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How to use Schema to create a Google Action

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Google recently announced that publishers can now create Google Actions from web content using schema markup.

For brands, Google Actions can be a great way to get more mileage out of your SEO strategy and offer another opportunity to reach searchers organically. Optimizing for newer SEO features like Google Actions and rich results are becoming increasingly critical when it comes to pleasing the algorithm.

While the option isn’t available for every content type, this new capability is a big deal for less technical users looking to, ahem, get in on the Actions.

What Are Google Actions?

Actions are apps designed for the Google Assistant. They range from apps like the Dominos delivery action to health and fitness apps to personality tests and ride-hailing services.

Actions work when the user prompts the Assistant with a phrase like, “OK, Google, talk to [Action].”

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According to Google, here’s a representation of what happens “behind the scenes” during an interaction:

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It’s important to understand that all Actions take place inside the cloud, though users can access them on any device with the Google Assistant enabled. Each action is also tied to a specific intent and is programmed with a corresponding fulfillment process to complete a given request.

Speaking of intent, let’s move on to the next section, where I’ll go over the link between schema markup and Google Actions.

Google Actions + Schema

Schema markup is a type of microdata that gives Google more context about the intent of any given piece of content.

When you add schema markup to a webpage, it creates an enhanced description – aka a rich result – which appears on the front page of Google. These rich results include everything from “book now buttons” for local businesses to recipe instructions, contact information and events.

Search engines need to match content to search queries, and part of assessing the quality of a search result depends on intent.

Schema is a way for websites to let search engines know more about the intent behind the content. It’s also a requirement for websites that want to be eligible for Google’s rich results – which increasingly account for the lion’s share of the first page in the search results.

Of course, adding the markup alone won’t guarantee position zero. You’ll need to make sure you follow Google’s recommendations perfectly, that you choose the right schema for the page you’re targeting, and that your content is useful, credible and engaging.

It’s a tall order, but Google’s latest announcement brings schema to Google Actions, offering an additional channel for earning some of your SEO share back.

For content creators is, this means that they now have the ability to create Google Actions, regardless of whether or not they know their way around Dialogflow or the Google Actions Console.

Instead, Google automatically generates an Action when users add specific markup to eligible content types.

Google Actions schema: Content types

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The main benefit of using schema for content actions is that it provides an opportunity to increase brand awareness in a format with limited advertising opportunities.

Using schema markup, Google can create a variety of Actions based on six types of content that you might publish on the web. Here’s a look at the supported content.

Podcasts

Last May, Google announced they would be adding podcasts to the search results screen through a new structured markup option.

For podcasters long reliant on clunky search features on platforms like Apple Podcasts or Stitcher, the option to improve discoverability in the Google Search results is huge.

The markup allows podcasters to improve their showing in the Google Search results and on Google Podcasts, with individual episode descriptions and an embedded player for each right there on the first page. Another new feature, Deeper Podcast search, lets users search for the actual audio directly inside the podcast using Google transcriptions.

Connecting podcasts to a Google Action takes things to the next level, making it easy for users to find your podcast in the Assistant directory and play episodes directly from their phone, smart speaker, or Google Home display.

Here’s how to turn podcasts into a Google Action:

FAQs

Per Google guidelines, you can apply FAQ schema to any site that features a list of questions and answers on just about any subject. Meaning, the option isn’t limited to the official FAQ pages included on a company’s website; instead, you can create FAQ pages for any resource or topic relevant to your business.

What’s nice about FAQ schema – whether it’s linked to an Action or not – is those brands that earn position zero can take up a ton of real estate on the SERPs.

As with all other types of schema, FAQ content needs to match what’s on your website 100%. Otherwise, Google may hit you with a manual action. It’s also important to note that FAQ content is purely informational in intent – and as such, you can’t use markup as a free advertising channel.

By turning your FAQ pages into Google Actions, the Google Assistant can read your answers out loud when searchers enter a related voice query.

Here’s what you’ll need to know.

Valid vs. invalid use-cases

FAQ pages must be written from the perspective of the website, with no option for users to submit alternative answers.

This can take the form of either a product support page where, again, users don’t have the option to offer additional answers. This means that forum pages or pages where users can submit questions and provide answers don’t count.

In those instances, you’ll need to add the QAPage markup instead (keep in mind, this will not automatically create an action).

Markup the entire thing

When you add FAQ schema to your page, make sure that you include all text associated with both the question and the answer. Notice how this Booking.com example includes the question as a complete sentence and a conversational answer–they don’t just say, “it’s $167.”

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Additionally, all FAQ content must be accessible to the visitor on the source page. So, if you click through to Booking.com based on that answer, you’ll see that exact same text on the official website.

