Google has loads of interesting free tools, but two important ones for helping you improve your site are Search Console and the Rich Results Testing Tool. Search Console helps you get a general feel for how your site is doing in the SERPs, plus to keep an eye on any errors to fix and improvements to make. The other one, the Rich Results Testing Tool, helps you see which of your pages are eligible for rich results. Rich results are those highlighted search results like FAQ listings and event listings.
What can you do with this tool?
Rich results are incredibly important in today’s world. Once you add structured data to your site, you get a chance of a highlighted listing in the SERPs. This gives you an edge over your competitor as these tend to get more clicks. For many sites and types of content, it can make sense to target rich results.
Here, we’d rather take a look at how to verify your eligibility and what you can do to improve on that. Google’s Rich Results Testing Tool helps you check your pages to see if they have valid structured data applied to it and if they might be eligible for rich results. Not only that, but you’ll also find which rich results the page is eligible for and get a preview of how these would look for your content.
How to use it the Rich Results Testing Tool?
Using the Rich Results Testing Tool is very easy. There are two ways to get your insights: enter the URL of the page you want to test or enter the piece of code you want to test. The second option can be a piece of structured data or the full source code of a page, whichever you prefer.
While testing, you can also choose between a smartphone and a desktop crawler. Google defaults to the smartphone crawler, since we’re living in a mobile-first indexing world, people! Of course, you can switch to desktop if needed.
There is a difference, of course. It is a good idea to use the URL option if your page is already online. You’ll see if the page is eligible for rich results, view a preview of these rich results, and check out the rendered HTML of the page. But there’s nothing you can ‘do’ in the code. The code option does let you do that.
Working with structured data code
If you paste a piece of JSON structured data into the code field and run the test, you get the same results as the URL option. However, you can now also use the code input field to edit your code to fix errors or improve the structured data by fixing warnings.
If it’s minified, unminify it for better readability
Paste the code in the code field of the Rich Results Testing Tool
Run the test
You’ll get a view similar to the one below.
Editing an event page
The page you see above is an event page and you’ll notice a warning in orange. Now, remember: red is an error and orange a warning. An error you have to fix to be valid, but a warning is a possible improvement to make. Because this concerns a free event, the page misses an offers property. I could, however, add one to make the warning disappear and round out this structured data listing.
Take a look at Google’s documentation about events and find out how they’d like the offers to appear in the code. To keep it simple, you could copy the example code and adapt this to your needs. Find out a good place for it in your structured data on the left-hand side of your Rich Results Testing Tool screen and paste the code.
Run the test again and it should all turn green. If not, you might have to check if you’ve correctly applied and closed your code.
Once you’ve validated your code and you know it’s working, you can apply it on your own pages. Keep in mind, I’ve described a very simple way of validating your code and there are other ways to scale this into production. But that’s not the goal of this article. Here, I’d like to offer you a quick insight into structured data and what you can do with the Rich Results Testing Tool.
See a preview of your rich results
One of the coolest things in the Rich Results Testing Tool is the preview option. This gives you an idea of how that particular page or article will appear on Google. There’s a number of rich results that you can test, like breadcrumbs, FAQs, job postings, recipes, and many more.
For some, like the how-to, Google even shows multiple previews. There are two different mobile how-to rich results, plus a preview of how that how-to would look on a screen-based Google Assistant. Cool right?
These previews aren’t just to show off — you can use the previews to improve the look of the rich results. In the case of the how-to, maybe the images look weird or some steps are unclear or maybe the title is not very attractive. Use these insights to your advantage and try to get people to click your listings!
Introducing the Rich Results Testing Tool
This was a short overview of what you can see and do in the Rich Results Testing Tool. Don’t forget, if everything is green in the Rich Results Testing Tool and there are no errors to be found, your content is eligible for rich results. This does not — I repeat —, this does not guarantee Google will show rich results for this page. You’ll just have to wait and see.
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.
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.
How do you improve your chance at getting featured snippets?
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:
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
Google’s recent run of enhancement reports in Search Console gives you lots of insights into how your site is performing in search. Sometimes, though, it gives you stuff to think about, like errors or improvements to make. For instance, if you run an online store, you’re bound to have come across this structured data error: “Either ‘offers’, ‘review’ or ‘aggregateRating’ should be specified.” There’s a very easy solution for this if you run WooCommerce and Yoast SEO: our WooCommerce SEO add-on.
The “Either ‘offers’, ‘review’ or ‘aggregateRating’ should be specified” error in Google Search Console
The “Either ‘offers’, ‘review’ or ‘aggregateRating’ should be specified” happens for a lot of online stores. It means that Google misses several properties in your product schema implementation. By not offering these, your product listings will not reach their full potential in search. This way, Google has a hard time tying all the product-specific properties together to paint a full picture of your product. In some cases, though, they manage, but why let them figure it out? Fixing this becomes imperative if you want a better chance of standing out.
Who doesn’t want a product listing like the one pictured below?
