Huge Change to Google’s HowTo and FAQ Rich Results
Google announces reducing the visibility of HowTo and FAQ rich results in search.
The August 8, 2023 announcement shocked many SEOs. However, we already see “Ask a follow up” question in the beta version of Google’s Search Generative Experience (SGE). Knowing the SGE may fully roll out by the end of 2023, we already expected search engine result pages (SERPs) to update.
Before you jump into making immediate site changes, learn if and how this rich results update may or may not impact you.
Table of Contents
- Huge Change to Google’s HowTo and FAQ Rich Results
- Highlights of how Google Rich Results will work for FAQ and HowTo
- Government and Health Sites FAQ Rich Results Remain
- How FAQ Schema and HowTo markup are Meant to Work
- An Overview of FAQ Rich Results History Lends Perspective
- Agile Marketers Ask Follow-Up Drill-Down Questions
- How to Remain an Authoritative Site that Provides Answers
- SUMMARY: The FAQ Rich Results Benchmark Is Higher
Google answers, not just with a list of search results, but with more information presented in question-answering SERP features like Knowledge Cards, Related Questions, and “Questions related to your search.”
Highlights of how Google Rich Results will Work for FAQ and HowTo:
- Show fewer FAQ rich results in its search results.
- Limit How-To rich results (from structured data) to desktop devices.
- This update is global and rolls out over the coming week.
- Which domains Google selects to show them for are automated and algorithmic.
First, to align all readers with our topic…
Recap of what FAQ and HowTo rich results are:
HowTo are results that display necessary steps (preferably accompanied by an image for each step) that help someone complete a specific chore or task. On the other hand, FAQs are more QA topic-centric and need publishers to first research queries and replies and then fill content gaps specific to missing Question Answers.
Google’s Frequently Asked Question (FAQ) SERP feature prominently lists common questions and their answers related to a unique topic or search query. They are displayed as accordions on Google SERPs. When clicking on a question, it expanded, revealing the answer, as well as populating more QA options.
They have been a primary means for a business entity to be findable in rich results.
“For both of these items, you may also notice this change in the Search Console reporting for your website. In particular, this will be visible in the metrics shown for FAQ and How-To search appearances in the performance report, and in the number of impressions reported in the appropriate enhancement reports. This change does not affect the number of items reported in the enhancement reports. The search appearances, and the reports, will remain in Search Console for the time being.
With mobile indexing, Google indexes the mobile version of a website as the basis for indexing: to have How-To rich results shown on desktop, the mobile version of your website must include the appropriate markup.” – Google: Changes to HowTo and FAQ rich results
Taking this advice to heart, check client Search Console Reports more often to see what changes are reflected. (Example: Go to Search Results, filter by mobile device, and then filter “Search appearance” by “HowTo results.”)
Google depreciates HowTo rich results
Update on September 14, 2023, Google depreciates all HowTo rich results:
“Continuing our efforts to simplify Google’s search results, we’re extending the How-to change to desktop as well. As of September 13, Google Search no longer shows How-to rich results on desktop, which means this result type is now deprecated.
This change will be visible in the metrics for the How-to search appearance in the performance report and in the number of impressions reported in the How-to enhancement reports. Since How-to results no longer appear in Google Search, we will be dropping the How-to search appearance, rich result report, and support in the Rich results test in 30 days. Support for How-to in the Search Console API will be removed in 180 days to allow time for adjusting your API calls. – Google Changes to HowTo and FAQ rich result
Should you implement HowTo FAQPage structured data from now on?
Meaning, the HowTo rich result is depreciated. However, HowTo schema markup on web pages can still help inform search engines of you helpful content. I would highly recommend that you contemplate how beneficial these question-answer structured data formats can still be, beyond the SERP features, in your own context before overlooking them entirely.
“If you are making structured data pages just for the rich snippets, you are missing the point,” – Teodora Petkova 
Featuring this helpful content using schema markup is one of the most natural and easiest ways to address common doubts/questions about products/services in commercially focused pages.
The Google Search Console (GSC) SERP Appearance filters for FAQ and HowTo are only reporting on how many impressions/clicks your URLs received when those rich results were enabled. So by definition, if those rich results are lost on Google Search, naturally that GSC report will drop toward 0. However, it is not a reflection on if your traffic was impacted either positively or negatively.