Here’s an example of FAQ markup in JSON-LD format:

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Recipes

Recipe markup allows users to promote their content through rich cards presented in the Google Assistant and learn about your content in the Assistant directory. Use it to highlight nutritional information, prep time, and ingredient lists, along with images that get searchers interested in your food.

What’s more, you can use the recipe schema together with the guidance markup, which gives consumers a way to follow along with audio instructions for your recipes.

As it stands, you’ll need to fill out a Google Form to get started with the feature. It’s pretty short, requiring only your name, email, domain, and company name.

It’s also worth pointing out that you’ll need to make sure your page features both the recipe and guidance markup to be eligible for rich search results and as a Google Action.

Additionally, you’ll need to make sure that you set up your structured data correctly.

A few things to consider:

  • Use recipe structured data if your content focuses on showing users how to prepare a specific dish. Google also mentions that things like “facial scrub” don’t qualify as recipes, as they’re not something you would present as an edible dish. In those cases, your content is probably a better fit with the HowTo schema. 
  • If you want your recipes to show up in a host-specific list (a summarized recipe collection) you’ll need to include the following:
    • Use the ItemList structured data to summarize the recipes you’d like to feature. You can opt to provide ItemList schema together with recipe structured data or on its own. 
    • Your site must also have a summary page that lists out all recipes in a collection, like a round-up of summer cocktail recipes or a collection of Thanksgiving recipes. The idea is, when a user clicks a summary link from the SERPs, they’ll then be directed to a website that shows each of these recipes in their entirety.

Here’s an example of recipe schema in JSON-LD format:

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How-to guides

How-to schema can be used to markup articles that contain instructional information that show users how to do something new.

As is the case with the other content types I’ve mentioned, there are some guidelines you should know about before applying the HowTo markup to your site.

According to Google Developers, HowTo markup applies to content where the main focus of that page is the how-to. In other words, it doesn’t count if you write a long-form article that includes a short how-to section along with several different elements. The content must also be read sequentially as a series of steps.

How-to content must also abide by these guidelines:

  • You cannot markup offensive, explicit, or violent content. 
  • Each step must be marked up in its entirety.
  • You cannot use HowTo markup for advertising purposes
  • HowTo does not apply to recipes—as they have their own schema.
  • If applicable, include images, along with a list of materials and tools needed to complete the task.

Here’s an example of HowTo markup in JSON-LD format:

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Right now, HowTo Actions are only available for Google Assistant, not for Smart Displays.

However, Google is working to sign up more publishers interested in creating how-to content for smart displays. Sign up here to let Google Developers know you’re interested in this option – and perhaps we’ll see this feature roll out sometime in 2020.

News

Adding markup to your news content helps you increase visibility in the SERPs and gives users the option to consume your content via Google Assistant.

Users can apply this schema to blog content, articles, and news articles, though they’ll need to be a registered publisher on Google News to take advantage of this tool.

The News markup makes stories visually stand out in the SERPs. Features like the host carousel, top stories carousel, visual stories, and large thumbnails and headlines allow users an opportunity to attract more organic traffic to their sites by giving them more real estate to share content.

To add voice compatibility to the list of features, you’ll need to choose between AMP and non-AMP formatting, which I’ve laid out for you here.

AMP with structured data

Google recommends that users opt for AMP, as its fast load times mean there’s less of a chance that the Assistant will experience a delay when “reading” an article aloud. It’s also worth pointing out, AMP articles come with a few more requirements than non-AMP content. 

To set it up:

Recommended properties:

  • Author
  • Author Name
  • Date Published
  • Headline
  • Image
  • Publisher
  • Publisher Logo
  • Publisher Logo URL
  • Publisher Logo Height
  • Publisher Logo Width
  • Publisher Name
  • Date Modified
  • Description
  • Main Entity of Page

Non-AMP with structured data

While Google encourages users to embrace AMP, you can add structured data to Non-AMP articles, as well. And like their AMP counterparts, those news stories that include markup have a higher likelihood of appearing in the search results with rich results features.

To set it up:

  • Add structured markup to the page
  • Make sure you follow the guidelines to ensure Google can crawl your page.
  • Test the page using the Structured Data Testing Tool

Recommended properties:

  • Headline
  • Image
  • Date Published
  • Data Modified

Keep in mind, you will need to mark up your content as structured articles for it to show in the news result.

Here’s an example of article markup in JSON-LD form:

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Before you apply markup

To turn News content into a Google Action, you’ll need to meet the following requirements.

