Yoast SEO 13.1: Schema.org structured data enhancements

Yoast SEO 13.1 and WooCommerce SEO 12.6 are out today! In these two updated SEO plugins, you’ll find several fixes and enhancements, mostly focused at improving our Schema.org structured data implementation. In this post, you can learn more about the latest versions of Yoast SEO and WooCommerce SEO.

Yoast SEO 13.1

Back in Yoast SEO 11.0, we launched an innovative and expansive Schema.org implementation for Yoast SEO. For the first time ever, we can build a complete graph for a site and present it to a search engine on a silver platter. In subsequent releases, we fine-tuned the structured data implementation and we are continuously making improvements. You can find more technical detail on our implementation on Schema.org markup documentation.

In Yoast SEO 13.1, we’ve fixed a number of bugs and added a couple of enhancements in our Schema.org implementation. For one, we now set the Schema HowTo name and Article headline to the post title with a fallback to “No title”. In addition, we’ve added the inLanguage property to the Schema CreativeWork pieces. We try to determine the language of a specific piece of content in various ways, including the WordPress site language settings. This paves the way to handle a form of internationalization using Schema.org structured data.

WooCommerce SEO 12.6

Today, we’re also releasing WooCommerce SEO 12.6. This time, we’ve fixed a number of bugs and enhanced the Schema.org implementation. In WooCommerce SEO 12.5, we added the possibility to add a product identifier to your product, which makes it possible to output that number in the product Schema.org. In the 12.6 release, we’ve added some explanatory copy above the input fields for GTIN, ISBN et cetera to make this feature a little clearer.

At the end of this week, we’ll be raising the price of the Yoast WooCommerce SEO plugin. Are you serious about selling online? Get it today for only $49! That’ll save you some serious $$$. Don’t miss this chance…

Another enhancement to the structured data powers is the possibility to choose if you want to display the price in Schema.org structured data and OpenGraph with tax included. Simply check the box for the setting and you’re good to go.

WooCommerce SEO now lets you choose between tax or no tax for output in structured data

For bug fixes, we fixed a bug where the internal linking and additional keyphrase functionality went missing from the product edit page. Also, we fixed a bug where the meta description and Twitter and Facebook description could still contain HTML tags and redundant spaces.

Update your plugins

That’s it for today’s releases! We’ve enhanced both Yoast SEO and WooCommerce SEO, while also fixing a number of bugs. Please review the changes and update the plugins at your convenience. Thanks for using Yoast SEO!

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Yoast SEO 13.0: Behind the scenes improvements

Today, we’re releasing Yoast SEO 13.0. This release is one in a series of releases focusing on improving our code and fixing issues — most of them behind the scenes. In addition, we’re also updating our Local SEO plugin to version 12.7 and WooCommerce SEO to 12.5. Let’s go over a couple of changes in Yoast SEO 13.0, Local SEO 12.7 and WooCommerce SEO 12.5!

Quality assurance

Good quality code leads to fewer bugs and a more stable product. For some time now, we’ve been steadily rebuilding and reshaping several parts of our plugins to make them more solid and more secure. Juliette Reinders-Folmers is one of the driving forces behind this project. She helps our development teams grow and improve their work. In Yoast SEO 13.0, you can find several of Juliettes advancements, with a lot more to come.

Enhancements in Yoast SEO 13.0

A number of enhancements made it in Yoast SEO 13.0. For one, Yoast SEO now hides the Facebook settings when Open Graph is disabled. This means you no longer see something you’ve disabled yourself. Also, we’ve added a success state to the paginated comments alert that now lives in the Health Check center. This means you will also see the paginated comments check when you’ve set the paginated comments up correctly.

Improvements WooCommerce SEO 12.5

For our WooCommerce SEO plugin, we’ve improved and extended many parts of the Schema structured data implementation. We’ve updated the review and offer Schema output, plus we’ve extended the product output. Specifically, we added a productID to the product output and we’ve added different gtin (Global Trade Item Number) attributes to products.

Also, you can now set a specific product in WooCommerce SEO as a book. Giving it a valid ISBN number, it sets the Schema output to [ Product, Book ]. This way, the Product can have the attributes of both schema.org/Book and schema.org/Product, and thus it can have an ISBN attribute and a price etc.

Last but not least, we’ve added a product:condition meta tag to the OpenGraph output. The default condition is new but you can change this to, for instance, used using the new Yoast\WP\Woocommerce\product_condition filter. We’ve also added a product:retailer_item_id meta tag to the OpenGraph output for Facebook Catalog usage.

Improvements in Local SEO 12.7

Work also continues on our Local SEO WordPress plugin. Today, we launch version 12.7. In this version, we fixes a number of bugs and cleaned up the UI and UX for entering an API key and calculating the location’s latitude and longitude. This makes the whole process of determining your location and validating your Maps API a lot clearer. See the screenshot below.

Setting an API Key has become a lot easier

Update now to Yoast SEO 13.0

Yoast SEO 13.0, WooCommerce 12.5 and Local SEO 12.7 aren’t huge releases, but they bring welcome improvements behind the scenes. We’re continuing our work in improving our processes, our code and our features to keep Yoast SEO the #1 WordPress SEO plugin for years to come.