Oftentimes, however, invalid or incomplete structured data might cripple your perfomance in search. Errors are all too common, like the one in the screenshot from Search Console below.
Help is at hand: Yoast SEO & WooCommerce SEO
WooCommerce is huge in the WordPress world. According to W3Techs, 15% of all WordPress sites run an online shop on the WooCommerce platform. That’s amazing. We have a plugin that helps customers improve their online store: WooCommerce SEO. This addon ties neatly into Yoast SEO, including the big schema graph we build for every site. It also greatly improves the product schema output by WooCommerce.
If your site runs on WooCommerce and Yoast SEO you need WooCommerce SEO. Besides all the cool behind-the-scenes improvements, it fixes that dreaded “Either ‘offers’, ‘review’ or ‘aggregateRating’ should be specified” error for you: automatically! It gives Google everything it needs to figure out your products are products and thus increases your chances of getting those important rich results.
Why you should fix this error
Google is increasingly betting on schema structured data to help understand the world. If your site offers search engines enough context about what’s on it, the rewards could be great: rich results. And for some types, visibility on other devices like smart speakers or visual assistants.
Getting your product schema right, means you can get these types of results. The one earlier in this article is from Reverb and shows a nicely formed product rich results, with breadcrumbs, product information, ratings and reviews, pricing details and an in-stock message. This is all powered by product schema.
Reporting on the performance of products
To help you track how your products are doing, Google recently added a Product enhancement report to Search Console. This report lets you know if your products are correctly structured and, therefore, eligible for rich results. This week, Google also announced that it will allow you to see the performance of your product in the search results. You can now find a new Product line in the Search Appearance section of the Search Performance section.
This report shows exactly how well your products are doing: how many impressions did they have and how many clicks? This is invaluable data to improve your product listings.
Fix the error and check your listings
Seeing the product schema error in Search Console? Using Yoast SEO and WooCommerce? Well, you’re in luck. The WooCommerce SEO add-on is the glue that ties the product schema structured data between those two platforms together. It fixes that dreaded error and gives you a better chance at getting your products noticed in Google!
You might know that structured data in the form of Schema.org can do wonders for your search results. It also forms the basis for an ever-increasing amount of new and exciting developments on the search engine front. Google has said many times that structured data is beneficial. Today, we’re going to look at a relatively new and exciting piece of structured data: the HowTo Schema. This is a how-to about a how-to on HowTo: HowToCeption!
Did you know Yoast SEO now comes with structured data content blocks for the WordPress block editor? You can automatically add HowTo and FAQ structured data to your content! »
What is structured data?
Structured data is a sort of translator for search engines — it adds context to code. Schema.org is a so-called vocabulary, in other words, a dictionary. By adding Schema.org search engines can instantly figure out what every piece of content means, semantically speaking. This gives search engines the power to do cool stuff with your content, like highlighted snippets in search results, the Knowledge Graph or the carousel. There’s structured data for books, articles, courses, events, jobs, local businesses, music, recipes, products, reviews et cetera. Structured data is getting more important by the day and we’ll see more types emerge in the coming years.
If you want to learn more about structured data and find out how to implement it yourself so you can win those coveted rich results, you can enroll in our Structured data training!
What is HowTo structured data?
According to Schema.org, a HowTo is “an instruction that explains how to achieve a result by performing a sequence of steps.” You can use HowTo structured data to mark up articles that come in a how-to form, but that are not recipes. If there is an element of consumption, it should be a recipe.
HowTo Schema.org was introduced in April 2017 and has now made its way to Google’s search engine. Google is always looking at structured data to do cool stuff with, so it’s easy to see why HowTo is an awesome addition to the roster. How about this, since your Google Home can now read your structured data powered recipes out loud, why shouldn’t it be able to read that how-to on how to fix a leaky faucet or change the busted lights in your kitchen cabinet? Google already has an action that works with smart displays. Google has confirmed that it supports new forms of search results snippets, like FAQs or frequently asked questions, Q&As and How-Tos.
That’s cool and all, but isn’t there a lot of code involved in building a how-to page with valid structured data? Yes, but Yoast SEO has an answer to that. Read on, my friend!
How to add HowTo structured data using the WordPress content block in Yoast SEO
Looking for an easy way to add it HowTo structured data to your WordPress site? Well, you’re in luck as we have one! In Yoast SEO, we’ve introduced the concept of structured data content blocks for WordPress’ new block editor. These blocks, including one for HowTo and FAQ structured data, automatically add the necessary code to the pieces of content that you add to this block. Of course, it validates perfectly in Google’s Structured Data Testing tool. Now adding structured data to your how-to article is as easy as filling in the fields!
Here’s how to add a how-to to your site:
Open a post in the block editor or add a new one
The HowTo content block only works in the WordPress block editor.
Hit the + button and pick the Yoast SEO HowTo content block
You can add your how-to anywhere you want.
The HowTo content block appears on your screen
In the block, you’ll find a way to add a total time it takes to do this how-to (optional), a description field, a first step and a step description. You can also add an image per step, delete it and move it up and down the list.
