What impact will the new Q&A, HowTo and FAQ Schema markup have on the SERPs?
At the end of August, Google announced some interesting new additions to the Schema markup (structured data) that it supports. The three types of Schema for SEOs to take a closer look at include: FAQ, HowTo and Q&A. All of these present a good opportunity for SEOs to increase the amount of real estate they can take within a SERP (search engine results page), however each one should be carefully assessed, both from a ‘valid use’ perspective, but also considering the impact of presenting more information from your website directly into the SERPs.
What is Schema markup (or structured data)?
Whilst most SEOs will be well versed with Schema markup, in case you have never heard of it or you are not currently using it, Schema is a structured data vocabulary that defines entities, actions and relationships online. Schema helps search engines to better understand the nature of your content and in turn, serve up a better user experience.
There are hundreds of types of Schema, not all of which are supported by Google (and other search engines) but all of which help to provide context to those search engines about the content you are serving. The most common types of Schema we see include:
- Local Business
These are all types of Schema supported by Google which help to enhance the visibility of websites within the SERPs, ultimately leading to an enhanced user experience. You can find out more about the different types of Schema on the Schema.org website.
Let us take a closer look at the three new types of Schema markup now supported by Google.
Perhaps one of the most appealing Schema types, FAQ markup is reserved for pages that contain a list of questions and answers to any particular topic. This means that the markup is not limited to your FAQ section – if you have FAQs that sit on your product pages, you can apply the FAQ Schema to those questions and answers.
One of the reasons why the FAQ markup is so appealing is the amount of real estate companies can capture in the SERPs. By applying the FAQ Schema, you can create extremely rich results which can help you to dominate the SERP. If you already have content that ranks well which contains FAQs, adding this markup can help to push competitor listings further down the results page.
However, before you go ahead and start adding FAQ content to all your pages, remember this: by providing rich data to be displayed in the SERPs, you are potentially taking away valuable organic clicks from your website (see below). People may no longer need to visit your website if they can find everything they need direct from the SERP so you may want to closely consider the use of FAQ markup and the pages it will be rolled out on.
Pro Tip: a really great tip from Lily Ray at Path Interactive is that you can add links into your FAQ answers, providing another opportunity for users to click through to your website. These should only be used if the link adds value to the answer and that link must also be present on the web page, not just in the markup.
Another new type of Schema supported by Google is HowTo and can be used on pages containing instructions on ‘how to’ do something.
Like all of these three markup types, HowTo markup comes with specific ‘dos and don’ts’ that need to be followed, otherwise, you could find yourself on the wrong end of a Google Manual Penalty. You can check out Google’s Developer Tools website for more guidance on the rules around applying HowTo Schema to your site.
Similar to FAQ Schema, HowTo markup presents a good opportunity to maximise your SERP real estate. There are two different ways that content marked up with HowTo Schema displays in the search results: image thumbnails and an accordion that display chronological steps. Both present good opportunities to display your content directly within the search results, however as with FAQ markup, you should trial some tests around the use of HowTo markup and the impact on your clicks and rankings. If people no longer need to visit your site to find out ‘ho to’ do something, then you may notice a sharp drop off in your organic traffic.
It’s important not to confuse FAQ and Q&A Schema when you are marking up your content. The biggest difference between the two is that Q&A Schema is applied to content where users are given the opportunity to submit answers to questions. FAQ content on the other hand is purely for static content which is created by the website owner with no user contributions.
Another distinguishing factor for Q&A Schema is that it should only be applied to pages that contain a single question as the main focus of the page, not a variety of questions. Q&A Schema is therefore really good for forums and other online messaging boards – sites like Quora are perfect for this type of content and Schema markup.
Q&A Schema doesn’t take up quite as much real estate as FAQ and HowTo markup, however, it does present a highly visual and rich results within the SERPs. Google recommends linking each individual answer to a question in order to improve the user experience and allow users to click through directly from the SERP to specific answers displayed, rather than clicking to the question page and having to trawl through all the answers.
How does this new Schema impact the search results?
As we have seen from the examples, these three new types of Schema markup have the potential to disrupt the current layout of SERPs. This type of content takes up a lot of real estate, with the potential for you to really dominate and push your competitors down the page.
There are risks involved, however.
By presenting more of the content from your website directly to the SERPs, it is quite possible/probable that you will see a resulting drop in clicks to your website resulting in less organic traffic. Not the usual type of result SEOs are trying to influence when they apply markup to their content.
About a month after the new Schema was launched, Search Engine Roundtable published an article which highlighted some of the issues people are seeing after implementing the new Schema on their sites – an uptick in impressions and a drop off in clicks. There was some fairly heated debate in the comments around this with many blaming Google for taking away clicks from organic and not properly explaining the ramifications of adding this type of Schema to your website.
To us, however, it’s pretty clear. You have choices to make. Either you want to grab a bigger slice of the real estate and you are happy to forgo potential organic traffic to non-transactional pages like FAQs and Q&As or you want to continue to drive all of that traffic to your website and then try and guide people to pages where they are more likely to convert.
Where to go from here
We are currently in the process of rolling out FAQ schema to clients where we feel it is most relevant. At this stage, we are treating it very much as a testing process. We will closely monitor organic traffic as well as monitoring calls and LiveChat interactions to distinguish whether any potential drop off in organic traffic is balanced out by freeing up the time of staff in contact centres and then make an informed decision as to whether to stick with the markup or remove it.
It seems to us that there is a huge potential for people to spam these particular Schema types, especially FAQ Schema which has the potential to add links in your answers which will then display in the search results. Whilst Google has said they will be monitoring the implementation of these Schema types and applying Manual Actions Penalties for the misuse, we would not be surprised to see updates to the Quality Guidelines around how these results are displayed in the future.
For now, we would recommend testing this out on any relevant content on yours or your client’s websites and closely monitoring the results. As long as you avoid the misuse of the Schema, there are some potentially huge benefits to enhance your organic presence within the SERPs, driving brand awareness and potentially traffic to areas of your site where you can drive more conversions.