In reality, losing these rich results seems to have contributed to driving more clicks to these same pages. “Explore on page” may be SGE’s way of replacing FAQ rich results.
Why Google is Reducing its FAQ and HowTo SERPs
Everyone is asking “why” Google is making sweeping howto and FAQ changes. This is the reason given by John Mueller, Senior Search Analyst at Google, as to why it’s occurring just now:
“To provide a cleaner and more consistent search experience, we’re changing how some rich results types are shown in Google’s search results.”
I’ve heavily pondered what “to provide a cleaner and more consistent search experience” may mean when put into practice next week. One thing is clear; there is a significant overall degradation of the quality of published content with the explosive adoption of ChatGPT, Bard, and other Generative AI tools. Logically, the tech giant has to find a way to weed out repetitive, redundant, and lower-quality content.
Hindsight teaches us why the tech giant is downgrading both results. The answer may be simple. It wishes to give people using Google Search a clear-cut, vastly cleaner, and concise means of conducting a search online.
I recall years ago sharing where I won an FAQ rich result on Twitter. John Mueller commented that it was because of the FAQ schema markup on my page – and not that Google directly displayed it as the best answer. It made me wonder when and how the tech giant may update its selection process to be less reliant on schema code.
In early May 2023, multiple sources reported that Google removed many FAQ snippets from the mobile SERPs, while desktop FAQ SERPs remained stable. With the latest unconfirmed update, those desktop FAQ snippets are now gone. When Glenn Gabe and Susan followed up on Mastodon by asking, “Are FAQ snippets the first casualty of AI?”, Google’s John Mueller gave us a huge heads-up in his response.
“I don’t think it needs “magical AI” to trigger something — (disclaimer: this is not an official statement, just my opinion) sites love adding FAQ markup, it, [FAQ markup] gives [search results] more room in search, and at some point, it makes the results less useful. The right balance makes sense to re-evaluate from time to time, like with any other search element.”
So, we have a reason for the decline of FAQ rich results right here – “it makes the results less useful.” We all want our SEO tactics to boost content publications to be “useful,” meaning, we must adapt to better ways, too.
Is removing FAQ rich results “cleaning up Google SERPs”?
FAQ rich results have commonly displayed questions that repeat Google Search’s People Also Ask (PAA) section. It is redundant, IMO, to mimic what PAA offers. In this way, they may have contributed to “SERP clutter.”
It is a good SEO best practice to keep individual search tactics in balance and avoid overuse, such as what may have happened here. It’s recommended to closely align with the intended purpose of these schema opportunities and guidelines.
The recent flood of Generative AI answers may be a contributing factor to why Google is refining FAQ schema and HowTo markup. Its algorithms seek skilled and authoritative topic authors who provide answers within its SERP responses. that also align with knowledge graph technology. They want the consumer of content to feel they accomplished something after consuming it. This means limiting search engines’ data answer sources to the given question submitter.
Only some will be sourced. In this way, the tech giant is “cleaning up” its SERPs.
Why Leave FAQ and HowTo Schema Markup in Place?
While these schema types no longer have the same “visible effects,” they still carry value.
Google’s announcement said there is no reason to remove this structured data from your website. Google said, “Structured data that’s not being used (for a rich result) does not cause problems for Search, but also has no visible effects in Google Search.”
Schema markup experts should not assume that “no visible effects” means have no ongoing value. Semantic HTML (schema markup) informs developers (as well as search engines) what the purpose of that code is. Also, strong evidence remains that other search engines continue to use FAQ schema and HowTo structured data markup.
Google parses all schema markup on your site to understand it better. This change in FAQ rich results does not mean it is of no use at all. If only used as an SEO tactic, then its full usefulness is missed already. It is likely a move for SGE to provide answers instead of the FAQ rich results that emerged in 2019 till now.
The company says FAQ schema markup is simpler for sites with a plugin that would scale the app and remove the data. No worries: Google says this HTML data will not affect your search results if it remains in place.
Government and Health Sites FAQ Rich Results Remain
It is curious that their documentation says, “will only be shown for…government and health sites,” – but an additional qualifier exists. The following line says “all other sites, …will no longer be shown as regularly“.