Add the first step
Give it a relevant, descriptive title and fill in more details for the step, if necessary. Determine if you can make the how-to step made more understandable by adding a relevant image. Sometimes, it might be better to add an image to every step.
Add a second step, a third step and a fourth step
Add as many steps as you need to get this how-to task done. Need to switch steps around? Use the little up and down arrows next to the Add image button. To delete one, simply hit the trashcan button.
And the structured data? It’s added automatically!
Really? Yup! You can test it in the Structured Data Testing Tool.
Ready? Check and publish!
Once you are done, re-read the how-to and publish when ready. Check it to see if everything is in order and easy to understand for your user. If not, make improvements.
Test the how-to in Google’s Rich Results Testing Tool
You can use Google’s Rich Results Testing Tool to see how your how-to might look in the search results. Here’s an example for our article on How to build an FAQ page.
Testing in the Structured Data Testing Tool
Here you see the result in Google’s Structured Data Testing Tool. Of course, this screenshot is truncated, as the HowTo part of the structured data is fully integrated in the graph Yoast SEO renders. This makes for a beautifully interconnected piece of code, but also very long:
Adding structured data to your site with WordPress or Google Tag Manager
In general, adding structured data requires you to edit the code of your pages. For most people, that requires help of their developers. As you see, there is an easier way. Yoast SEO adds a lot of structured data by itself, but you can also add structured data via the dedicated Yoast SEO structured data content blocks for the block editor.
In addition, or if you don’t use WordPress, you can add structured data via the tags, triggers and variables available in Google Tag manager. What’s more, this way of adding your data gives you an extra amount of flexibility as you can save your variables and reuse them or even dynamically fill them. There are loads of options to explore. Annelieke wrote a post on how to add structured data to your site with Google Tag Manager.
It’s easy to build a how-to with valid structured data
This was cool, right? Well, you can use this for yourself, but keep in mind that it might take a while for search engines to pick this up. Even then, it’s hard to predict if search engines will do anything at all with your structured data. Using the various testing tools give you a good idea of validity of your structured data, but if it leads rich results is up to search engines!
Did you notice Google is offering fewer options for your search results to shine? It seems like Google regularly adds a new box to the search result pages that answers searchers’ questions immediately, without them having to click on anything. For instance, type in [Blade Runner 2049] and you’ll be bombarded by four ads, a full knowledge graph panel, showtimes for the movie, top stories and Twitter feeds until you finally reach the first organic result. Google’s push to rich results not only brings challenges but also opportunities: answer boxes can make you an instant star in the search results. Find out how to get a Google answer box.
Update: Since the 11.0 release, Yoast SEO builds a full structured data graph for every post or page on your site! A graph is a complete piece of structured data with well-defined connections to all the different parts. Search engines now not only know what all the parts mean but also how they fit together. Want to know what it does for your website? Read all about Yoast SEO 11.0!
What are answer boxes?
A Google answer box (or featured snippet) is a highlighted search box that answers the question you type in the Google search bar. Since this answer box is situated above the regular organic search results, everybody is bound to notice this. So, you can imagine the effect that might have. Having your content as an answer box not only brings in a lot of traffic, but it also proves your authority on the subject – Google picked you, right?
Answer boxes often appear as a paragraph or a bulleted list, accompanied by an image. The image does not necessarily have to come from the article itself. Google seems to pick it, sometimes even from the site of a competitor, although that doesn’t happen that much anymore.
Take the search result [improve mobile site] or [how to improve mobile site]; both yield answer boxes with eight tips to improve your mobile site. I wrote and structured that article with Google’s answer box in mind and it paid off. By structuring the information in an easy to understand way and by giving great suggestions, Google put two and two together and found this post to provide the best answer to the question above. You can do this too.
Featured snippets let you jump to the top of the charts
Now to understand the value of answer boxes, it’s important to see how they live within the search results page. The search results page consists of several parts, among others, the organic search results, ads, and one or more dynamic search blocks. Google is increasingly trying to keep as many clicks as they can to themselves or send them to ad partners. Ads and inline search results like answer boxes, featured snippets, knowledge graph items, et cetera increasingly obfuscate organic search results. For certain searches and industries, that leaves a lot less room to shine with your organic results.
Take that Blade Runner 2049 example I mentioned in the intro. Check the screenshot below (click to enlarge), and you’ll see what I mean. Yes, this is an extreme example, but it does prove my point. Luckily, we can try to get answer boxes to bring us an additional stream of traffic. Not to mention that answering questions is an excellent way to get your content ready for voice search.
How to write content for Google answer boxes
There are several ways to try and aim for answer boxes. In the list below, I’ve listed some things you need to keep in mind when writing for Google answer boxes:
Make your content super helpful and easy to understand
Keep your answers short and snappy, at a maximum of 50 words
Make the article easy for Google to digest, so use lists, subheadings, etc.
