Google makes changes to its algorithm thousands of times a year. All of them are designed to improve improve quality and user experience.
Every now and again, they introduce a change that can make a huge difference to your SEO performance, without you even realising it.
That's what Google's FAQ schema update is.
In June 2021, Google made a major change to how FAQ schema markup affects search results.
Here’s what you need to know and some steps you or your SEO agency can take to make sure your website is performing as well as possible.
What are rich result FAQs?
Google added FAQ rich results back in 2019.
They are part of what's known as Schema markup, also called structured data. This is microdata that you put in the code of your website to help the search engines return more informative and detailed results to searchers (commonly known as a rich snippet or rich result).
Essentially, it removes some of the guesswork search engines do when they crawl and index your site. Markup is able to provide context by telling the search engines exactly what the content means.
The FAQ schema is designed for FAQ pages that provide a list of frequently asked questions and answers on a particular topic.
Adding this structured data helps Google show questions and answers directly on Google results.
Here's what Google said when they announced FAQ schema on May 8, 2019:
“An FAQ page provides a list of frequently asked questions and answers on a particular topic.
For example, an FAQ page on an e-commerce website might provide answers on shipping destinations, purchase options, return policies, and refund processes.
By using FAQPage structured data, you can make your content eligible to display these questions and answers to display directly on Google Search and the Assistant, helping users to quickly find answers to frequently asked questions.”
The two required properties for the FAQ rich snippet to work are:
A year after introducing FAQ schema, Google tightened some of the restrictions on how rich results should be used.
These changes meant that you could no longer markup the same question and answer with FAQ schema if that question and answer appears in multiple pages on your site.
Google said you can only mark it up on ONE of those FAQ pages, but not multiple pages. This change means that if you have the same question and answer throughout multiple pages, you needed to remove the schema markup from all but one of those pages for that question. If you failed to remove it, you were in violation of Google’s new guidelines, which could lead to all FAQ pages not showing FAQ rich results in the Google SERPs.
What changes have been made to FAQ schema and the results?
Previously, Google would show several FAQ rich results but some SEOs began to notice Google limiting them to two.
It turns out the latest FAQ schema update in June 2021 means that your snippets containing FAQ rich results may not be as long as previously.
So you can mark up more than one FAQ, but in most cases Google will only show the first two.
FAQ rich results have been known to help a web page dominate two or three spaces in the search results. This means they can actually knock one or two competitors off of the results. In fact, Google used to show up to ten FAQs at a time, which could mean two or three web pages could dominate the entire page one of the search results.
So the limit to two FAQs is a big deal.
It means your page snippet real estate may be smaller and take up less of the search results. This leaves more room for others (aka your competition) to show up higher on the page, or actually sneak into the first page.
On the flipside, it may mean that if competitors were previously above you, you can now show up higher on the page.
There are also some subtle differences in this update that it’s important to understand.
In particular, FAQ schema becomes a query-dependent SERP feature rather than a standalone feature.
This means, when you have a page that has more than two FAQs marked up, that page has the ability to show different FAQs in Google’s results based on the search term or query.
In other words, it's possible for a search query to influence which FAQs appear on Google search results.
Here's what that might look like:
But most of the time, Google will default to the first two FAQs in the sequence.
What they mean for your SEO campaign strategy
The goal of schema markup is to get each page to rank better, look better, and do better in the search results and provide a better user experience. Rich snippets help your webpages appear more prominently in search engine results, which means higher click-through rates and that means more conversions.
So it pays to make sure you are using the FAQ structured data in the right way for your digital marketing success.
Previously the sweet spot for FAQ schema was four questions.
Now, because Google is showing less FAQ content in rich snippets, the first two FAQs are now the most important when you are optimizing for FAQ rich results.
This effectively halves your real estate on Google search results.
If your page already has more than two FAQs being marked up on the page, that is OK. Google can return the FAQs that are most relevant to a query, so it could be an advantage. The search engine might even use the additional FAQs in rich results for query variations that you may not even have considered.
This means if you have a whole list of questions marked up on a page, and you have hundreds or even thousands of pages, don't panic - it isn't worth the time and effort of changing the code on every page so that only two FAQs have markup.