So, again, if we are to take this literally, “will no longer be shown as regularly” is not the same as “will no longer be shown” at all. However, with less likelihood, Semantic SEO experts may adjust their priorities accordingly. Since I manage multiple healthcare sites, I’ll take this in stride.
“Going forward, FAQ (from
FAQPagestructured data) rich results will only be shown for well-known, authoritative government and health websites. For all other sites, this rich result will no longer be shown regularly. Sites may automatically be considered for this treatment, depending on their eligibility. – John Mueller of Google
How FAQ Schema and HowTo markup are Meant to Work
This change is meant to enhance the search experience for users.
By understanding how Google Search works, SEOs can always do better work. Unfortunately, sometimes vague statements leave us to fit comments, articles, webinars, and marketing research together in order to come up with reasonable logic.
On top of user and algorithm updates, overuse and misuse of opportunities Google gives us may prompt a change like this.
Here is what SGE Generative AI told me for this post:
“FAQ rich results will be phased out for most websites, but will still be shown for recognized government and health websites. How-To results will be completely removed from search results on mobile devices.
The update will help Google’s systems understand content more accurately, which will result in more relevant results for users.”
An Overview of FAQ Rich Results History Lends Perspective
FAQ rich results first rolled out in May of 2019 and may have been helpful to train Google’s Question Answer algorithms. However, as people kept refining their search query, considerable SERP space was taken up.
We have noted changes and/or tests to these rich result treatments since 2019. Google SERPs have gone from 4 rows of FAQ rich results to 2 rows of questions being displayed. FAQ and HowTo visibility for specific queries, niches, and device types has also been in flux.
Google has often urged webmasters and SEOs to mark up information to assist the possible delivery of rich snippets. This is an eye-nabbing advantage within SERPs. The FAQ Mark Ups were talked about by Google about the time that Google BERT was announced. Perhpas each has been an important building block for training Google’s large language models (LLMs) for better question and answer SERP responses.
The removal and/or reduction of these two rich result types was predictable. Now that we have this clear documentation from the tech giant, adjustments should be made in response to the official downgrading.
Google has often urged webmasters and SEOs to mark up information to assist the possible delivery of rich snippets. This is an eye-nabbing advantage within SERPs. Then, duplicate FAQ rich results were limited to only being on page one with a maximum of three appearing at a time.
The FAQ Mark Ups were talked about by Google when Google BERT was announced. Perhaps each has been an essential building block for training Google’s large language models (LLMs) for better question-and-answer SERP responses.
On May 14, 2021, John Mueller said the following, which was an early warning.
The removal and/or reduction of these two rich result types was predictable. Now that we have this clear documentation from the tech giant, adjustments should be made in response to the official downgrading.
“What usually tends to happen with some of these structured data types [FAQ] or rich results types is that over time we try to fine tune how often we show them just to make sure we’re not overloading the search results with all of these… bling and extra functionality that just confuses people in the end.
So what often happens is when we start a new type of rich results people will kind of reluctantly try it out and if it works well then everyone tries it out.
And then suddenly the search results page is totally overloaded with this type of structured data.” – Does FAQ Structured Data Still Produce Rich Results? at Engish Google SEO Office Hours
The whole point is to add value as early as possible. Focus on creating helpful content for people over trying to win SERP inclusion by search engines. Admidst the vast increase in published content, avoid writers who know very little about the topic. Human-curated quality content will stand out.
While authors are writing, they can do better if involved at every step of content creation. Writing skills are just as important when revising AI content suggestions. In my opinion, if you are using Generative AI Tools, the stakes are higher.
How to Remain an Authoritative Site that Provides Answers
- Refine OpenAi prompts to feed ChatBot QA use cases.
- Human document editing.
- Employing the art of fact-checking your answers.
- Create a logical flow of information to align with query intent.
- Keep testing published content to see what works.
- Make content style changes to assist operative models.
- Be careful with how you use declarative statements.
- Remember: A lack of customer understanding leads to missing alignment more than a lack of schema.
- Make use of the FAQ feature in your Google Business Profile
Agile Marketers Ask Follow-Up Drill-Down Questions
Agile marketing helps us evolve with Google SERP changes. Change can help us ask ourselves critical questions. For example, “What can I do tomorrow that I couldn’t do yesterday (with AI) to provide quality content?” It may involve building something instead of content generation.