Have a dedicated news site:

  • Use static, unique URLs
  • Content must be original
  • Ads, affiliate links, and sponsored content should be kept to a minimum
  • Consider using a news-specific XML site map for easy crawling

Here’s an example of News markup in JSON-LD:

Markup vs. templates

In addition to markups, Google introduced another simplified way to create Actions for the Google Assistant: templates. While this option isn’t automated like the Google Action schema approach, there’s no code involved in the template process, either.

Users can quickly create an action by filling out a Google Sheet, although this option only extends to four content types: personality quizzes, flashcards, trivia and how-to videos. How-to videos must be uploaded to YouTube to be eligible.

According to the developers’ page, getting started is relatively simple. All you need to do is complete the following steps:

  • First, select the type of Action you’d like to create (in this case, let’s assume it’s a how-to video).
  • Indicate what kind of personality you’d like to have
  • Add steps via Google sheets. These are written instructions that correspond with the steps followed in the video. It should look like this:
Source

Claim your new action

If you’ve already published your content with relevant structured data, Google may automatically create a page in the Assistant directory.

If this happens, the site owner will receive an email prompting them to claim the page. You can also do this by visiting the directory itself and clicking the link to claim the page.

Remove your action

Because Google auto-generates content Actions, you may end up with some unwanted Actions in the directory. To remove them, all you need to do is follow these three quick steps:

  1. Log in to the Actions console and select the unwanted project from the displayed tiles.
  2. Head over to the Versions section, found on the Overview page. Find the published version of your project and click on the Overflow menu.
  3. Select “Unpublish” and that’s it.

Wrapping up

Smart devices and voice search are becoming increasingly valuable pieces of the SEO landscape, and Google Actions offer a new point of entry for brands looking to increase visibility in the organic search results.

This latest update makes Google Actions accessible to a broader range of marketers who may not have the time or the know-how to build an Action from scratch.


Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.


About The Author

John Lincoln is CEO of Ignite Visibility, a digital marketing teacher at the University of California San Diego and author of the book Digital Influencer, A Guide to Achieving Influencer Status Online. Throughout his career, Lincoln has worked with hundreds of websites, ranging from start-ups to household names, and has won awards in SEO, CRO, analytics and Social Media. In the media, Lincoln has been featured on sites such as Forbes, Entrepreneur Magazine, Inc. Magazine, CIO magazine and more.



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Google brings ‘Interpreter Mode’ language translation to the Assistant on smartphones

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Google introduced its real-time translation feature, “Interpreter Mode,” for Google Home and smart displays earlier this year. It tested the feature in several hotels in Las Vegas, New York and San Francisco at concierge and registration desks.

Now the company is more broadly rolling out Interpreter Mode to Android devices and iPhones. Where there were 26 languages available on Google Home, there are now 44 on the smartphone Assistant.

Google Translate also works. While the capability is impressive, people have been using Google Translate in real-world travel or foreign-language contexts like this for some time. This is just a more elegant and enhanced presentation of Google’s underlying machine translation capabilities.

‘Help me speak [language].’ In order to invoke Interpreter Mode, users say something along the lines of “Hey Google, help me translate [foreign language].” It will then enable real-time translation. Google also says the Assistant “may present Smart Replies, giving you suggestions that let you quickly respond without speaking.”

Interpreter Mode works automatically on Android, but iPhone users will need to install or update the Google Assistant app. Without updating the app, I tried to invoke it on the iPhone, and it prompted me to use the Google Translate app instead. Indeed, real-time translation can be accomplished with Google Translate, though somewhat more awkwardly.

Why we care. As Google continues to add capabilities and features to the Assistant, it reinforces usage and loyalty. The Assistant is Google’s cross-platform UI that spans multiple channels and hardware devices.

Yet we still don’t know how frequently consumers are using the Assistant on smartphones or whether there’s any substitution of the Assistant for more traditional Google Search on mobile devices. I suspect the Assistant as a search alternative is still a small minority use case. Earlier this year Google tested ads in Assistant smartphone search results.


About The Author

Greg Sterling is a Contributing Editor at Search Engine Land. He writes about the connections between digital and offline commerce. He previously held leadership roles at LSA, The Kelsey Group and TechTV. Follow him Twitter or find him on LinkedIn.



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Amazon ad spend rises over Cyber 5, but most efficient sales days still ahead

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On Cyber Monday alone, consumers spent $9.4B via online channels – that’s up $1.5B from just last year, according to Adobe, and another record-breaking figure in terms of e-commerce sales. For marketers, the entire five-day stretch known as Cyber 5, but dubbed “Turkey 5” by Amazon, was likely a banner sales weekend, but looking at year-over-year Amazon data, what’s clear is that your holiday fortunes are not made or broken on that period alone.

