Whether through an innocent mistake or malicious intent, Google is still cracking down heavily on webmasters whose schema markup violates their strict Structured Data Guidelines and Webmaster Guidelines.
Schema (or Structured Data Markup) provides webmasters with a way to help search engines better understand the content of a webpage. When correctly implemented, the markup can sometimes help a webpage appear more attractive within Google Search Results, e.g. by adding features such as star ratings or imagery within the search results, making them more likely to be clicked on by users.
However, what happens when you get hit with a manual penalty by Google because you have marked up your webpages incorrectly?
How Google deals with spammy schema
Non-compliant schema is constantly on Google’s radar. Unsurprisingly, one of the more desirable features – AggregateRating – which can produce Rich Snippet Stars on your websites search results snippets, is one of the most common features to be abused.
Recently, Google Webmaster Trends Analyst John Mueller highlighted that an issue he often encounters is lists of items (such as a number of hotels in a certain location) being marked up as one, which can easily deceive a searcher.
It’s common mistakes such as this can lead to a ‘spammy structured markup’ penalty on your site. This manual action (either partial or site-wide) simply means the Rich Snippet won’t be shown in search results. Crawling, indexing & most importantly ranking of pages won’t be affected.
However, the Rich Snippet removal can still seriously affect the performance of your site. Whilst the stars give your webpages an increased prominence within Google’s search results and therefore are beneficial for boosting click-through-rates, the real benefit of these Rich Snippets is the additional information they show.
For example, the screenshot below shows a Rich Snippet on goodreads.com, on a page for a book called ‘Eat and Run’ by Scott Jurek. We can see it’s a fairly popular book with a 4 out of 5 star-rating, and a huge number of people have read it. So before I even click on the result, we already know that the product is going to be of high quality, making it more likely that it will be clicked on in Google’s search results.
Tips for avoiding a spammy structured markup penalty
If you’ve ever had a manual action given to your website, you’ll know it’s often very difficult and time-consuming to get it removed. However, if you find yourself with a Spammy Structured Data Markup penalty, before you begin scouring Google’s comprehensive documentation, try out some of our tips below:
- Ensure reviews and ratings are visible on page or readily accessible to users from the marked-up page.
- As John Mueller stated,
“..One error I sometimes see is a list of items (hotels in X, etc) marked up as one”. This means that within a list or category page, use markup for each specific product, not a category or list of products. This also means that you shouldn’t assign a rating that is the average of all the items on that page, as ratings should only be used for a single item.
- Avoid using reviews written by the site or person providing the product or service. One way to get around this is by using a known customer review platforms such as Trustpilot or Feefo.
- If you are using a service like TrustPilot for customer reviews, consider what your customers are actually reviewing. Are they reviewing a single product, or your organisation as a whole? If it’s the latter, make sure you’re attributing that rating towards the correct schema type (in most cases this will be the ‘Organisation’ schema type).
- Readers should be able to submit their own reviews. However, this does not apply if a single review is provided and it is clearly indicated who the author is.
Recovering from a spammy structured markup manual penalty
If you do find yourself with a manual penalty for Spammy Structured Data, once you’ve checked that your AggregateRating schema is complying with the tips above, follow the steps below to get the penalty lifted:
- Look at your Structured Data report on Google Search Console, or test the likely offending pages using Google’s Structured Data Testing Tool. This will provide you with a list of any errors discovered.
- Read over the AggregatingRating schema documentation to double-check you’re using the correct fields.
- If you’re not 100% confident rewriting the schema or find the schema documentation confusing, try tools such as this JSON-LD or this microdata schema generator (make sure you run the code snippet through the Structured Data Testing Tool again just to double-check!)
- Replace your old schema code with the new
- Submit your manual penalty reconsideration request through your Search Console account. In your request, you should acknowledge the issue, mention how it’s been resolved and outline your future efforts to adhere to Google’s guidelines.
(It’s important to note that if you don’t confidently feel your schema is complying with Google’s strict guidelines, you’re best to do your own digging into their Structured Data Guidelines and Webmaster Guidelines. A denied reconsideration request delays your recovery process and won’t explain why you’ve been denied so it’s best to get it right the first time.)
- Once your request has been submitted, the review process usually takes a couple of weeks. Provided your issue has been resolved your penalty should be lifted.
Try not to panic!
If you did receive a Spammy Structured Data penalty it’s important to remember that it’s not the end of the world. While fixing the schema can be a time-consuming task, once you’re aware of common problems, fixing the issue is less daunting than you might have initially thought.