How to Test & Fix Product Markup to Avoid Google Manual Actions
Web search today is focused on information extraction, personalized searches, and customized knowledge data mining techniques that rely on schema markup implementation for better visibility in search engine results pages (SERPs).
The percentage of business sites getting on board with this form of site optimization is growing rapidly, yet others are still asking about what it will take to maintain schema code. It is a fair question, and we will offer answers in this article. As with all SEO strategies, the time and investment it takes for a business site to keep current, error-free, and adhering to best practices means it gets done and done right.
Having worked on this for multiple sites, this article will share some of what we have learned. It also helps if fixing a manual action should it be that your structured data was implemented poorly and has violated the guidelines and policies involved.
A Bit of Background on Semantics and Schema
A basic understanding of schema markup helps to get started when adding it to pages; it is essential when it comes to troubleshooting issues and fixing errors. First of all semantic search and rich results are not new; the level of which semantics has been rolled into the core of search is new. And gaining highly visible mobile rich cards is a SERP feature new to many.
Ieeexplore tells us that “although the first commercialization of semantic search, browsing, personalization, and advertisement that used large background knowledge (what is now referred to as knowledge graphs) dates to 2000, this approach has become mainstream only during the past few years, with some variant of structured-data and knowledge-graph-driven search for major Internet search providers.”
- Rich Cards are displayed on mobile devices
- Rich Results can be found on both desktop and mobile devices
Product Markup Works for Shopping Cart Items and Service Sales
While there are many types of markup to test and fix, our focus here is on Product markup. Many businesses rely on it to survive or be more competitive, and at the same time, it is one type of markup that many are implementing incorrectly. Revise your site markup with professional tools and reports to ease time and budgets and keep the income flowing from your online sales.
At this point in time, there is not a specific type available for sites selling professional services.
Beyond Google: Most Search Engines Rely on Schema
Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) and Schema go hand in hand. A practical digital marketing who is planning for the coming year will embrace both aspects of search. Remember that Bing, Yahoo, and Yandex joined with Google to create schema.org; so the benefits of implementing and maintaining your structured data on site are manifold.
The AMP Discovery page covers the essential elements of an accelerated mobile page as well as a information as to which platforms support the AMP mandate. Metadata implementation to identify the content type of a particular web page may be for a news article, recipe, video, review, people, blog post, local restaurant, and course.
Moreover, it also indicates that Schema.org metadata “is a requirement to make your content eligible to appear in the demo of the Google Search news carousel.” So if you’re trying to get a future benefit from Google by implementing AMP, make sure you get your schema right!
Revise any Markup that Fails to fit Visible Content
One very important caveat—your markup is that it must correlate with what is visible on the page. The information that you include in your markup should match the visible content that you’re displaying to visitors. If you stray from that requirement, then you’re leaving your site open to a manual Google penalty. To remove critical errors, use the Google Search Console (GSC) Rich Cards Report.
Google’s Structured Data Team does check for and take action against this, as they consider it a deceptive tactic. So read the guideline thoroughly first; then regardless if choosing to implement markup with microdata or JSON-LD, align it to what is visible on the page.
Google provides the manual action viewer within Webmaster Tools; this is a tool to see what manual penalties a site has. In recent years, webmasters have repeated asked John Mueller for an automated action viewer to respond to site penalties. And he talked about it in depth at one hangout on the topic at 38 minutes and 36 seconds into the video:
This was back on November 3, 2014, where he stated, “these algorithms were written for our search results and not meant as something one-to-one actionable for webmasters. So it’s not the case that any of our algorithms will trigger and say, oh, you need to shorten the titles on your pages or you need to kind of improve the overall quality on this and this and this page. So that’s something where the algorithms are trying to figure out how specifically we should be kind of treating these pages in the search results, and that doesn’t necessarily translate one-to-one back into something that the webmaster could be doing differently.”
Now that we have the Rich Cards report, as well as the Structured Data Markup Helper, webmasters are better equipped to revise their web pages and indeed, do something better.