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On-SERP SEO can help you battle zero-click results

On-SERP SEO is the process of fully optimizing the first page of a search engine to maximize the visibility of your brand. On-SERP SEO is a tool you can use to battle the increase of so-called zero-click searches. Find out all about on-SERP SEO in this article.

Rise of the zero-click search

Rand Fishkin of SparkToro has been tracking developments in Google for a long time. One of his works is researching the changes in how people search and where the clicks go, based on data by an analytics firm. From his recent reports emerges an interesting trend: less than 50% of all the searches lead to a click! These are the so-called zero-click searches.

Over half of all searches don’t lead to a click

Of course, the decline of the click can partly be attributed to the rise in rich results. For many queries, these results — like featured snippets, answer boxes and knowledge graphs — tend to answer the exact question a searcher has. Often, leaving the searcher without the need to click on to a full article. Since Google is working hard to understand languages, entities, and intents better, it is no surprise that it manages to answer an increasing number and ever harder set of questions right there.

In addition to upping their skills, Google is also expanding its own properties in search. For industries such as travel, you can almost book a complete trip without ever leaving Google. It won’t be long before that last hurdle will be gone as well. Of course, end-users love interacting with rich results as they often solve their needs immediately.

These developments are Google helping win an enormous amount of traffic to its own properties, from YouTube to Flights and Jobs to Events, leaving regular companies and individuals struggling to find room to shine in the SERPs. One of the means you could turn to combat this is called on-SERP SEO.

What is on-SERP SEO?

With on-SERP SEO, you try to get as much exposure for a query — or your brand — on Google’s front page as possible. That doesn’t mean you should write ten articles on your main topic in the hopes of them all showing up on page one of Google because that’s a pipe dream. No, it’s about owning all the areas where it counts: 

  • A featured snippet
  • A highly-ranking post
  • The knowledge graph panel
  • People Also Ask boxes
  • Image search
  • Video search
  • Local three-pack
  • And maybe run an ad or two for your brand

Combined, these SERP elements will give you maximum exposure for your brand. In addition, visibility might lead to better CTR. Nevertheless, it might be a good idea to look at sources of traffic/visibility outside of Google’s clutches.

Got to occupy that brand space, right?

Note: Last week, Google changed how they handle duplicate URLs for posts that have a featured snippet. In the past, the featured snippet was at position 0, but now it is basically number 1. The regular result from that featured snippet is dropped from the results, leaving only the featured snippet. This might impact how you approach your work and it might make it harder to ‘own’ the SERPs.

How can it benefit your site?

The main reason for working on your on-SERP SEO is enhancing the visibility of your brand. Not everything is about traffic! It does beg to differ if you can make the investment in on-SERP SEO. It doesn’t always lead to more traffic, so you must ask yourself if you can live with not getting traffic from that high-profile featured snippet.

For many searches and industries, it is hard to occupy a load of search results page features. So, what you can do depends on who you are — or who you are working for, of course. Non-branded searches make it hard to get into the knowledge graph, for instance. Do investigate and see what you can achieve!

How to start with on-SERP SEO

The process of on-SERP SEO consists of several parts. First, you need to find out how you are doing. Where are people coming from? How are they finding you? What’s the CTR for your main keyphrases? Plus, how are all these numbers trending?

When you’ve painted a picture of your situation, you start looking at the SERPs and try to find opportunities to stand out.

Look at the SERPs

Looking at the SERPs is incredibly rewarding — and an essential task. Not only will it give you an idea of what’s going in your industry, for your keyphrases or your brand, but it will also signal opportunities. You also have to look at what’s not there. When you finally know your SERPs inside out you see the changes Google makes unfolding before your eyes. What’s more, you might be ready to act if needed.

You’ll notice rich results — like featured snippets — pop up and disappear, and you’ll see different elements move around the page. Plus, you see what your competitors are doing. You’ll also notice ranking changes when they appear. Several SEO suites — like Moz Pro and SEMrush — provide tools to track what happens to SERPs and which SERP features appear for certain keyphrases. 

If you have a solid understanding of your relevant SERPs you might pick up a chance to shine along the way. Be sure to act if it makes sense!

Find opportunities

There are many answers to be found in the SERPs, but don’t be scared to start thinking outside the box. There are several ways to increase your site’s visibility in search. Let’s go over a couple of ones.

Improve search intent-based content

A very helpful tool in your arsenal is search intent research. Try to find out how and when people end up on your site and map that to your customer journey. Did you miss a couple of spots? Can you appear earlier in the journey? What do the SERPs look like for every step of the journey and does your content match does touchpoints? 

Improve your keyphrase-based work

Search engines are getting better at defining what a query is actually about, but they are nowhere near faultless in matching that with a correct response. This means that you should still provide search engines with every detail you can think about. So, it makes sense to look into search intent, but it also makes sense to do old-fashioned keyword research. But now, don’t simply look at which words have the highest traffic potential, but also a good chance at a click!

Research featured snippets

A prominent spot at the top of the search results — who doesn’t want that? Getting a featured snippet is a good way of getting in the spotlights. It’s not always easy to get clicks from a featured snippet, but if you do the results can be interesting to see. It might not even be necessary to do it all for the clicks, because featured snippets can also be used to build trust or increase brand awareness.