As part of the research my company conducted, it is clear that on a conversion rate and cost-per-conversion basis, some of the best sales days on Amazon come after Cyber Monday. To maximize your total sales, and potentially capture market share from competitors, your advertising budgets and strategy on the site needs to align with this reality.

As seen in the below graphs, which are drawn across a same-set of more than 700 Amazon sellers, ad conversion rates continue to rise from Cyber Monday all the way through the Dec. 22 shipping cutoff. Yet, the average cost-per-conversion declines over the same period.

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This is likely due to two contributing factors.

Perhaps most impactfully, many brands budget to spend aggressively during that five-day period and, due to the extremely high volume of consumers on the site, blow through a fixed budget for the season. While those holiday period campaigns may have driven high sales volumes at profitable costs, those same brands now don’t have the ability to stay aggressive over the intervening days, substantially tapering down spend and bids through the remainder of the year and missing out on these additional profitable sales.

Secondly, when consumers are shopping on Amazon a matter of weeks or days before Christmas, they are less inclined to do a great deal of research when buying their gifts. Time is of the essence, and the data bears out that users are more likely to click and convert on a sponsored product ad during this period.

In 2019, that latter point may be even more important, as the time between Cyber Monday and Christmas nearly a full week shorter, lending itself to more “last minute” holiday gift buying.

The bottom line is that on Amazon, it’s imperative that you consider uncapping budgets around holiday periods and other high-traffic events on Amazon in particular, provided you have the ability to set and adjust bids to align with the value of a given sale after discounts, fees, etc.

This is driven home by the overarching trend over the five-day period itself. Even in the face of a large number of sellers aggressively advertising during this time, the massive amount of consumers coming to Amazon and subsequently clicking on ads outpaced that rate. Across gift-giving categories and more than 219,000 products, Amazon ad spend was up significantly, but CPCs either remained flat, declined, or rose at a level far below the corresponding spend increase – compared to the prior four-week average.

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In a sense, it was easy for a brand to spend substantially more on Amazon advertising over “Turkey 5” – we saw a 92% increase from pre-holiday levels on average – but they were likely driving sales at a more profitable rate from that ad spend. With conversion rates remaining high following Cyber Monday, that efficiency is likely to increase, albeit with less traffic overall.

Maximizing the holiday home stretch and beyond

With some time still remaining until the Dec. 22 shipping cutoff, there are some tactical levers brands can pull to capture more of those profitable sales. We talked about the value in uncapping budgets through Dec. 22, but that needs to be paired with bids that are set in line with any promotional or non-promotional pricing which may be in place for a given product.

By consistently bidding to value on an individual product level, brands can bring in more profitable sales on Amazon during these high traffic periods. Additionally, this is a good practice year-round, as it minimizes the risk of wasting ad spend while allowing for scale when a bump in user purchase activity warrants additional investment.


Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.


About The Author

Andrew Waber is the director of insights at retail optimization platform (ROP) provider Teikametrics. In his current role, Andrew manages the analysis, editorial direction and strategy for Teikametrics’ reporting on online retail advertising and the larger online retail marketplace. Prior to his time at Teikametrics, Andrew served as the manager of data insights and media relations at Salsify, the manager of market insights and media relations for advertising automation software provider Nanigans, and as the market analyst and lead author of reports for Chitika Insights, the research arm of the Chitika online ad network. Andrew’s commentary on online trends has been quoted by the New York Times, Re/Code and The Guardian, among other outlets.



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SMX Overtime: Managing your online business reviews

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Last month I spoke at SMX East about scaling online reputation management – specifically reviews. At the end of my presentation, “14 Tips to Scale Reviews Across Multiple Locations,” I fielded a number of fantastic questions from session attendees and wanted to follow-up on some additional ones.

How do I convince clients to respond to reviews on Google?

First and foremost, responding to customer reviews builds trust. When a business responds to reviews, it demonstrates that it cares enough about its customers to respond to them. Being responsive builds trust not only with the person who wrote the review but also with future customers who might be looking at reviews as they evaluate you against your competitors. 

Responding to reviews specifically on Google also improves your visibility. Reviews have been the fastest growing signal in Google local ranking factors for the past three years, according to the annual Moz Local Search Ranking Factors study. Review signals were overwhelming correlated with higher rankings in Local SEO Guide’s Local Search Ranking Study from two years ago. And Google itself cites managing and responding to customer reviews as an important ranking factor.

Strictly looking at GMB and reviews, wouldn’t negative reviews actually be helpful in rankings?