Content engineering via chat interfaces is here to stay. Yet, prompt engineering will soon become table stakes. Be willing to ask the follow-up question. AI itself may be on the verge of rendering prompt engineering obsolete. AI-enabled editors recognize that the efficacy of prompts is contingent upon specific algorithms and their utility across diverse AI models and versions.
What SEOs and writers can focus on versus FAQ and HowTo schema implementation:
Develop the enduring and adaptable skill of “problem formulation.”
Staying current with Google structure data updates involves:
- The ability to identify, analyze, and delineate key questions and problems people have.
- Then provide them with correct, concise, consumable answers that leave them feeling accomplished.
- Recognize the difference between when it is okay to leave schema markup in place and when structured data drift causes errors. (RECAP: You do not need to remove FAQ and HowTo Markup)
The Benchmark for FAQ and HowTo Rich Results is now higher
Interesting to studey Google Search Console (GSC) data and find that not only are FAQ rich results still appearing on desktop, for more many entities, they are highter. Notably, for HowTo SERPS, while they have gone to zero, “Average position” has significantly improved.
We already have a robust question answering feature in Google’s Knowledge Graphs. So far, Google has only implemented action on FAQ and How-to rich results on mobile devices. HowTo mobile rich reuslts have disappeared entirely, so far, in client GSC data. Changes to How-to rich results were announced to only impact mobile, but FAQ rich results were assumed to be vastly dropped all devices.
Upon reflection, I concur with the following statements by other search marketing experts as to why Google is making this SERP feature reduction just now.
“I assume because there are just too many of these rich results being displayed in search that Google is now making the benchmark to show them much higher.” – Google Search To Show FAQ & HowTo Rich Results Less Often by Barry Schwartz
“I´ve been seeing that for some time now, around the time SGE experiments began, I think. Who would’ve known!” – Montse Cano 
“There’s a good chance that the reason we had FAQ rich snippets was to encourage us to manually label the parts of our content that related to FAQs so that Google could eventually learn to extract the important stuff without us labeling it.” – Dr. Marie Haynes 
“One change at the time to carefully review the data. It’s a 224 $ billion business after all. Making room for SGE while reducing some redundancy from SERPs.
1️⃣ It’s an easy-to-remove feature already partially overlapping with PAAs;
2️⃣ There is an abundance of Q&A for training future LLMs — diminishing value for AI;
3️⃣ SGE is set to replace certain conversational content, beginning with FAQs.” – Andrea Volpini 
“Remember: Rich Results are not the most important purpose of Structured Data.” – Martin MacDonald and shared by Gianluca Fiorelli 
“I have questions, like… why? My thought: they take away too many clicks from Google’s SERP Features.
Context: Past SEO experiments have shown heavy CTR increases when implementing FAQ/how-to schema.
Consequence: many sites will see lower click rates and less organic traffic. The winner? Google’s People Also Asked and knowledge cards.” Kevin Indig 
Schema markup has an ongoing legitimate purpose. But it aids great content, it does not create it. Consider leveraging AI and Knowledge Graphs to maximize your content’s reach. Google strongly encouraged FAQ schema markup. Perhaps, it was so that they could leverage this schema labeled data to learn how to extract the important information without the need of schema. At this time, it still has value – even though the applications may have changed.
When Google announces a change like this, Hill Web Marketing has assessed traffic drops in performance and provide solutions to help our client projects find a fresh way forward.
FAQ rich results have historically performed well to help people find our client publications and products. It displayed content visibly and directly on the SERP. Its inclusion in HTML can still improve the readability of the answers and embed hyperlinks – even if a rich result is not gained.
There have always been pros and cons of schema markup; today, it takes more skill to know the best value applications.
SUMMARY: The FAQ Rich Results Benchmark Is Higher
It’s noteworthy that FAQ’s rich results remain “possible” to win for authoritative sites on both desktop and mobile. You can use multiple Google tools to track FAQ changes. Since it is harder to accomplish after this update, we encourage non-healthcare niche clients to consider the other benefits of FAQ markup, especially on a site’s FAQ page. Ultimately, Google is moving more and more verified information into its knowledge graph, panels, and knowledge vault.
Call 651-206-2410 to request our Schema Markup Audits and Opportunity Discovery
 https://twitter.com/cyberandy/status/1689544204245172224 and https://twitter.com/cyberandy/status/1689392462425686019