare for the sunset. On January 31, 2020 John Mueller reported within a Google Webmaster hangout video (34:30 mark) that implementing schema markup for rich results will not be getting any easier and will in fact be getting harder and more complicated. With all of this talk happening around schema markup at Google, we can expect that future updates will create challenges in execution and companies will begin to struggle with the demand for continuous and timely updates. In response, we are preparing our platform to also assist clients in the implementation and execution of structured data.
“You can only benefit from the schema markup if you’ve implemented it fully (without errors), constantly make improvements and have implemented it properly.”
3 Methods for Implementing the Schema Markup
First and foremost, Google recommends using JSON-LD for structured data whenever possible. You can also implement the structured markup on a site in two additional ways: with RDFa or Microdata.
Method #1. JSON-LD
Method #2. RDFa
RDFa is an HTML5 extension that allows webmasters to mark-up content elements like People, Places, Events, Recipes or Reviews with HTML tag attributes. Each of those elements corresponds to the user-visible content that a webmaster wants to describe for search engines.
RDFa is most commonly used when marking up content that resides within the <head> and <body> elements of a webpage.
This method is not recommended because RDFa is difficult to test and since it is wrapped around your site’s HTML it is difficult to update and change rapidly. The markup needs to be reconfigured each time you make any content or development changes on your site.
Method #3. Microdata
Microdata is an open-community HTML specification used to nest structured data within the HTML content. Like RDFa, it uses HTML tag attributes to name the properties you want to expose as structured data. However, unlike RDFa, webmasters often use it to describe elements within the page’s content.
Microdata has the same limitations as does RDFa. The biggest issue with the markup is that it can easily induce errors when items are moved or rearranged on a site.
The Benefits of Using Structured Data
Many SEOs ask me why they should consider adding schema in the first place. What are the advantages? Here are some of the reasons I typically share:
- Schema helps provide a superior search experience. Thanks to various markup elements like Price, Ratings or Reviews, sites can add Schema markup to extend the amount of organic search real estate their listing takes up and utilize this to own certain keywords.
- For the same reason, schema helps improve organic click-through rates. In addition to the visual schema markup that appears within the SERP, it also increases the chance of catching the searchers’ eye. In fact, some case studies report that retailers see a 30% increase in CTR on average when schema is implemented.
- Structured data also helps provide more semantic context of the site’s content and allows you to define the context of your site in an easily digestible way. Thanks to schema.org, Google and other search engines understand the page’s content and its various elements better. As a result, they can index it for more relevant phrases, which may positively impact how it ranks it in SERPs when paired with adding content.
- Schema can positively improve ROI. Star Ratings and other markup elements affect the organic click-through rates, even if you don’t rank at the top of the SERPs. In turn, this may help improve the ROI by attracting more clicks and conversions – for both SEO and SEM.
- Enhanced SEM performance and reduced costs. Lastly and most importantly, adding Structured data increases the context of the page and adds information to make the page more contextually relevant and in turn Google rewards that by reducing your site’s CPC for SEM teams.
Unfortunately, if implemented incorrectly, schema can also hinder your SEO efforts.
So, let’s review some of the most common issues organizations face when implementing the structured markup.
7 Common Issues with Implementing Schema.org Markup
Issue #1. Marking up content that is invisible to users
Since structured data with JSON-LD is easy to implement and separated from the on-site text, organizations sometimes do not realize that they need to be tied together – Star Reviews, for example, are often listed on the bottom of the page or an additional click away from the core landing page. In these instances, we will find a site which is using schema markup to add context and text without being user-visible text on the page.
While this markup may appear in SERPs, it is often discovered whenever there is an algorithm update or when Google actively crawls the site. Google’s response is to issue a warning via Google Search Console. However, since the marked-up content is hidden from the user, Google might consider the practice as deceptive or misleading, leading to a manual action, especially if a site owner has been warned but continues to utilize the following in practice.
Note: According to Google, manual action will result in the structure data on the page being ignored.
Issue #2. Applying a page specific markup site-wide instead of to relevant pages
Often, companies assign an item’s rating information to the whole category. For example, a hotel might add one property’s ratings to all of its hotels. This practice can also be seen as manipulative and lead to a penalty.