Getting a featured snippet takes work and is a lot easier if you already rank on page one with your content. That means you should prioritize getting featured snippets for content that’s already doing well. Don’t forget to check if your research is pointing you to new chances.

Enhance visual and video search

On-SERP SEO also means improving the findability of your images and video. For your main keyphrases, your visual content needs to come out on top. Don’t have visual content pop up on image search for your brand or keyphrases? Don’t have videos? Well, you know what to do if you want to fully occupy the SERPs. The Yoast Video SEO add-on helps you get those videos in search.

Manage your social media

Your social media can appear in searches for your brand — tweets in search and links in the knowledge graph panel —, so it’s good to put work in those profiles. They don’t really push traffic, but people may view these profiles to form an opinion on your business. 

Add structured data

Structured data is incredibly important for search engines to truly understand what your site is about. By using structured data correctly for any given topic (recipes, events, jobs et cetera), search engines might even reward you with a rich result listing. This means your search result is highlighted, meaning it will take up more real estate in the SERPs. Yoast SEO automatically adds a lot of Schema structured data to your site for the most important properties. You can also use the Yoast SEO content blocks to build FAQ pages and how-to articles that stand out in the search results.

Improve your local listing

It’s important to look at what your site is doing locally. Google My Business is a must-have if you want your business to stand out in the local results. Curate your listing, manage reviews and finetune your photos. Having a lively local profile can really help your visibility and brand awareness.

Take out ads for your brand

Ever since Google is running ads right under the search bar, it is a good idea to take out ads for your own brand — or keywords, if they are affordable. This way, you get an extra spot at the top that Google can’t take away from you. In addition, it prevents a competitor from advertising in your name. 

Conclusion about on-SERP SEO

In the age of declining clicks, you need all the help you can get to stay visible for the searcher. One of the things you can do is look at the SERPs to try and find ways to occupy a lot of real-estate. On-SERP SEO can help you increase brand awareness. It also helps you gain new insights into what’s changing in Google and how you can react to that.

It doesn’t make sense to go all-out with on-SERP SEO for all your keyphrases. But, it does make sense to make your brand stand out, which is easier because you have most of the tools available to get that knowledge panel and ad listing.

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Yoast SEO 12.9: Google Preview and more fixes

Today, we’re releasing Yoast SEO 12.9. In this release, you’ll find a number of bug fixes and enhancements. Among other things, you’ll find a renamed snippet preview with clearer settings. Find out what else is new in Yoast SEO 12.9!

Snippet preview is now Google Preview

Since the introduction of the snippet preview, we’ve been working to improve it. A big part of that is catching up with all the changes Google makes to have a snippet preview that makes sense. It should give you a good idea of how your result might look in Google. Because we mostly focus on Google in this case, we decided to rename the snippet preview to Google preview.

Here’s the Google preview button in the block editor sidebar:

The Google preview button in the block editor sidebar

And here’s how it looks in the meta box of Yoast SEO 12.9:

The Google preview in the meta box of Yoast SEO 12.9

You’ll notice another change. We’ve removed the hard-to-understand icons for switching between the mobile and desktop Google preview. Now, we use standard radio buttons and a clear text to label the choice, making the feature instantly clear for everyone.

The Yoast SEO Google preview remains an invaluable tool to create snippets that stand out from the crowd. Learning how to craft good titles can get you a long way, as does writing a proper meta description. Of course, we have a post helping you get to know the Google preview and how to make good use of it. Read it and put the learnings into practice.

Update to Yoast SEO 12.9

We’re continuing our run of behind-the-scenes improvements while we’re working on a couple of larger projects. In Yoast SEO 12.9, the most visible change is the improved and renamed Google preview. As always, update whenever you’re ready!

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What is a permalink?

The permalink is the full URL you see – and use – for any given post, page or other pieces of content on your site. It’s a permanent link, hence the name permalink. A permalink could include your domain name (www.yoast.com) plus what’s called a slug, the piece of the URL that comes after the domain name. This might include a date or a category or anything you please. A simple permalink makes a URL easy to understand and share. In this SEO basics article, we’ll take a closer look at the permalink.

Permalinks should be SEO-friendly

Permalinks are an important part of your site as both search engines and visitors use these URLs to index and visit your site. The type of permalink you pick influences the way these two parties see and value your site. A URL with a load of incomprehensible gibberish at the end is a lot less shareable and enticing than a short and simple SEO-friendly URL. An example permalink could be:

https://www.yoast.com/category/post-name

It could also be something like:

https://www.yoast.com/10/10/2017/post-name

or

https://yoast.com/post-name

By default, WordPress uses a permalink structure that’s not SEO-friendly. These look something like this:

https://yoast.com/?p=101

The number you see is the ID WordPress had in mind for this particular article. It’s article number 101 in the database of your site. While Google still understands the content on that page, a URL like this does nothing for your SEO. It does not describe what kind of content the page offers and it’s not something that users are inclined to share. And did we mention that it’s not very professional looking? If your URL contains relevant words, this provides users and search engines with more information about the page than any ID or parameter would.

permalink common settings
Common permalink settings in WordPress

Considerations for your permalinks

Make sure you pick a permalink structure that fits your goals. If you have a news site, it might make sense to add the publication date of the article to the URL. If, however, you are planning to write killer cornerstone content that has to stand the test of time, it’s not recommended to use a date in the URL as this could make the content look ‘old’.

