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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:

Source

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:

Source

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 Search Console unparsable structured data report data issue

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Google has informed us that you may see a spike in errors in the unparsable structured data report within Google Search Console. This is a bug in the reporting system and you do not need to worry. The issue happened between January 13, 2020 and January 16, 2020.

The bug. Google wrote on the data anomalies page “Some users may see a spike in unparsable structured data errors. This was due to an internal misconfiguration that will be fixed soon, and can be ignored.” This was dated January 13, 2020 through January 16, 2020.

To be fixed. Google said they will fix the issue with the internal misconfiguration. It is, however, unclear if the data will be fixed or if you will see a spike in those errors between those date ranges.

Unparsable structured data report. The unparsable structured data report is accessible within Google Search Console by clicking here. The report aggregates structured data syntax errors. It puts all the parsing issues, including structured data syntax errors, that specifically prevented Google from identifying the feature type.

Why we care. The main thing here is that if you see a spike in errors in that report between January 13th and 16th, do not worry. It is a bug with the report and not an issue with your web site. Go back to the report in a few days and make sure that you do not see errors occurring after the 17th of January to be sure you have no technical issues.


About The Author

Barry Schwartz a Contributing Editor to Search Engine Land and a member of the programming team for SMX events. He owns RustyBrick, a NY based web consulting firm. He also runs Search Engine Roundtable, a popular search blog on very advanced SEM topics. Barry’s personal blog is named Cartoon Barry and he can be followed on Twitter here.



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Google rolls out organic ‘Popular Products’ listings in mobile search results

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Several years ago now, Google made the significant move to turn product search listings into an entirely paid product. Shopping campaigns, as they’re now called, have accounted for an increasing share of retail search budgets ever since. More recently, however, Google has been augmenting organic search results with product listings. It’s in a product search battle with Amazon, after all. On Thursday, the company announced the official rollout of “Popular Products” for apparel, shoe and similar searches in mobile results.

Organic product listings. Google has been experimenting with ways to surface product listings in organic search results, including Popular Products, which has been spotted for several months now. The section is powered by those organic feeds. Google says it identifies popular products from merchants to show them in a single spot, allowing users to filter by style, department and size type. The listings link to the retailers’ websites.

Popular Products is now live in Google mobile search results.

Why we care. This is part of a broader effort by Google to enhance product search experiences as it faces increasing competition from Amazon and other marketplaces as well as social platforms. Earlier this week, Google announced it has acquired Pointy, a hardware solution for capturing product and inventory data from small local merchants that can then be used in search results (and ads).

In the past few years, Google has also prompted retailers to adopt product schema markup on their sites by adding support for it in Search and Image search results. Then last spring, Google opened up Merchant Center to all retailers, regardless if they were running Shopping campaigns. Any retailer can submit their feed in real-time to Google to make their products eligible in search results.

Ad revenue was certainly at the heart of the shift to paid product listings, but prior to the move, product search on Google was often a terrible user experience with search listings often not matching what was on the landing page, from availability to pricing to even the very product. The move to a paid solution imposed quality standards that forced merchants to clean up their product data and provide it to Google in a structured manner in the form of product feeds through Google Merchant Center.


About The Author

Ginny Marvin is Third Door Media’s Editor-in-Chief, running the day to day editorial operations across all publications and overseeing paid media coverage. Ginny Marvin writes about paid digital advertising and analytics news and trends for Search Engine Land, Marketing Land and MarTech Today. With more than 15 years of marketing experience, Ginny has held both in-house and agency management positions. She can be found on Twitter as @ginnymarvin.



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Google buys Pointy to bring SMB store inventory online

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Google is acquiring Irish startup Pointy, the companies announced Tuesday. Pointy has solved a problem that vexed startups for more than a decade: how to bring small, independent retailer inventory online.

The terms of the deal were not disclosed, but Pointy had raised less than $20 million so it probably wasn’t an expensive buy for Google. But it could have a significant impact for the future of product search.

Complements local inventory feeds. This acquisition will help Google offer more local inventory data in Google My Business (GMB) listings, knowledge panels and ads especially. It complements Google Shopping Campaigns’ local inventory ads, which are largely utilized by enterprise merchants and first launched in 2013.

Numerous companies over the last decade tried to solve the challenge of how to bring small business product inventory online. However, most failed because the majority of SMB retailers lack sophisticated inventory management systems that can generate product feeds and integrate with APIs.

Pointy POS hardware

Source: Pointy

How Pointy works. The company created a simple way to get local store inventory online and then showcase that inventory in organic search results or paid search ads. It utilizes a low-cost hardware device that attaches to a point-of-sale barcode scanner (see image above). It’s compatible with multiple other POS systems, including Square.

Once the device is installed, it captures every product sold by the merchant and then creates a digital record of products, which can be pushed out in paid or organic results. (The company also helps small retailers set up local inventory ads using the data.) Pointy also creates local inventory pages for each store and product, which are optimized and can rank for product searches.

Pointy doesn’t actually understand real-time inventory. Cleverly, however, it uses machine learning algorithms to estimate this by measuring product purchase frequency. The system assumes local retailers are going to stock frequently purchased items. That’s an oversimplification, but is essentially how it works.

Pointy said it a blog post that it “serve[s] local retailers in almost every city and every town in the U.S. and throughout Ireland.”

Why we care. The Pointy acquisition will likely help Google in at least three ways:

  • Provide more structured, local inventory data for consumers to find in Search.
  • Generate more advertising revenue over time from independent retailers.
  • Help Google more effectively compete with Amazon in product search.

Notwithstanding the fact that e-commerce outperformed traditional retail over the holidays, most people spend the bulk of their shopping budgets offline and prefer to shop locally. Indeed, Generation Z prefers to shop in stores, according to an A.T. Kearney survey.

One of the reasons that people shop at Amazon is because they can find products they’re looking for. They often don’t know where to find a particular product locally. But if more inventory data becomes available, the more people may opt to buy from local stores instead.


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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