Mark up your article with structured data (although you don’t always need it)
Watch out that your content doesn’t become/feel unnatural
Not every search will yield an answer box (there are even regional variations)
To top it off, find a way to get people to click on the answer box. You don’t want people to read the answer box and move on. In the end, you want them on your site. Don’t give away all the answers immediately, but try to trigger people to come to your site so they can get the full picture.
Answer boxes and structured data
There’s a common misconception that you must always markup your articles with structured data if you want to get answer boxes. That’s not true. The article I mentioned above doesn’t have structured data attached to it, and it still got an answer box. In some cases, however, it is very helpful to add structured data to your content. Case in point: recipes.
If you have content like recipes, or any type of the content types listed by Google, adding the correct structured data will improve your chances of getting an answer box. It’s like telling Google what your page is about by shouting it in a megaphone. Now, Google instantly understands content that has been enhanced with structured data and will use it to show it in all kinds of cool search features. If you want to learn how to apply structured data to your site so you can be rewarded the highly valued rich snippets, you should try our Structured data training.
The old ‘Google determines everything’ adagio
As always, Google and only Google will pick the answers it shows in its search results if it shows them at all. In the end, there’s no magic formula for answer boxes. Google says the science behind it is very much in flux. Even the way Google finds and presents answer boxes is continually changing. For instance, Google is almost certainly looking at engagement and CTR when determining which answer to award an answer box. But there are also instances where Google picks an answer from a site on the second page of the results, or even further down the list. In the end, it always boils down to the simple question: “Does my answer deliver?”
Yes, you can do it too!
Aiming for Google answer boxes can be good fun. It’s hard to predict whether it will work, but once you get one, it’s a blast. You can easily incorporate this when you are writing new content for answer boxes, but updating old posts is worth a shot too. If you have particular pieces of content, like recipes, for instance, structuring your content for answer boxes is almost a must. And while you’re at it, please add structured data for this type of content as it is very important as well. Now, get to it!
An SEO Basics post about technical SEO might seem like a contradiction in terms. Nevertheless, some basic knowledge about the more technical side of SEO can mean the difference between a high ranking site and a site that doesn’t rank at all. Technical SEO isn’t easy, but here we’ll explain – in layman’s language – which aspects you should (ask your developer to) pay attention to when working on the technical foundation of your website.
What is technical SEO?
Technical SEO refers to improving the technical aspects of a website in order to increase the ranking of its pages in the search engines. Making a website faster, easier to crawl and understandable for search engines are the pillars of technical optimization. Technical SEO is part of on-page SEO, which focuses on improving elements on your website to get higher rankings. It’s the opposite of off-page SEO, which is about generating exposure for a website through other channels.
Why should you optimize your site technically?
Google and other search engines want to present their users with the best possible results for their query. Therefore, Google’s robots crawl and evaluate web pages on a multitude of factors. Some factors are based on the user’s experience, like how fast a page loads. Other factors help search engine robots grasp what your pages are about. This is what, amongst others, structured data does. So, by improving technical aspects you help search engines crawl and understand your site. If you do this well, you might be rewarded with higher rankings or even rich results.
It also works the other way around: if you make serious technical mistakes on your site, they can cost you. You wouldn’t be the first to block search engines entirely from crawling your site by accidentally adding a trailing slash in the wrong place in your robots.txt file.
But it’s a misconception you should focus on technical details of a website just to please search engines. A website should work well – be fast, clear and easy to use – for your users in the first place. Fortunately, creating a strong technical foundation often coincides with a better experience for both users and search engines.
What are the characteristics of a technically optimized website?
A technically sound website is fast for users and easy to crawl for search engine robots. A proper technical setup helps search engines to understand what a site is about and it prevents confusion caused by, for instance, duplicate content. Moreover, it doesn’t send visitors, nor search engines, into dead-end streets by non-working links. Here, we’ll shortly go into some important characteristics of a technically optimized website.
1. It’s fast
Nowadays, web pages need to load fast. People are impatient and don’t want to wait for a page to open. In 2016 already, research showed that 53% of mobile website visitors will leave if a webpage doesn’t open within three seconds. So if your website is slow, people get frustrated and move on to another website, and you’ll miss out on all that traffic.
Google knows slow web pages offer a less than optimal experience. Therefore they prefer web pages that load faster. So, a slow web page also ends up further down the search results than its faster equivalent, resulting in even less traffic.
Search engines use robots to crawl or spider your website. The robots follow links to discover content on your site. A great internal linking structure will make sure that they’ll understand what the most important content on your site is.
But there are more ways to guide robots. You can, for instance, block them from crawling certain content if you don’t want them to go there. You can also let them crawl a page, but tell them not to show this page in the search results or not to follow the links on that page.
You can give robots directions on your site by using the robots.txt file. It’s a powerful tool, which should be handled carefully. As we mentioned in the beginning, a small mistake might prevent robots from crawling (important parts of) your site. Sometimes, people unintentionally block their site’s CSS and JS files in the robot.txt file. These files contain code that tells browsers what your site should look like and how it works. If those files are blocked, search engines can’t find out if your site works properly.