We recommend using a simple and clear permalink structure. For most sites, it makes sense to append the post name to the domain name. So in WordPress that would be the /postname/ option. In some cases, a category will help create a hierarchy in the URLs. Keep in mind that this could also result in too long URLs.

Yoast SEO and permalinks

Yoast SEO is a must-have tool that makes SEO available to everyone. It’s an easy to use tool that helps you make a perfect website. For instance, if you install WordPress and don’t change the default permalink settings, Yoast SEO will urge you to change it. Yoast SEO has several other options that can help you clean up those permalinks, like stripping the category base (usually category).

If you’re changing a permalink or deleting a page, we prevent users from landing on a 404 error page. Yoast SEO Premium has a brilliant redirect manager that helps you do that. It will create a 301 redirect automatically if you change the permalink of a page. In addition to that, it asks if you’d like to create a 301 redirect if you delete a page. Just enter the URL you want your visitors to go to and you’re done!

Finally, a word of warning

Pick your permalink structure wisely. Don’t change your permalink structure for the sake of it. Incorrectly redirecting your old URLs to the new URLs might lead to problems and could get you dropped from the rankings. Please think about your permalink structure before launching your site. Should you need to change your permalinks you can find more information on how to change your permalink structure or visit Google’s page on moving your site.

Read more: Why every website needs Yoast SEO »

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5 reasons why your site isn’t showing up on Google

You’ve done all the hard work — got a hosting package, installed WordPress, picked a nice theme and wrote some content. You hit publish on your first post. Time to rake in that traffic, right? But, when looking for your own site in Google you can’t seem to find it anywhere. You throw your hands in the air: “My website isn’t showing up on Google, what’s going on!?” Well, here are five reasons that might explain why you can’t find your site.

1: It’s too fresh, Google doesn’t know about it yet

First, don’t panic! If your site is new, it might simply be a matter chilling out and checking back in a little while. There’s a lot of moving parts in getting your site crawled, indexed and ranked. Sometimes, it takes days or maybe even weeks for Google to discover your site.

You can look up your site with the site: search operator in Google. Type site:yoast.com and you’ll see a list of pages found on that domain. If you type in the full URL of a specific article, you should see only one search result return. If you see your pages, this means that Google does know about your site and has put — at least some of it — in its index. Once you discover that your page is in the index, but you think it is not performing well, you might want to dig deeper.

The site: search operator helps you find your site in Google’s index

Do install Yoast SEO and submit the generated XML sitemap to Google Search Console to help speed up Google’s discovery process. In Search Console, you can also use the URL Inspection tool to find out how specific pages are doing. It tells you exactly how Google crawls and views your site.

As you wait, please read up on how Google works and how to start with SEO. You can also run a quick SEO audit to see if you’ve missed something.

2: You’ve noindexed your site or the piece of content

One of the most common reasons for Google not indexing your site or a specific page is because it has — inadvertently — got noindexed. Adding the noindex meta robots tags to a page tells Googlebot that it can crawl a page, but that the results can’t be added to the index.

How to check if your page is noindexed? That’s easy, simply open the page and view the source code. Somewhere in the head of the page, you’ll find the code below. This tells search engines crawlers that the content of the page shouldn’t be added to the index and, thus, keep it from ranking.

<meta name="robots" content="noindex">

It happens! Even we occasionally make a mistake and inadvertently noindex a post. Luckily, it’s an easy fix. Willemien describes how to set a piece of content back on the right track with Yoast SEO.

3: Google can’t crawl your site

You might have told Google not to index your content, but it’s also possible you’ve told Google not to crawl your site at all! Blocking crawlers in a so-called robots.txt file is a sure-fire way to never get any traffic. Blocking robots is easier than you might think. For instance, WordPress has a Search Engine Visibility setting that — once set to Discourage search engines from indexing this site — does its utmost best to keep crawlers out. Uncheck this to make your site available again.

Uncheck this if you ever want your WordPress so end up in Google

From WordPress 5.3 on, WordPress uses the noindex approach described in point 2 to handle indexing of sites via the Search Engine Visibility setting. This change was necessary because Google sometimes still indexed pages it encountered.

Besides telling WordPress to block search engines, it might be that other technical issues generate crawl errors preventing Google from properly crawling your site. Your site’s web server could be acting up and presenting server errors or buggy bits of JavaScript in your code trip up the crawler. Make sure Google can easily crawl your site.

4: Your content is not up to par and/or doesn’t match users intent

There could be number of technical reasons why your site doesn’t show in Google. That’s not the whole story, though. It can also be your content. Your content might simply not be good or authoritative enough for Google to pick for that specific keyphrase. Think about how you as a human being would find your site. Don’t focus on Google.

Content not showing up in Google might “simply” be the case of not matching with what the searcher is expecting. Your content might not fit the search intent of the user. In this case, you have to do keyword research and take a good look at search intent as well. What do people search for, in what terms and what do they mean to do? Once you know that, you can use Yoast SEO the help you write awesome content.