More Guidance to Help Webmasters Test and Revise your Schema Product Markup
A special Structured Data Google Webmaster Central office hours hangout on Dec 13 was held by Mueller and run by Sven. It was stressed that markup policy and guideline issues are harder to be aware of from a tool or GSC report. It is best to read and understand them thoroughly.
Sven detailed how: Use it “individually for each item that you would represent on the page so I just make sure to avoid using for a markup over a generic category page. For example, if you say you have a product markup and you say I don’t know how, holiday homes in Barcelona, and then you have a list of individual holiday homes. That will be a kind of misleading in the sense that you have the product market itself associated with a very generic term.”
He suggested conducting a Google search using the site operator to sort out how rich snippets would be displayed. and if for example you see them there and you don’t see them, then you can recognize that there could be an issue.
A deeper look at the quality of how your web pages are constructed can then follow. Once it is determined what’s implement right, it is easier to replicate those successes on additional pages.
How Review and Product Schema should be Combined
Review schema for a particular product should be added to a page so that it is clear to the reader (and Google) which item it refers to. The same policy applies to aggregate reviews. Say, someone bought a pair of ladies ballroom dance shoes from Zappos and leaves a review online. Then a webmaster should add that review to the specific product page selling that item rather than on the head page about selling all brands of shoes.
It’s also the same case that if you are using aggregate reviews that relate to a (singular) professional service. Add it to your web page dedicate that that particular service, not on your home page or a service (plural) page that introduces all services provided. A generic list or category of items is typically on such a page, but that is not suited for product or review markup because it could be confusing in that case just which specific product items that that review is for. One topic trend that repeated itself in the hangout is that product schema markup issues are often surfacing “where people get a little bit confused”.
Seven talked about this quite a length, explaining that “also a common thing we’ve seen quite a bit is people using the company name inside product markup and that usually also would not be a very good reviews because usually, the company doesn’t translate to a particular product or service”.
For more information on how types of schema do or don’t work together, read The perils and delights of multiple type entities for schema.org by Jarno van Driel.
Correct Your Product Markup Errors to Meet Quality Standards
Jarno van Driel, a Moderator of the Semantic Search Marketing Google+ Community, talks about when the structured data used is a bit of a stretch. and becomes “sort of an issue”.
“The reason I say ‘sort of’ is because multiple schema.org/Event instances normally won’t lead to rich snippets, and thus chances for getting a structured data penalty won’t be high as you’re not trying to manipulate SD to generate a rich snippet. There is a chance however that Google will decide to ignore the markup (even if it shows up in Search Console) because it considers it to be of low quality.”
Barry Schwartz of Search Engine Roundtable made the following comment after attending this event: “Google said that they do review all rich snippet spam reports, just like they do for normal spam reports. And if there is a clear violation, Google does take action. Sometimes there is not a clear violation, so no action is taken. In short, if you see rich snippet spam and you report it and nothing it taken off, then it might not be in violation.”
While markup should match and correspond to what is visible on your page, markup items intended more for the benefit of search engines and machines, such as geo coordinates, seem to be less of an issue when not display on the page. On the safe side, consider adding a Google Map with your geo coordinates somewhere on your site, such as your Contact page. The core premise is to keep your intent of adding value to the user experience and helping search engines better match queries. Deceptive markup is when the benefit behind the markup is centered on “self” for the sole intent to get rich snippets.
How to Streamline the Time it Takes to Maintain your Schema Markup
You can revise site product markup errors with professional tools to ease time and budgets.
The easiest way to revise your site’s structured data markup is to have someone with dedicate time managing the task. A lot has and is changing. Whether it is a freelance professional implementing schema via the Google Tag Manager, a plugin, or an App, it takes a commitment to stay on top of it. With Schema App, it may be a do-and-forget for you, but its creators Marc and Martha van Berkel work hard to ensure that sites using it can maximize the effort put into their content creation.
It can be tricky to get the best out of a WordPress plug that manages this. Whatever you opt to use, do stay on top of your schema markup to avoid Search Console errors. Check your Rich Card report to see how Google sees your site’s markup.
The amount of time needed to revise and maintain your markup for changed to show up in rich results and in the Mobile Rich Cards Carousel, depends on a number of factors:
1. The type of errors you get. Some can be ignored momentarily; we recommend reporting them as bugs on the Google Webmaster forum.