Google stresses that “High-quality, positive [emphasis mine] reviews from your customers will improve your business’s visibility and increase the likelihood that a potential customer will visit your location.” So, strictly speaking, negative reviews won’t help.

But the bigger question is this: how can negative reviews help your business beyond rankings? They can if you are willing to learn from them. No business is perfect. Negative feedback identifies vulnerabilities that you need to address before they mushroom into bigger problems.

Responding to reviews by improving your business creates a virtuous cycle: a better customer experience leads to more positive reviews, which leads to improved visibility online. So, long story short, indirectly negative reviews could help your rankings in local search by improving your business.”

Many of our clients like us to handle reviews on their behalf. Do you have any recommendations on how to monetize that as a service?

Don’t try to manage reviews manually – especially if your clients operate multiple locations. Trying to monitor and respond appropriately and quickly to reviews can be overwhelming unless you have a tool that does everything from sentiment analysis to natural language processing of the reviews as they come in. (Full disclosure: my company offers one.) But don’t take my word for it: ask someone who has tried to manage reviews manually at scale. They’ll tell you the same thing: you need the right tool to manage this process well.

What’s a typical workflow like when outsourcing reviews? How do you onboard the new people responding to reviews?

First, talk with your client and establish a protocol for how to respond to reviews. Is the client going to split duties with the outsourcing partner, or is the partner going to handle them all? In addition, what’s the protocol for writing original replies versus using some agreed-upon, preformatted replies? Those (and many others) are the types of questions you need to address. Get the protocol sorted out and documented. Once you do that, onboarding new people comes down to relying on the protocol to train them.

What’s your position on review gating? Only targeting people who give us the best feedback or would asking all be more beneficial?

Don’t do it. Review gating goes against Google’s terms of service and violating that can get you in hot water with the world’s most popular website. Incidentally, as reported in Search Engine Land, review gating won’t materially impact your business’ overall ratings anyway. It’s not worth the risk.

When businesses ask customers for reviews say, for urgent care, what ratio of positive to negative reviews might the business expect?

If you take good care of your customers, then expect a high ratio of positive reviews! The important thing is to ask for reviews. Don’t be afraid of negative ones happening. People who have a bad experience with your business are going to share negative reviews whether you ask them or not. It’s not like asking for reviews will trigger a flood of damaging feedback. Trust me – upset customers need no encouragement. But sometimes happy customers just need a little nudge to share the love online.

How do you combat fake reviews and irrelevant negative reviews? Flagging doesn’t do crap!

Fake reviews are a problem and no doubt that flagging reviews has little effect on having them removed. While there is no guarantee this will work, typically the best course of action to have reviews removed is to post to the GMB forums and hope Joy Hawkins or another Product Expert takes up your cause.

That said, what you can do is ask customers to review your business and make it easy for them to do so. The uptick in authentic reviews will counter the spammy ones.

How do we decide which platforms to focus our review asks on? Zillow? Google? Facebook? Especially given a limited number of transactions.

Focus first on the review amplifiers, Google and Facebook. Review amplifiers have an inordinate impact on your reputation because of their scale and influence. It’s better to focus on a small number of review amplifiers than spread yourself thin trying to be present on every location where someone leaves a review.

Start with Google. Google reviews have the biggest impact on your reputation and search rankings. Google owns 93 percent of the search market, and as noted earlier, reviews are one of the most important local search ranking signals on Google. Accumulating customer reviews on Google is most important for both your reputation and your visibility online.

Facebook remains an important number two choice to focus your time. Research from Vendasta shows that Facebook is a critical site for reviews owing to its traffic and review volume, which is true in my experience working with clients. After all, next to Google and YouTube, Facebook is the world’s most popular site – and its user base is growing.

After Google and Facebook, pick some vertical sites that pertain to your industry – such as TripAdvisor for travel and Zillow for real estate.

But in a world of limited resources and budget, you need to focus first on the review amplifiers: Google and Facebook.


Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.


About The Author

Adam Dorfman is a technology and digital marketing professional with more than 20 years of experience. His expertise spans all aspects of product development as well as scaling product and engineering teams. He has been in the SEO and Local SEO space since 1999. In 2006, Adam co-founded SIM Partners and helped create a business that made it possible for companies to automate the process of attracting and growing customer relationships across multiple locations. Adam is currently director of product at Reputation where he and his teams are integrating location-based marketing with reputation management and customer experience. Adam contributes regularly to publications such as Search Engine Land, participates in Moz’s Local Search Ranking Factors survey, and regularly speaks at search marketing events such as Search Marketing Expo (SMX) West and State of Search as well as industry-specific events such as HIMSS. Follow him on Twitter @phixed.



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