All in all, we recommend to really dive into robots.txt if you want to learn how it works. Or, perhaps even better, let a developer handle it for you!
The meta robots tag
The robots meta tag is a piece of code that you won’t see on the page as a visitor. It’s in the source code in the so-called head section of a page. Robots read this section when finding a page. In it, they’ll find information about what they’ll find on the page or what they need to do with it.
If you want search engine robots to crawl a page, but to keep it out of the search results for some reason, you can tell them with the robots meta tag. With the robots meta tag, you can also instruct them to crawl a page, but not to follow the links on the page. With Yoast SEO it’s easy to noindex or nofollow a post or page. Learn for which pages you’d want to do that.
We’ve discussed that slow websites are frustrating. What might be even more annoying for visitors than a slow page, is landing on a page that doesn’t exist at all. If a link leads to a non-existing page on your site, people will encounter a 404 error page. There goes your carefully crafted user experience!
What’s more, search engines don’t like to find these error pages either. And, they tend to find even more dead links than visitors encounter because they follow every link they bump into, even if it’s hidden.
Unfortunately, most sites have (at least) some dead links, because a website is a continuous work in progress: people make things and break things. Fortunately, there are tools that can help you retrieve dead links on your site. Read about those tools and how to solve 404 errors.
To prevent unnecessary dead links, you should always redirect the URL of a page when you delete it or move it. Ideally, you’d redirect it to a page that replaces the old page. With Yoast SEO Premium, you can easily make redirects yourself. No need for a developer!
4. It doesn’t confuse search engines with duplicate content
If you have the same content on multiple pages of your site – or even on other sites – search engines might get confused. Because, if these pages show the same content, which one should they rank highest? As a result, they might rank all pages with the same content lower.
Unfortunately, you might have a duplicate content issue without even knowing it. Because of technical reasons, different URLs can show the same content. For a visitor, this doesn’t make any difference, but for a search engine it does; it’ll see the same content on a different URL.
Luckily, there’s a technical solution to this issue. With the so-called, canonical link element you can indicate what the original page – or the page you’d like to rank in the search engines – is. In Yoast SEO you can easily set a canonical URL for a page. And, to make it easy for you, Yoast SEO adds self-referencing canonical links to all your pages. This will help prevent duplicate content issues that you’d might not even be aware of.
HTTPS makes sure that no-one can intercept the data that’s sent over between the browser and the site. So, for instance, if people log in to your site, their credentials are safe. You’ll need a so-called SSL certificate to implement HTTPS on your site. Google acknowledges the importance of security and therefore made HTTPS a ranking signal: secure websites rank higher than unsafe equivalents.
You can easily check if your website is HTTPS in most browsers. On the left hand side of the search bar of your browser, you’ll see a lock if it’s safe. If you see the words “not secure” you (or your developer) have some work to do!
Structured data helps search engines understand your website, content or even your business better. With structured data you can tell search engines, what kind of product you sell or which recipes you have on your site. Plus, it will give you the opportunity to provide all kinds of details about those products or recipes.
Because there’s a fixed format (described on Schema.org) in which you should provide this information, search engines can easily find and understand it. It helps them to place your content in a bigger picture. Here, you can read a story about how it works and how Yoast SEO helps you with that.
Implementing structured data can bring you more than just a better understanding by search engines. It also makes your content eligible for rich results; those shiny results with stars or details that stand out in the search results.
7. Plus: It has an XML sitemap
Simply put, an XML sitemap is a list of all pages of your site. It serves as a roadmap for search engines on your site. With it, you’ll make sure search engines won’t miss any important content on your site. The XML sitemap is often categorized in posts, pages, tags or other custom post types and includes the number of images and the last modified date for every page.
Ideally, a website doesn’t need an XML sitemap. If it has an internal linking structure which connects all content nicely, robots won’t need it. However, not all sites have a great structure, and having an XML sitemap won’t do any harm. So we’d always advise having an XML site map on your site.
8. Plus: International websites use hreflang
If your site targets more than one country or countries where the same language is spoken, search engines need a little help to understand which countries or language you’re trying to reach. If you help them, they can show people the right website for their area in the search results.
Hreflang tags help you do just that. You can define for a page which country and language it is meant for. This also solves a possible duplicate content problem: even if your US and UK site show the same content, Google will know it’s written for a different region.
Optimizing international websites is quite a specialism. If you’d like to learn how to make your international sites rank, we’d advise taking a look at our Multilingual SEO training.
Want to learn more about this?
So this is technical SEO in a nutshell. It’s quite a lot already, while we’ve only scratched the surface here. There’s so much more to tell about the technical side of SEO! If you want to take a deep-dive into technical SEO, we’d advise our Technical SEO training or Structured data training. With these courses, you’ll learn how to create a solid technical foundation for your own website.
Once upon a time, a little robot came to a site to figure out what it was about. The robot read some words and followed some links and said: “Well, there are a lot of mentions of this particular word, so this page must be about that!” She sent out orders to the mothership to file the page in a giant register so the page could be retrieved for this particular term. The robot worked long hours to get all the pages she could find in that register.