Keep in mind that maybe, just maybe, your site operates in a highly competitive industry. Without focusing on the long tail, it’ll probably be impossible to end up with good rankings.

5: Your content lacks high-quality backlinks

Way back when Google was just a fledging start-up, rankings were determined in part by popularity. The thinking was that the more links a site or page got, the more people view this site as a valuable source and Google should put it at the top of the results page. While a lot has changed in over two decades, links still play a part in the discoverability and ranking of content. You can rank without links, but it’s just damn hard.

Creating incredible content is a good way to get links to your pages. High-quality content tends to attract clicks from readers who might also share the content far and wide via social media as well. All this helps to get those links. Of course, there’s more you can do to get links in a natural, non-spammy way: here are fifteen ways of getting high-quality backlinks.

Ps: Fixing your internal links also helps Google and searchers discover your content!

Bonus: Have you been hit by a manual action?

A quick one to cap off this article: if your site isn’t showing up on Google, it might be because of a manual action — a penalty. There are a lot of reasons why you could get a manual action, but the most common ones are because of spammy links or violations of the Google rules. Sites that get a manual action tend to try to operate in a shady way to misguide search engines into giving them a high ranking.

Normally, site owners get an email from Google telling them that their site has received a manual action. You can also simply check the Manual Actions page in Google Search Console.

There are more reasons

This is not an all-encompassing post as there are numerous reason for a site or post not showing up in Google. This post gives you a quick idea where to look when not seeing your post in a search engine. If you want to improve your rankings, there are ways to write high-quality and SEO-friendly blog posts.

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Yoast SEO 12.8: Fixes and enhancements

Welcome to another year of helping you achieve your goals with your site! Today, it’s time for the first in a long line of releases planned for 2020: Yoast SEO 12.8. In this release, you’ll find a number of bug fixes and performance enhancements. Let’s get to it!

Enhancements

A while ago, a developer called Alex Bouma reached out to us on GitHub with an interesting performance-enhancing improvement. He suggested a better way of retrieving the options inside Yoast SEO. We tended to call these a lot — which led to a less than optimal performance. After careful testing and slightly adjusting the methodology, we came up with a good solution that works. This is one of many performance-enhancing improvements we’re rolling out this year.

Schema identifiers

We offer a lot of flexibility for developers who want to integrate with our Schema structured data implementation. In our Schema documentation, you’ll find everything you need to get going. In Yoast SEO 12.8, we’ve made the implementation a bit more flexible by making it possible to look for a public class property named identifier. This makes it possible to integrate in a situation where the class isn’t named WPSEO_Schema_* or is using a namespace.

Paging comments in Health Check

In Yoast SEO 12.8, we moved the notice from paginated comments from the dashboard to WordPress’ Health Check. Should you paginate comments — not needed for most sites, due to SEO and UX concerns —, you can find a new notice on your Health Check dashboard.

Activating paging comments used to trigger a dashboard notification, but we’ve moved this to Site Health

Bug fixes

As always, this release features a number of bug fixes and other improvements. We’ve also improved the documentation for the Schema structured data HowTo block (thanks to Tim van Iersel) and the Breadcrumbs file, thanks to Alfio Salanitri.

Some of the bugs we fixed concerned incorrect icon placements, styling issues, incorrectly generated Schema for breadcrumbs and one where the images alt attribute SEO assessment in the Classic Editor didn’t work properly. We’ve also fixed a bug where author archives for authors without posts would show up in the search results, even though the “Show archives for authors without posts in search results?” option was enabled. See the full changelog for a detailed overview of all the fixes and enhancements.

Update to Yoast SEO 12.8

And there you have it: the first release of 2020! In this release, we made a number of improvements to enhance the performance of the plugin. Please review the changes and update to Yoast SEO 12.8 whenever you’re ready.

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What’s powering conversational search? Featured snippets, structured data and actions

Voice search is still hot, but it might be a little slower on the uptake than many predicted. Google and friends continue to bombard the consumer with new devices, with new possibilities and new ways of controlling them via voice. The results for these voice searches comes from a mix of actions, knowledge graph data and featured snippets. But, there’s a new data layer forming, slowly powering more and more parts of the voice experience. It’s a technology we’ve talked a bit quite often here at Yoast: structured data.

Voice is still coming, but maybe not as fast as expected

When the rise of virtual assistants started, many welcomed it as a new world order. Some predicted that by 2020, more than half of the searches would be voice activated. That was probably a bit optimistic. While adoption is still growing and big tech is pushing voice technology like there’s no tomorrow, it still feels like critical mass is off some ways.

Almost every new product announced by Google, Facebook, Amazon etc has an assistant on board. Take Bluetooth headphones for instance, almost every new one that hits the market these days has a voice assistant built in. The industry really wants everyone to talk to their devices. But, Google doesn’t think the future will be purely voice-driven. For many things, people will need a screen. A recent study by Google revealed that 50% of interactions combine voice and touch. 

