Schema markup (also known as structured data markup) can be great way to improve search engine content discovery, indexation and organic search visibility. Some structured data markups feed into Google’s Knowledge Graph, appear in local results, and generate Rich Snippets — all of which is great for improving organic search visibility and click-through rate.
But now, structured data can potentially hurt your site if not used correctly, due to recent “spammy structured markup” penalties from Google. In March 2015, Google updated its rating and reviews Rich Snippet policies, stating that these types of snippets must be placed only on specific items, not on “category” or “list of items” landing pages.
In Google’s recent Quality Update, it seems quite a few sites were hit with Structured Data penalties. Here is an example of a manual Structured Data penalty message sent by Google in the Search Console (formerly Webmaster Tools).
The penalty message reads as follows:
Spammy structured markup
Markup on some pages on this site appears to use techniques such as marketing up content that is invisible to users, marking up irrelevant or misleading content, and/or other manipulative behavior that violates Google’s Rich Snippet Quality guidelines.
A penalty can be algorithmic or manual. A manual penalty can be partial or site-wide. Google has stated:
In cases where we see structured data that does not comply with these standards, we reserve the right to take manual action (e.g., disable rich snippets for a site) in order to maintain a high-quality search experience for our users.
Obviously, this is something that you do not want to happen to your site. Webmasters should now audit their schema markup implementation on an ongoing basis to avoid this penalty.
How To Avoid Structured Data Markup Penalties
By adhering to a few simple rules, you can avoid a manual penalty on the basis of spammy markup. Here’s my advice:
- Ensure Structured Data implementation aligns with Google most recent guidelines. You can review Google’s guidelines and policies for structured data here and here.
- Test markup in the Structured Data Testing Tool. Before going live with your schema markup, validate it using Google’s Structured Data Testing Tool. Look for errors and address them accordingly.
Monitor the Structured Data report in your Google Search Console account (formerly Webmaster Tools). This report will show you your website’s Structured Data indexation and errors.
Note: If you don’t have any Structured Data implemented on your website, you will see the following message on the report screen.
- Monitor Google’s Webmaster Blog for the latest Structured Data updates and news. The Webmaster Blog can be found here: http://googlewebmastercentral.blogspot.com/.
What To Do If You’re Hit By A Structured Data Penalty
If you notice your site’s rich snippets have disappeared in organic search, or indexation in the Structured Data report is down, or you receive a clear message of a spammy markup penalty in Google Search Console, then here are the steps you need to take to address the issues.
- Review the Structured Data Report in your Google Search Console report. Check for errors being reported. If errors are being reported, look into the specific pages/URLs that are generating the errors. To view details, simply click on the structured data category.
Here is a screenshot of what the detailed report looks like. Notice the filtered tabs and the information for the respective markup type.
- Cross-reference the respective schema markup implementation and errors with Google guidelines and Schema.org. Have your developers fix the errors — and, as mentioned before, test your markup in the Google Structured Data Testing tool before publishing on your site. If you’re using JSON-LD format for your Schema implementation, you can also utilize the JSON-LD Playground tool to test your code.
- Submit a reconsideration request once the issues are fixed. If you were hit with a manual penalty for spammy structured markup, you will need to submit a reconsideration request after you have fixed the structured data errors on your site. (You can read more about the Reconsideration Request process here.) Here is an example of a reconsideration request for a structured data penalty:
Google Webmaster Team,
Example.com was hit with a manual site-wide penalty for “spammy structured markup” and has since updated schema markup implementation to align itself with Google’s guidelines and best practices. Upon investigation, we noticed that Example.com’s schema markup was very outdated and not properly implemented from a code perspective, which was the primary cause of this issue.
We have thoroughly reviewed and addressed the errors; all outdated schema markup has been removed from Example.com. Since then, Example.com has hired [SEO agency] to confirm proper alignment with Google’s guidelines by both manually reviewing the source code as well as running tests with Google’s Structured Data Testing Tool. Additionally, [SEO agency] will aid with the QA and monitoring process to avoid further issues with any new schema markup implementation on the site.
Example.com’s goal is to have a high quality website that provides value to its users and meets their needs, as this aligns with Google’s guidelines. We kindly ask that Google process this reconsideration request to remove the manual spammy structured markup penalty from Example.com. Further documentation can be provided upon request.
There has been a lot of discussion lately about Google’s timeline for processing reconsideration requests. At Elite SEM, we were able to get a Structured Data manual penalty removed in under a week for one of our clients. Here is a screenshot of the messages.
Along with monitoring your website’s link profile and content quality on an ongoing basis to avoid Google Penguin and Panda penalties, you also need to pay attention to your structured data markup implementation to avoid a spammy structured markup penalty.