2. The skill level of your marketing team. This will depend on how current they are with updating and installing schema code, and the amount of time they have to dedicate to it. Individuals with diverse task loads may not be implementing structured data on a regular basis, and will therefore, find it’s extremely difficult to know which errors to ignore and which to correct, and which ones should be a higher priority.
3. How apt someone is at using Google Search Console Reports. Keeping a keen eye out for any errors in the GSC Rich Cards reports will let SEOs know which, if any, difficulties Google’s internal mechanisms face when crawling your site. The Structured Data Testing Tool is a good indicator, but they can be just “SDTT errors” without any negative consequence. GSC’s errors tend to have an actual impact on how Google renders your site, trusts it, and is willing to actually reward you with rich cards and/or rich snippet results.
4. Whether or not you rely on Schema App or a Plugin. Both plugins and Apps require a developer who is actively making updates. Check how current it is kept up with, meaning when last revisions were posted.
5. Having a great coder. Whether or not you have someone on board who is comfortable at tweaking PHP code – if using WordPress, in particular, can fill in gaps when relying on a plugin. Even themes designed for AMP pages and use of schema can benefit from a few code tweaks.
Keep in mind that schema markup and rich cards are still fairly new and will continue to evolve. In 2016, Google frequently updated and added new SEO structured data for use. By relying on several testing tools, you have a better chance to comprehend and make the best judgment calls when seeking to comply with the complexity of Google’s internal mechanisms.
SEO Skeptic offers the comprehensive list of structured data markup visualization, validation and testing tools to check out. Below are a few of my personal favorites.
3 TOOLS TO FIND AND FIX STRUCTURED DATA MARKUP ERRORS
(Click on image to view a larger version and to better read schema code example.)
In 2016 changes to the Structured Data Testing Tool (SDTT) came about because of new features such as Rich Cards in carousel format on mobile devices. Google also renamed Rich Snippets to reflect these latest changes; now Snippets are called Rich Results, and Rich Cards are one form of them.
FIRST: Navigate here to begin using the tool.
SECOND: Select between the FETCH URL tab and the CODE SNIPPET tab.
THIRD: Add either your page URL or its body of code and click through options to locate any errors and / or warnings. Warnings are really “opportunities”.
FOURTH: Revise and take advantage of new ways to gain rich snippets
The Google Structured Data Testing Tool (SDTT) tool was created as as a support to structured data used for Google search features. It is not necessarily an official Schema.org validation tool. Use multiple tools when revising your structured data implementation rather than depending on one a 100%. Google continually updates the SDTT, but at times it may have bugs impacting it’s use.
Here you can see the results of my clicking on the SDTT Preview Button. The preview button will show how Rich Cards will look for mobile devices.
Answers to a Few Common Questions About the SDTT
Why use the Testing Tool?
The main reason you would want to use the SDTT is to affirm your website markup is valid. This also protects you from a manual warning or penalty. Beyond that, it gives you an edge online if you can gain fully-enhanced rich card results.
What are Testing Tool Warnings?
When checking your markup, many errors and warnings may pop up – don’t be alarmed, this is still quite new. Work through them the best you can by drilling down and reading the helpful suggestions provided. Errors need to be fixed, warnings can be ignored altogether because the tool throws warnings for Structured Data that is optional for fully enhanced cards. Rich results in organic search come from valid markup. If there are warnings, then, your markup is still okay, but the opportunity is there to further enhance your site by correctly adding markup for the optional fields that are suggested.
When to Use the SDTT?
Every time any structured data on your site has been changed, or you are awarded that the guidelines have changed, you should double check its validation. It is great for both microdata and JSON-LD formats on your website.
Even if you do not see any errors, remember that Google isn’t obliged to always show a rich result or rich card. Sven stated that “the tool itself only checks for the sort of technical aspects the that markups valid and the simplex is correct.” Your entire site will be better rewarded when a trust factor has been earned and user data proves it offers value to visitors.