Voice is two-pronged

It’s good to keep in mind that so-called voice search consists of two main parts:

  • Searching the web with your voice
  • Performing actions with your voice

Working on your voice search strategy, means you have to make a distinction between these parts. For many companies, building an action — “Ok Google, turn on the lights” — doesn’t make much sense. Searching the web, answering questions and guiding people with your content, does make sense. You’re looking to go into a conversation with your audience.

Searching the web with your voice

As mentioned before, for most site owners, the search part of conversational search is where it’s at. This is about using your voice to get search results and answers to your questions. This is also where you can work with your regular content, without having to invest loads of money into an unproven voice strategy based on building a conversational interface. Let’s take a look.

Search results get its data from:

Where do those search results come from once you ask your assistant to look something up for you? That depends on the question you’re asking and which assistant you are using. If we take Google as an example, we can break it down into three pieces:

  • Factual data: answer boxes powered by knowledge graph
  • More complex, general searches: Featured snippets
  • From Google’s own properties (local pack, maps, flights, shopping etc.)

If you ask: “Ok Google, how tall is the Eiffel Tower” you’ll get a nice voice result telling you “the Eiffel Tower is 324 meters tall”. This is all coming from the knowledge graph — the network of facts that Google has formed over the years. This is information Google can rely on for direct answers.

For more complex questions, Google often looks at the results it shows in featured snippets. A piece of content that appears as a featured snippet is proven to be a good result by Google. Of course, it is not infallible and sometimes you can find better results. But in general, if you have a featured snippet for a term/question/problem your content is the number one candidate for being spoken by a voice assistant. 

Ask Google: “Ok Google, what is a meta description” and it’ll speak out loud the featured snippets that Yoast has earned for that question. Try it! Of course, these results do change from time to time, but we’ve had this featured snippet for quite a while.

Here’s a recording Joost made of that query a while back

The third one encompasses all the answers to questions or queries that Google can fill from their own properties, like the local pack for local results, or Google Flights. Things tend to blur here quickly, as many Google-owned queries are turned into actions. So if you want to book a flight, that will trigger an action and not a search.

For most sites and types of content, the best chance of getting your content in voice assistants is via featured snippets. To get featured snippets, you need authority, a good reputation and awesome content. If you are already ranking on page one for your queries or phrases, you have a good chance at getting that coveted featured snippet! 

Since the launch of the BERT update, Google has a much better understanding language and can figure out complex, long-tail searches. This means that the search engine will come up with results that better match the search query. Google explicitly states that it uses BERT for featured snippets, so you have to keep that in mind. 

Of course, BERT is not infallible. It is a very sophisticated language model, but still only a model. It helps computers improve their understanding of language, but it won’t turn a computer into a human so to say. So everything comes down to readability! 

To maximise your chance at getting featured snippets, think of this: 

  • Do keyword research
  • Look at what’s ranking now and improve on that
  • Prioritize! Don’t try to get them all — only the ones where you can help your users with better content than your competitors
  • Check the user intent of the searches and match it to answers 
  • Use Answer the Public or Also Asked to find questions to answer 
  • Use easy to digest, simple to understand language
  • Keep your answers short and snappy
  • Speak your content out loud — or let your computer do it
  • Mark up your content with structured data (although not needed for featured snippets)
  • In general: make better content!

It’s a great sport to hunt for featured snippet opportunities and they can bring in awesome results, even with voice search.

Doesn’t Schema power featured snippets?

In the list above, you see I’ve mentioned structured data in relation to featured snippets. There’s a question that pops up regularly: does Google use structured data for ranking featured snippets? Your favorite Googlers have debunked this a number of times. 

At the moment, structured data is used for a lot of things, but not for featured snippets. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t add it to your pages — you should, because structured data makes your page a lot easier to understand for search engines —, but it’s not essential in getting those features snippets. Getting on page one with brilliant content is.

Performing actions with your voice

While getting featured snippets helps to get your content spoken out loud by voice assistants, having Schema is not. But this is not the end of the story. We see Schema popping up in ever more places, and one of those places is your smart assistant. Schema does power some voice-based actions — at least on Google. Google now lets you build actions based on your news, how-tos, FAQs, recipes and podcasts. 

Your structured data can be the starting point for voice actions

Google lets you build actions for assistants

Google uses so-called actions to find and present content that users can interact with on smart devices with the Assistant. You can build your own actions, so assistants can respond with your specific content. Building those, however, can require a lot of custom work and, therefore, probably not a viable option for many site owners. 

Luckily, Google also provides a much easier way to get particular pieces of web content ready for smart devices: the structured data found on your site. Yet another sign that Schema structured data is here to stay. 

Actions let you get something done using the Assistant

By adding structured data to your site, you’ll not only get a chance at rich results, but this enables Google to automatically generate actions for their Assistant. Talk about two birds with one stone. At the moment, of the dozens of supported Schema properties, Google can generate actions for five datatypes: FAQs, how-tos, news, podcasts and recipes. The first two were only recently announced.

Smart displays combine voice and screen to guide people — in this case a visual how-to

Of course, there are some caveats. For news content, for instance, Google only admits content built by publishers who already participate in Google News. FAQs and how-tos only work on smart displays, with the latter being in a developer preview and, therefore, not yet available for the general public. If you want, you can always sign up to register your interest if you want to start building right now.

