Incorporating schema markup on your site offers an incredible opportunity to improve search visibility and boost organic click-through rate (CTR).
But as Google's John Mueller commented in a Google Webmaster hangout video, implementing schema markup for rich results will not be getting any easier — and will in fact be getting harder and more complicated.
You can only benefit from the schema markup if you’ve implemented it fully (without errors), constantly make improvements, and have implemented it properly, so let's cover the most common issues with schema implementation.
If you need a refresher on why schema is important and the different ways to implement it, read below. If not, let's jump into those common issues!
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:
#1. Provide a superior search experience
Thanks to various markup elements like Price, Ratings, FAQ and 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.
#2. Improve organic CTR
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.
#3. Provide more semantic context of the site’s content
Structured data 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.
#4. 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.
#5. Enhance SEM performance and reduce 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.
3 Methods for Implementing the Schema Markup
There are three ways to add structured data to your site: JSON-LD, RDFa, and Microdata.
Google recommends using JSON-LD for structured data whenever possible, so let's cover that method first.
Method #1: JSON-LD
JSON-LD is the best (and preferred!) method for structured data because it can be quickly edited, and as code gets deprecated it’s easy to adapt.
The code is a snippet that gets added within the <script> tag in the page head or body on the backend code of a website.
The code can also be added utilizing Google Tag Manager as a work-around for internal teams who do not have dedicated development resources at their disposal.
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.
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 see sites using schema markup to add context and text to the page without being user-visible text.
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 sitewide
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 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 the SERPs.
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 potentially 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.
Recommended Reading: A Look at Product & Review Schema for Ecommerce SEO
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 can be rendered on the page, such as ngData for example:
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 Fix Schema Markup Issues
We’ve covered some of the most common schema implementation issues, so now let's get along to fixing them.
Before you can fix schema issues, you first need to locate where the issues are.
You have a few options to do this. Your first option is Google’s Rich Results Test.
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.
It also tells you if your page/schema is eligible for rich results on the SERPs.
In order to use the tool you need to make sure your security protocols are not blocking the tool from rendering the content.
You can also crawl your site to audit structured data at scale. An all-in-one SEO platform should have this crawling capability.
(Locating schema issues at scale.)
This will allow you to locate schema markup across your pages.
Free plug-ins like Schema Tester are also available to locate any errors and warning with the code.
Measuring the Performance of Schema
To monitor 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.
Companies often have an issue ensuring that the code is implemented fully and appropriately in order to yield results.
And the results are there! 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.
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.