After a couple of years, the robot was very experienced and smart. Her programmers trained her to read better so she could figure out what a piece of text was about. She could even distinguish in what cases it would make the most sense to show it. She even started to use context to judge a piece of text instead of just finding mentions of that particular term.
But, smart as the robot was, her makers needed outside help to get her to fully understand the world. The robot did not have the capacity to grasp all the knowledge and she needed help connecting what she knew.
Luckily, some smart humans built something incredible called SCHEMA: a giant thesaurus for robots just like our little hero.
In it, she found everything she needed. It told her what she could look for to determine a particular page was about a product, an event or a person. She learned about movies, books, authors. About recipes, ingredients and cooking instructions. She found out how people relate to each other, to past events and to abstract concepts that were always a mystery to her. Everything she read was instantly clear to her — she was so happy!
Websites using this SCHEMA thesaurus well, helped robots like her to make sense of the world. She finally knew everything. In return, she could reward those sites with spectacular shiny stuff in the search results. But she could only reward those sites that implemented it well and that was a problem.
She soon found out that there was much to be desired. Many sites offered only small pieces of magical SCHEMA and none of it was interconnected to sources that could help her do her job better. She tried asking for help — pleading for site owners to improve their use of SCHEMA, but to no avail. Until, years later, a massively popular plugin for the biggest content management system in the solar system offered to help the little robot.
Nervously, she looked at the internals of the SCHEMA implementation of the plugin codenamed Yoast SEO 11.0. “Wow, this is just what I need!”, she said. “I’ve never seen this before. This is SCHEMA that I can read and understand. It is complete, it shows me where pages reside and how people and organizations connect. Most importantly, it is interconnected! No longer do I have to guess where everything goes. It’s all in a graph — a neat little package —, ready for me to gobble up!”
Schema-powered structured data is one of the hardest, most abstract pieces of web technologies to describe, while also being one of the most important ones. I hope the story above has made the concept a lot clearer for you. Now that you’ve formed a mental image of what we’re talking about here, let me show you what adding structured data to your site can lead to.
A better understanding of your site
We always say you should do everything in your power to help both search engines and searchers to find out what your site is about. Using structured data gives you superpowers in the eyes of the search engine. Since you are labeling the most important parts of your content or site elements and connecting them to other parts, you are making sure that search engines truly understand your site. No longer do they have to guess about what everything means — you can just tell them.
Getting stuff into Google’s Knowledge graph gets a lot easier once you add relevant Schema to your site. Not only that, other platforms like Pinterest love this kind of data as well.
Another reason for implementing structured data is the spectacular shiny stuff our robot heroine promised: rich results. Rich results are enhanced search results and they come in many forms, from star ratings to fully enhanced recipe snippets. Many are powered by structured data, but sometimes, you get them without doing anything — besides having an awesome site, of course.
Here is an example of a structured data powered rich result:
With the new structured data implementation in Yoast SEO 11.0, you get a firm foundation to build on. While you’ll have a bigger chance of getting rich results by using Yoast SEO, there’s no guarantee that you’ll get them — in the end, the search engines decide who gets what.
Here’s a selection of what we do at the moment. You can find a complete overview of all Google’s current rich results in the Search Gallery:
Logo and social profiles in the Knowledge graph
If you have an Organization, you can get its logo to show up in the Knowledge panel. The same goes for social profiles. Simply add these in the settings of Yoast SEO and they’ll eventually show up.
If you have a site representing a person, you can add the necessary social accounts. Your image will be grabbed from Gravatar. You can set this in Yoast SEO. Not every person will get a Knowledge graph panel — there’s more at play here. Google combines this input with other sources to build a panel. Once you have one, you can claim it and suggest edits.
Search engines might do cool stuff with articles marked up with structured data. For news publishers, this is important because this might also mean a top spot in the news carousel. For this, you need NewsArticle Schema in your articles and our News SEO plugin provides this for you. Yoast SEO itself, automatically adds regular Article structured data to your articles, including information about the author and how the page connects to the main entity of the site.
Our Local SEO plugin takes care of everything you need to get your local business correctly visible in the search engines. You can add opening hours, geographical information, contact information, business locations — including multiple locations under one name, et cetera.
A breadcrumb is a navigational tool that helps searchers and search engines figure out where they are on your site. If you activate this in Yoast SEO, you might get something like this in the search results:
Our WooCommerce plugin adds a cool possibility for getting rich results for products. If you combine this with other structured data, you can get really expansive rich results in search results with ratings and everything. You can also be featured in image search and different product carousels. In addition, Pinterest will pick up the main product on your page more easily.
Structured data is hot
This article, including the adventures of our little robot, aims to show you a small sampling of structured data powered search results. Working with structured data was always hard, but we’re fixing that — and you don’t have to do much for it!