Structured data needs minimal adjustments

Adding the necessary code isn’t too hard if you’ve already invested in Schema markup. There is a distinction between required and recommended properties. Sometimes, Google will nag you into adding more to make errors go away. Fully formed structured data might enhance your chance at getting rich results — or having the Assistant pull up your actions.

For some data types, you must add specific pieces of structured data to get a chance to appear on smart displays. If we look at recipes, for instance, you’ll notice recipeIngredient and recipeInstructions are recommended for rich results, but required for getting guidance on smart displays. But, if you’re looking to build a full recipe structured data implementation, you would add this anyway, right?

Adding valid How-to and FAQ Schema is easy with the structured data content blocks in Yoast SEO. Simply open a post in the WordPress block editor and add the block. Fill it with relevant content and you’re good to go!

Simply fill in the fields to build a how-to with valid structured data

Keep a close eye at the example code and the necessary properties. Google tends to change these regularly. And keep in mind that documentation and testing tools might not always be on the same page. Last thing you have to remember: you have no guarantee that your structured data leads to rich results, as the search engines decide on that.

Speakable Schema

Another relatively new addition to Schema is the speakable property. This is not an action built to let people interact with your content, but a way to tell Google which part of the page is fit for audio-playback. This currently work for news content only. If set up right, you’ll notice Google Assistant reads your content aloud, attributes it and sends the complete URL to your device. It is currently in beta, but should turn out to be a great way to help machines find out what they can read or not.

The value of voice for site owners

There’s a lot happening at the moment. The technologies powering voice search are giving search engines a better understanding of how humans communicate. They can use those insights to improve their search results to provide you with better answers to your questions. Plus, it allows them to develop new applications that help you do your job. That’s great, but how valuable is voice for a ‘regular’ type site? 

For most sites, having an elaborate voice strategy is not viable. It isn’t very cost effective to build actions for every type of assistant and hope for the best. Having a strategy for getting and keeping featured snippets is important. This is based on content you have — or can produce — and has the added bonus of working in two locations at one: search and voice.

In addition, there’s a new focus on structured data providing data for voice assistants — at least on Google. With Google pushing structured data so hard, it won’t come as a surprise if we see a lot more of this happening in the next year. For Google, Schema structured data provides a context layer of the web. Bringing the knowledge graph, language processing and computer vision into the mix, Google is well on its way to understand the world.

Conclusion

In this article, I showed a number of ways search engines like Google provide answers for their voice assistants. Now, you have a better understanding of the value of voice and the things you have to keep in mind when you want to set up a voice search strategy.

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Yoast SEO 12.7: Cleaning up and fixing bugs + sale!

Yoast SEO 12.7 is out today — signaling the last release of 2019. This release is all about cleaning up and fixing bugs. Since we have a two-week release schedule, we can quickly respond to any bug we might find. In this post, you’ll find out more about this release. Plus, you can get Yoast SEO Premium for cheap in our Holiday Calendar sale: today only!

On the importance of bug fixing

We’ve always prided ourselves in releasing a product of high quality. Unfortunately, issues do pop up and we do our best to solve these depending on the severity of the issue. This is one of the reasons we have a two-week release schedule. For some, it might feel we release way too often, but for us, this is a great way to get fixes out as quickly as possible, without having to resort to patch releases. Having a good system in place for handling and resolving bugs is one of the pillars of coding awesome, stable software.

Every release, we fix a number of bugs from our backlog, plus a selection of new ones that need attention. In Yoast SEO 12.7, we also fixed a couple of bugs with the input of Saša Todorović. These concerned a bug where sub-sitemaps were rendered for non-public custom post types, plus a bug where nested gallery images were not included in the image count in the sitemap. In addition to the bug fixes, we improved the security of the plugin by adding output escaping.

Save 25% on Yoast SEO Premium: today only!

This holiday season, we’re counting down with an awesome holiday calendar. Each day, you get a nice surprise — ranging from free webinars to discount on Yoast products. December 10 — which is today! —, you’ll get a whopping 25% discount on Yoast SEO Premium. Now is the time to get acquainted with features that’ll help save time and improve your work, such as:

Of course, with Yoast SEO Premium you’ll also get access to our awesome support team.

Check out our holiday calendar! We have awesome treats for you

Update now to Yoast SEO 12.7

That’s it for this release of Yoast SEO. We’ve fixed a number of bugs and cleaned up the code to make Yoast SEO perform even better. Don’t forget to take advantage of today’s discount on Yoast SEO Premium! It’ll surely help you kick-start your new year! 

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New Google Search Console report checks site speed

Google is rapidly expanding the capabilities of Search Console — its must-have tool for site owners/managers. Not too long ago it was a couple of new structured data reports and today we’re talking about an enhancement report dedicated to site speed. It’s important to have a fast site and Google’s new tool helps you monitor it and improve it. Here’s is a quick guide to its capabilities.

What is the Speed report in Google Search Console?

The new Speed report gives you an idea of how fast or slow your pages load over any given time. It gives you insights that were almost impossible to get up until now. Running page speed analysis on your complete site is not something the average user can do. Testing a couple of pages in PageSpeed Insights, fine, but 1,000 pages? The new Speed report in Google Search Console gives you an idea of how your site loads. It puts all pages in buckets conveniently labeled slow, moderate and fast. 