To avoid manual action, use the markup for a specific product, not a category or a list of products. If using schema markup on a series of products, Google recommends ensuring that you are only listing the top-level topic and aggregating/or averaging the reviews and ratings.
Issue #3. Marking up reviews and testimonials that were written by the company, not real customers
Faced with a lack of relevant reviews or testimonials to incorporate into schema, some companies produce their own reviews to match what their competitors display in SERPs already.
This practice is against Google’s guidelines. In the past, retailers would be able to allow their customers to post reviews in-store, but Google has gotten a lot smarter and can now detect the IP of the user and identify when the reviews are potential spam. Reviews must not be written or provided by the business or content provider unless they are genuine, independent, and unpaid editorial reviews. While we haven’t seen a lot of sites receive warnings in these instances, Google has their own system of detecting and not including those reviews in their overall rankings algorithm and may decrease the amount of impressions or even decrease rank of your website as a whole.
Issue #4. Using individual ratings as opposed to average ratings
It is often the case in which the team simply does not know that category markup and product markup are very different and have different markup logic and use cases. In this case, the review rating is the average of all reviews on a page, rather than an individual value for a specific item.
Once again, I can understand the logic behind marking up ratings this way. However, this is another practice against Google’s guidelines and one we often see on category pages.
Issue #5. Delivering different structured data based on user detection
Often, it’s tempting to amend the page’s content based on user detection. International sites often need to adapt prices based on a specific IP address and even update content based on the demographic information of their user.
But once again, doing so can be perceived as a manipulative action. The ideal scenario is that the markup remains the same cross sites and in different locations.
Issue #6. Sites using AngularJS or Ajax to populate on site content
Sites that are using AngularJS need to ensure that schema markup is added into the header, passed through the DOM, or utilizes third party script to ensure the code is renderable on the page, such as ngData for example: https://github.com/vinaygopinath/ngMeta
Google will penalize a site if it inserts attributes and content into schema markup that is not an exact match to content on the page. In addition, because the above delays the time for the content to render, it can appear to Google that it does not contain schema markup when in fact it does. In those instances, it has little to no value for your site.
Issue #7. Using similar tags on the page in relation to the same element
Many schema.org tags seem similar at first. datePublished and dateModified are a good example of this. Both describe a date in relation to the content’s publication. Yet, they aren’t the same. One reveals when the page went live originally; the other, when the content was updated last. As a result, they play a different role in your markup. Unfortunately, companies often confuse them, and assign the wrong markup to various page elements.
How to Test Your Schema for Issues
We’ve covered some of the most common schema implementation issues, but how can you tell whether your website suffers from any of them?
Well, you have two options.
One is to use Google’s Structured Data Testing Tool.
Google has a very good response rate in identifying potential issues. In addition, Google has provided a tool that will review the content on a page, extract any structured markup and notify you of any potential errors with it. In order to use the tool you need to make sure your security protocols are not blocking the tool from rendering the content.
(A snapshot of Google's Structured Data Testing Tool.)
Measuring the Performance of Schema
To test schema performance, use a dedicated SEO platform with the capability to audit your site and help you understand the value of the structured markup.
With seoClarity, for example, you can understand the potential ROI from applying schema markup across site pages, as well as benchmark and measure the success it generates (measured by the increase of the organic CTR).
Our Traffic Potential tool allows you to see what the potential ROI is as a result of increased conversions – you can understand the potential increase of adding structured data across certain page types to identify estimated organic traffic increase and even revenue.
To more accurately forecast the benefit of structured data improvements, I recommend you create a test set and leave at least one page without structured data for cleaner KPIs.
In the coming months, seoClarity will also be focusing on ways to make implementing and identifying potential issues even easier. In all the sites in which we implemented schema markup we have seen between 25-30% increases in CTR and understand that it is beneficial for your search visibility. Companies often have an issue ensuring that the code is implemented fully and appropriately in order to yield results. When in place, the simple addition can mean great things for your ROI and the more items that are marked in schema, the more results you will see in increased impressions and clicks.