That said, because Google defaults to showing the first two FAQs in the vast majority of cases, this is where you should invest your effort on creating the most relevant, useful FAQs for your audience.
Pro Tip: If you are unsure if your code is correctly implemented or not, use Google’s Structured Data Testing Tool. Add your code snippet or the page that you implemented the schema on and the testing tool will tell you if you did it right or wrong, and if there are any errors to fix or issues with your code.
Other important aspects to consider
What if you just want to markup a single FAQ from your page and have that single FAQ appear in the rich result?
Here's the catch:
Early research suggests you won’t be able to generate a rich result at all.
The “maximum of 2” component of the update announcement actually means you need to have at least two FAQs marked up to be eligible, and Google will only ever show a maximum of two at a time.
The other important thing to consider is that this isn't the first time Google has changed how many FAQ results it shows - it has tended to fluctuate. And sometimes, they can turn it off fora site altogether.
Here's what Google's John Mueller said:
“And it can happen that we show a lot of these rich results for your website and maybe we’ll scale them back over time, maybe we’ll scale that up again over time.
It can also happen that we turn them off completely. When it comes to rich results we have different levels that we look at. On the one hand it has to be technically implemented properly. On the other hand it has to be compliant with our policies.In general we have algorithms that try to understand our policies and try to kind of… enact… I don’t know… engage on that. So that’s something where you… wouldn’t see a message around that. And the third thing that we think about when it comes to rich results is that we need to make sure that the website’s quality overall is okay.
And understanding a website’s quality, that changes over time and in particular when it comes to things like core updates, that can change. So if you saw this change… around when we launched a core update then it might be that our algorithms of have kind of refined what we think of your website, how we kind of see that fit in, how relevant we think that is for certain queries.
And based on that, maybe rich results are not shown anymore.There’s also the option that there was something so bad with regards to the structured data on the page that the web spam team took a manual action. But that’s something that’s really rare. And that would be something you’d get a notification on in search console.”
Combining FAQ schema with other scheme
You can great creative with your schema to make your content more visible in the SERPs. How? By combining schema.
For example, you can combine FAQ Page and product schema on product pages. These two appear in different parts of the search snippet, so they are not likely to contradict one another.
That said, sticking to one structured data per page is the best approach, as you don't want Google to have to choose between them.
If there’s a specific type of rich result you want shown in search results, Mueller recommends focusing on the markup that’s most relevant for that result. So, if your priority is to earn an FAQ rich result, leave out the "how to" markup.
Ensure your FAQ content structure meets Google Guidelines
Keep an eye on Google's list of FAQ page schema guidelines for the latest updates (and to ensure your SEO strategy stays relevant).
Your on-page content structure should always meet Google's guidelines for FAQ rich snippet results to be shown in SERPs.
Google has a defined list when it comes to FAQ structured data, telling you what you should and shouldn't do.
How to mark up FAQ structured data
JSON-LD is a scripting language that allows publishers to communicate information to search engines and is Google's preferred markup for structured data.
"We currently prefer JSON-LD markup. I think most of the new structured data that are kind of come out for JSON-LD first. So that’s what we prefer."— John Mueller - Google Webmaster Trends Analyst
The good news is you don’t need to learn any new coding skills to use schema markup for FAQs.
Simply add bits of Schema.org vocabulary to your HTML Microdata, or have your web developer do it for you.
If you want to use the same tags over and over again, use a schema plugin to apply it to your site. We recommend the Schema Creator plugin by Raven for Wordpress.
Once submitted, use Search Console to monitor how your pages perform in Google Search. Analyze your Google Search traffic using the Performance Report to see how often your page appears as a rich result in Search, how often users click on it and the average position you appear on search results.
Key takeaways from the Schema markup update
Here’s a summary of the key takeaways from the FAQ schema markup update:
The new rich results limit works by selecting the first two FAQs that have been marked up on a page.
This means with the new FAQ schema update, many pages will have their FAQ snippet sliced in half.
For the majority of sites, there is nothing you MUST do immediately. However, it's definitely worth revisiting your first two FAQs to make sure each page is giving Google the best possible FAQ content for the search results.
Done correctly, structured markup can be a powerful way to get more visibility on search pages. So, invest some time to understand what this update means for you and adapt your digital marketing plan.
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