The new Speed report overview in Search Console (desktop view)

As you know, site speed has been a hot topic for quite a while. Google even declared it a ranking factor. The search engine is rolling out all sorts of initiatives to help visualize site speed and prioritize improvements, like PageSpeed Insights and Lighthouse. Sometimes, they do it quietly, but other times it’s a little bit over the top. Case in point: Chromes new “speed badge of shame”. It is one of the indicators in the Chrome browser that helps users understand why a site may be loading slower. In reality, this is more a not so subtle jab at site owners to do something about their slow sites.

Chrome’s upcoming slow site badge

This focus on site speed is understandable. Site speed is user experience and users expect fast. But in regards to all those pretty numbers and colors, it’s hard to know what to look for. But as our own SEO expert Jono Alderson loves to say: “Don’t optimize for scores — just make it faster.” Scores say a lot, but all that matters is the perception of speed by users. How quickly can you make your page feel ready?

What does the Speed report do?

The Speed report looks at the pages on your site, checks their loading speed in the Chrome User Experience report and puts these into buckets. There are mobile and desktop specific checks and these might differ. Due to hardware and network differences, it is harder to get a good score on mobile than it is on desktop. You’ll notice, though, that the same URLs are often troublesome both on mobile as well as desktop. They might load slightly faster due to changes in test setting, but they are a point of interest nonetheless.

Two specific reports help you analyze the different sources

While not the end-all tool for measuring site speed, the Speed report is a valuable addition to Search Console. It helps you find problematic URLs which you can check in PageSpeed Insights to get a deeper understanding — plus ways of fixing it. This way, you can keep an eye on all speed-related things, spot trends, make improvements and keep track of the results of those changes. 

Where does it get its metrics?

The cool thing about the Speed report is that it uses data from the Chrome UX Report. The Chrome UX Report is a public data set of real user experience data collected from millions of opted-in users and websites. This way, loads of data are collected — like connection type, type of device and much more — from real situations and used to give a better understanding of performance in the real world. This data is put to good use in several speed-oriented Google tools, like PageSpeed Insights and Lighthouse.

What should I look for?

When looking at site speed tools it is easy to focus on the wrong stuff. Many tools check site speed in particular circumstances, like a set location at one point in time. There’s not enough context to make a decision based on this data. That’s why our advice in this has always been for you to look at a multitude of site speed tools. Combined these will give you a better handle on the problem.

The Search Console Speed report has been built around two metrics: First Contentful Paint and First Input Delay. Here’s what these metrics mean:

  • FCP (first contentful paint): The first contentful paint happens when the first element of a requested page appears on the screen. This gives users the confirmation that the page is actually loading.
  • FID (first input delay): The first input delay is the time between the first interaction of a user with an element on the requested page and the reaction of the browser to that input. How quickly your page reacts to input is of utmost importance for it to appear fast and responsive.

The results lead to slow, moderate or fast pages. According to Google, the speed of a URL is the lowest speed assigned to it. So if a page has a slow FCP, but a moderate FID it is considered slow. If it has a fast FCP and a moderate FID, it is considered moderate.

These insights give you a good idea of how your pages are performing. As said before, you probably need to run a couple of more tests to get the full picture.

Further analysis on a per-URL basis in PageSpeed Insights

URL grouping

Instead of showing a gazillion URLs and the corresponding results, Google uses aggregate scores and URL groups to make the results slightly less intimidating. For any issue, you’ll see a number of URLs getting the same score or issue. So it might be that from a specific URL, 70 other URLs suffer from the same performance issues. That makes it easier to uncover issues on a grander scale because all these pages probably have the same problems. Of course, you can do a deep-dive and check individual pages by clicking on the URL list and picking a URL to analyze using PageSpeed Insights.

Grouping URLs with similar perfomance issues makes the report easier to digest

Aggregate scores

The same goes for scoring. Grouping makes it easier to digest the results. The Speed report in Search Console focuses mainly on FCP and FID, as mentioned above. It’s a good idea to keep an eye on PageSpeed Insights as well, as this has a multitude of other metrics, graphics of the loading process and suggestions to improve the results.

In the Speed report, the FCP and FID are calculated from all the visits to those particular pages. 

  • Aggregate FCP: The aggregate first content paint is the time it takes for 75% of the visits to a URL in the report to reach FCP.
  • Aggregate FID: The aggregate first interactive delay is the time it takes for 95% of the visits to that URL to respond to interactions on that page. 

The calculation of these scores continues to fluctuate due to outside influences. That’s why you might see the trend line go up and down.

The aggregate FCP is the point when 75% of visits to that URL get FCP

Fixing issues and validating fixes

The Speed report allows you to monitor your site for speed-related issues. It helps you find problems and prioritize their resolution. Once you or your developer have run through all the suggestions and improvements you can validate the fix. Google will then monitor the pages for 28 days to see if the issue is fixed for these URLs. 

Site speed resources

This post is not about telling you how to fix your site speed issues, but rather guiding you through the new Speed report that might give you the insights you need. To get practical, you can start here:

Last but not least, an incredible source of information: Jono’s slide deck on site speed from a talk at SMXL Milan.

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