Yoast SEO 11.0 has a completely rebuilt structured data framework that adds more sensible, and more importantly, interconnected structured data to your site. Search engines can pick this up and do interesting things with. We’re not done yet, because we have a lot more cool stuff coming up!
You’ve probably heard us talk a lot about structured data, Schema.org and JSON-LD. Schema structured data on your site can result in highlighted search results. In this article, we’ll show you how to implement structured data using the JSON-LD Schema.org markup on the pages of your site. Here, we’ll take a closer look at how to implement structured data with Google Tag Manager.
Google Tag Manager is a tool that can take your marketing to the next level without the need of a developer. It’s a tool that can easily add scripts or pieces of code to a page. There are several advantages to using Tag Manager to implement structured data.
For one, you can generate tags, triggers, and variables, which means that you can apply the same code again and again on different pages. For instance, if you have loads of recipes, you can create a tag with the variable “preparation time”, so the preparation time of every recipe will be taken from a recipe page. This means you won’t have to add the preparation time manually to the code of every single page. In the end, this will save you a lot of work.
In addition, Tag Manager features a preview mode, which allows you to check whether you successfully implemented your data immediately. Read the post Google Tag Manager: An Introduction to get started.
How Google Tag Manager works
First, you need to know about three important elements: Variables, Triggers and Tags. You can find these elements on the left-hand side of your workspace. A workspace is a place where you work on creating and adding pieces of code to your pages.
A tag is a piece of code that can be fired on a page of your website. You can put many things in a tag. For instance, you can add the Google Analytics tracking code in a tag. This tag will enable Google Analytics to track your website. Similarly, you can put your structured data code in a tag. In other words: a tag contains information as to what you want to add to a page.
Tags only work when there’s a trigger attached. You need a way of telling Google Tag Manager under which condition a tag must be used, or fired, as we call it. If you have a structured data tag, the trigger tells Tag Manager on which pages to fire that tag. This is because it’s possible that not all your pages need a recipe structured data markup, for instance. Simply put, a trigger tells Tag Manager: “Please fire this tag on these pages, but not on these pages”.
Variables serve two functions. Firstly, triggers need variables to know whether or not to fire. Suppose Tag Manager runs on your page. If the value of the variable meets the conditions you set, the trigger will fire. This, in turn, allows the tag to work. Secondly, the variable provides Google Tag Manager with variable information. This means that the information can be different in different contexts. A Date Published, for example, will be different for every eBook you publish. If the trigger fires, Google Tag Manager will then fetch the specific value from the specific page it visits.
An example of a variable is the URL of a page, but you can use any element of a page as a variable. It could be an ‘Add to cart’ button, or the H1 of a page, for example. The most commonly used variables are predefined in Google Tag Manager. But things like buttons or the H1 are variables you have to define yourself. With variables, you can edit your code in such a way that it will take elements from the current page to use in a tag.
Adding JSON-LD to your site step by step
We’re going to guide you through implementing structured data on your pages. We’ll take the Schema.org type Course as an example. As stated, we’ll use JSON-LD markup. There are five steps to take:
"name": "Site structure training",
"description": "Learn how to create site structure for your site that makes Google understand your site and makes visitors go where they need to be",
After you’ve created your markup, you have to get it ready for Google Tag Manager with Yoast’s JSON-LD Script Helper tool. Paste your code and hit Submit. The tool will create a piece of code you can use in Google Tag Manager. Copy it. You’ll need it for your new tag.
Step 2: Creating tags in Tag Manager
You’re ready to make your tags and triggers. Follow the steps below:
Make a new tag and give it a name (Site structure training, for instance)
Click Tag Configuration and choose tag type: Custom HTML
Paste code from the script helper tool
Check Support document.write
Step 3: Creating triggers
You need to add a trigger, so it knows when to fire the tag. You can do this on the same screen you see in the screenshot above, or directly from the Triggers screen in the Workspace. Click on the Triggering space in your new tag and choose the correct Page View. Hit Save. Your snippet is now implemented as is (see below for working with variables).
If there are no triggers yet, you can add them on the same screen. If you want a trigger to a specific page, you can copy the relevant piece of the URL and add it to a new trigger. So if you only want to trigger a tag on this page: https://yoast.com/academy/course/site-structure-training/, you need to copy the part /academy/course/site-structure-training/.
Hit the New or + button to add a new trigger. Give it a name and click on Trigger Configuration. Choose Page View from the list of trigger types and click on Some Page Views. You can now choose when the tag should trigger and which conditions should be met before it’s possible. In our case, we want to trigger the tag on https://yoast.com/academy/course/site-structure-training/. That’s why we’ll choose Page Path and Equals from the dropdown, and paste the URL into the empty box.
Step 4: Creating variables
Variables make it much easier to implement the same structured data on many different sites. The variables can be found on the left-hand side of the workspace as well. You’ll see all predefined variables. There’s also an option for user-defined variables. To create a variable, click on New. After that, take the following steps:
Name the variable
Click on Variable Configuration
Choose Variable type
In this example: DOM Element
The fourth step depends on the type of tag or trigger you want to create. In this example, we’ll use a DOM Element. A DOM Element is a piece of your page, like a DIV, HTML and BODY. In this example, the DOM Element is the H1, which is the most important heading of the page.