2. Structured Data Linter Testing Tool
This is one way to validate and visualize results of your microdata, JSON-LD and RDFa code. Additionally it provides vocabulary validation assistance for schema.org, FOAF, SIOC, SKOS and Dublin Core(DCMI). It is not browser dependent and can be used three ways:
Lint by URL
Lint by File Upload
Lint by Direct Input
It’s disclaimer is: “this preview is only shown as a example of what a search engine might display. It is to the discretion of each search engine provider to decide whether your page will be displayed as an enhanced search result or not in their search results pages”.
3. The Google Search Console
A. Find the number of errors your site has under the Structured Data tab, which is nested within the “Search Appearance” head category. Click on each error grouping to see a list of where the issues reside and then conduct a live test using GSTT straight from there.
B. Here is my favorite: the Rich Card Report.
Once corrections have been made and tested, submit that page through the Fetch and Render tool for indexing so Google can crawl the new markup.
C. Accelerated Mobile Page checker.
This will let you know if you need to fix missing or invalid AMP structured data markup on your web page. Google states, that “AMP pages with missing required code or invalid AMP syntax may appear in Google search results without AMP-specific display features.” As more and more shoppers are buying products from mobile devices, this report is helpful to revise your product schema code and retest it.
The report spans across your entire site. If using a plugin, most work for posts and pages without AMP will be listed here along with an item list of errors.
D. To be apprised of actions Google may have taken, click on the “Manual Actions” link under “Search Traffic” in your GSC. A manual action google may take could be either applied to relevant pages or site-wide. Given all the changes and guideline revision, many sites have received a “spammy structured markup” manual action.
It is worth keeping an eye on plugin updates. Some schema types on AMP pages may be is all or nothing and must be valid, when it comes to your products showing up in mobile product carousels. Visit your GSC daily to see if a plugin update may have messed up your validated code. You may need to revert to a previous version to correct structured data errors that suddenly appear. A lot of development is behind structured data and serving up HTML in web apps. Google wants to mitigate the risk of native apps and make sure it doesn’t lose audiences on mobile browsers.
4. Chrome SEO Meta Inspector
This tool is useful to inspect the meta data on-the-go when wanting to inspect a web pages and see JSON or other meta code, some not visible while browsing. This extension endeavors to adhere close to the latest Google schema use guidelines. It gives a peak at most features and as gone through several improvements in recent months. Tags warnings can help with troubleshooting markup errors and warnings, with the badge number showing their amount.
If relying on the WC3 testing tools, be aware that its page on Multi-Type Entities (MTEs) is not as frequently updated. Look for the “last update at the bottom when using it.
Note: There are many classes available to check out at ontologies.semanticarts.com.
Markup Errors Due to Mobile-first Indexing
“Google recommends adding the missing structured data back into the mobile page but at a reduced percentage. Marketers should avoid adding large amounts of markup and take out any extra schemas that are irrelevant to the content of their pages and Google’s search results. This will ultimately help keep mobile page load times as quick and efficient as possible,” says Simon Schnieders on MarketingTech.
CONCLUSION: Do your Schema Site Markup Right!
While SEO is mostly trial and error to drive improvements in site visibility, Google says, “only valid AMP HTML files and will be shown in Google Search”. Expect that the use of schema is the same. You don’t have to become a data scientist, if you have engaged the professional services of someone who is and keep connected. Successful SEO means always engaging improvements. But when it comes to enjoying the power benefits of SEO schema, on-page structured data correctness is less forgiving.
Given that Semantic Web technologies are emerging as an increasingly important approach to search, it seems reasonable to anticipate that the manipulation and querying of RDF data in 2017 will see new and flexible ways to gain rich snippets.
Performing a thorough schema website audit for product schema will identify issues, potential ways markup could be taken as deceptive, and then give you time to fix those errors early on so you can avoid Google penalties or manual action. This isn’t some funky SEO tactic to win rich snippets.
This is technical SEO at perhaps its finest hour as one aspect of getting your website visible in the latest and best of SERP features. Your business revenue deserves both the advantages of schema markup and the effort to future-proof it should items that currently fall in the “warning” category become an “error”. Should search queries as we know them today ever become obsolete, your online presence will be one step closer to where artificial intelligence is taking the Internet and product sales.