Once you’ve clicked on the DOM Element, you need to choose which method you want to use to select a page element with. In this case, we’ll use a CSS Selector. By simply entering h1 into the Element Selector, you’ve created a variable that takes the H1 of a page.
If you want to use the meta description of a page, enter meta[name=”description”] and that variable will add the meta description of your pages.
Once you’ve created these variables, you can use them in your tags.
As you can see, you can use the H1 variable for the “name” and Meta description variable for the “description”. Now, the Course Schema.org markup sends the right name and description to Google.
Variables make this method of implementing structured data flexible and scalable. This way, you produce code that can be used in many places, without having to add it manually or change it for every instance. You only have to set up the tags once.
You’re ready to test your code. Tag Manager has a Preview mode that lets you test code before you publish it on a live site. Go to your Workspace to activate that mode.
In your browser, go to the page you’re implementing structured data on and refresh. You’ll see the Preview tab appear and this should show you the tags that fired. If you want to know more, you can go to the Window Loaded screen to see if your variables were executed properly. If all is well, your H1 variable should now show the same value that’s visible on the site (the title). Always test your code before publishing!
If all the information displayed on this screen is correct, you can publish your tag. If there are still some flaws, go through the steps again.
To publish your tag, hit the Submit button you see at the top right. Give your version a descriptive name and press Publish. Once you’ve published your structured data tag, go to the Structured Data Testing Tool and enter the URL of the page that should now contain structured data. With this tool you can check if the structured data is implemented correctly:
See no errors and warnings? Well done! If you do see errors, dive in more deeply and read what Google has to say about it.
If you want your search results to stand out from your competition’s, you’ll need rich snippets. You’ll want to pimp your results with 5 star reviews, stock information or location, for example. To get a rich snippet, you have to learn to implement structured data. Our latest SEO course will teach you exactly how to do just that! If you buy the online structured data course now, you’ll receive a major discount. You’ll only pay $119 instead of $149.
The structured data course is a very practical course. We’ll first teach you some theory about SEO and why structured data is important, but then we’ll quickly dive into the practical implementation. If you buy our course, you’ll receive lots of screencasts and step-by-step examples on how to implement structured data on your own site. We’ll teach you the fancy (but hard way) to do it, but also the less elegant, quick-and-easy way. Everyone – you don’t have to be a developer! – will be able to get going with structured data after they’ve completed this course.
Watch the first video of the structured data training if you really want to know what this course has to offer:
What does the Structured data training contain?
The Structured data training consists of three modules. In the first module, we explain what structured data is and why it’s important. The second module is by far the largest and most important module. In this module, we explain exactly how to implement structured data on your site. The third module teaches you how to evaluate structured data and provides you with some useful tips.
The online course contains 6 training videos, lots of reading material and challenging questions after every lesson. The questions will test whether you really understood the material. We estimate that you’ll spend 8 hours (on average) on our course. You’ll really need to dive into the subject to fully understand this SEO topic. At the end of the course, you’ll receive a certificate and a badge to put on your site!
Maybe you’ve heard about the concept of rich snippets. SEO experts seem to think everyone knows exactly what rich snippets are. But, for SEO newbies, a rich snippet is a really vague term. What are rich snippets exactly? Time to explain what rich snippets are, why they’re important for SEO and how you can get them for your site.
What are rich snippets?
A snippet is a result Google shows to the user in the search results. An example: I was searching for a good recipe for homemade ice cream and googled it. Google showed me a results list with normal snippets and rich snippets. A normal snippet usually looks like this:
Google shows the title in blue, the URL in green and a description of what the page is about. This is what we call the snippet, the thing Yoast SEO helps you to optimize with our snippet preview.
A rich snippet shows extra information between the URL and the description. A rich snippet looks like this:
In this snippet, a picture of the ice cream is added, you can see the rating of the recipe, the time it takes to prepare this type of ice cream and the number of calories it contains. A rich snippet contains much more information than the normal snippet does. That’s why we call it a rich snippet.
Why are rich snippets important for SEO?
Rich snippets stand out from the other snippets. They look much nicer and you’ll instantly know more, just by looking at them. You’ll know whether other people liked the homemade ice cream and how long it’ll take you to make it. Rich snippets are snippets that have a higher click-through rate. People like to click on rich snippets.
If the click-through rate of a snippet increases, you’ll get more traffic from that search result. Not because your position in the search engine changed, but just because more people click on your result. In the long run, rich snippets will have an effect on your ranking as well. As more people click on your result, Google will notice that people prefer your page above other ones. That’ll definitely improve your rankings in the long run!
How do you get rich snippets?
Google can show rich snippets if you add structured data to your site. Structured data is a piece of code in a specific format, written in such a way that search engines understand it. Search engines read the code and use it to create rich snippets.