Martha van Berkel advises SEOs in 2023 to handle your structured data like a financial portfolio in five key ways: manage and maintain your structured data, prepare for volatility, test new investments, treat SEO as a team sport, and view machine learning as your ‘blockchain of schema’.
Martha says: “It’s all about managing your structured data like a financial portfolio. We’ll dig into how those things are related, but as the world’s financial systems are going up and down, your structured data world is going to do exactly the same.”
Why is it necessary to manage your structured data?
“Back in the early days of structured data (2015, 2016, 2017) you sort of did it and it went away. It wasn’t super volatile and not a lot was changing. Those times have changed. As we enter 2023 - as content changes and you’re seeing your team introduce new connections on your website - it’s important to manage it and maintain it.
Just like you would with a financial portfolio, you need to be looking at what elements you have, and which types of rich results make up your structured data portfolio. You also want to measure what’s performing. Do you have diversity? If FAQs change with an algorithm update, do you have something else in place that you’re either experimenting with or testing? You need that diversity to ensure performance.”
What does effective diversity look like?
“When we talk about diversity, we want to see different types of rich results. If you have an FAQ, for example, we want to also see How To, product, articles, and video. If you go to your search appearance in Google Search Console, and you look at all the different things that you have, you want to make sure you don’t just have one or two.
When I talk about ensuring performance, it’s not so much that it might stop performing, but we’re seeing that the SERP is changing. One key thing that happened in 2022 that was different from 2021 was seeing Google start to change the SERP, and seeing structured data evolve. It didn’t all stop performing. In June, we saw FAQs come down, but they came back at the end of the month. We saw the SERP change with regards to video rich results - where they pretty much only gave YouTube video rich results and everything else went under the Video tab. Again, Google serving themselves by changing the SERP and how they’re using structured data.
We also saw really big changes in recipes. This time, recipe markup actually started performing really well, out of the blue, with 1000% increases across the board. Since about June, we’ve been seeing a lot of changes - just like we’re seeing changes in the algorithm, core content updates, etc.
Google is investing and changing things around structured data. That’s why it is so important in 2023 to be managing it. You need to have a plan and be proactive about having that diversity.”
You’ve come up with five key ways that you manage your structured data in a similar way to how you manage a financial portfolio. For number one, how do you manage structured data like a portfolio?
“That means having a look at what you’re getting today. What is your plan? What do you actually have in play? Also, do you have a process for maintaining this?
We’re in the mainstream now. This is just like everything else that you have to do on a regular basis - whether it’s checking your financial portfolio or putting money aside every month. Just like you’re doing keywords, looking at your page performance, and checking your vitals on a monthly basis, you should also be checking how your schema markup is performing.
So that’s one thing, alongside ensuring that you have that diversity. That leads me to my second tip, which is to start experimenting and seeing what you need to add in order to increase that diversity.”
You also mentioned volatility as part of your second tip, what do you mean by that?
“Considering the changes that Google made in 2022 (with regards to FAQ changing, recipes, video, and the SERP changing) it meant a lot of volatility. You might be getting a lot of clicks from FAQs or How Tos on your blog, but you want to have a plan for when those things change. You need to already be working on what that next piece is.
If you’re in a large enterprise, you’re perhaps not as agile as a small organisation, so it does take planning. You need to be thinking about what those experiments are, in order to be ready for that volatility and the changes that Google is going to make. They are going to happen. Things are going to go up and down (Welcome to the world of SEO; that’s why we all have so much fun here!) and being ready is important.”
Are there any less obvious causes of volatility?
“Content changes is a big one, where the IT team suddenly changes something and mucks something up on the site or or moves something without people knowing.
The helpful content update is all about what is of service to your customers. You need to really think about what that content is, and what purpose it serves. Last year, we talked about specificity. It really comes back down to whether or not you have FAQs or content that’s really specific and of service.
Did something change in the performance of your website and Core Web Vitals that’s impacting things? Or was it a broader change - like a competitor coming up or Google changing how they’re proposing things?”
Is it possible to prevent these fluctuations from happening or do you have to have something else ready and a plan in place?
“That’s where my first point - maintenance and monitoring - comes in; make sure you’re managing your schema markup. That’s for everything. It’s not just the performance and outcomes, but is it still accurate? Are you getting more errors and warnings? Is it still covering the pages that you expect it to? At Schema App, that’s what we’re great at and what we do for our customers, but everyone needs to be in that mindset: that this is an ongoing, repeatable process.
Also, you should always be producing new content, which ties into my third point about investing in new things. Just like how the schema markup portfolio has to be managed, you also need to be reaching out to those other teams and saying, ‘What is coming up next in our blog? Are they adopting the best practices? Are we thinking about rich results as we’re producing new content, instead of it being an afterthought?
This is where I really see schema markup as a team sport – which plays into my fourth point here. If the SEO team is doing their job well, they’re educating and pulling in content to help them and they’re making sure IT understands what happens when they change things for fun. It’s about understanding what that dynamic is and working cross-functionally.
The fun part is diversifying and testing different things, and testing and measuring those new investments. I want to talk about the blog because, in most organisations (small or very large), the blog is often a place where you can test out different things with little planning. If you’re seeing changes and you really want to try out How To content to see if that’s appropriate for your audience, for example, you can write up a brief for the content team. They’re producing content weekly, ideally, if not monthly. Within 30 days, you can actually start testing that and trying it out.
I like the blog as an area where you can try out different types of rich results and then be able to measure how that page is performing. This all relates to my fourth point: the idea that SEO is a team sport. You’re starting to build that relationship and making sure that they understand that they can have an impact on performance, by thinking ahead and working cross-functionally.
That’s why points three and four are so important. Test and measure, and involve your team. This isn’t just: ‘My head’s down, I’m the SEO.’ This is: ‘How, within the organisation, do we work together to get those outcomes that we’re trying to get?’”
What are some typical schemas that people can implement on blog posts?
“Blog posts things are typically articles, news, or blog postings. The reason I’m saying that you should try different things within a blog is that there’s a lot of flexibility around content. Where getting copy updated for your product might take lots of teams, and lots of cross-functional buy-in, restructuring the type of content in a blog can be done relatively easily.
If you’re writing up a blog on a specific topic for a specific audience, you could make it an FAQ instead, and put it as questions and answers. It’s still the same type of content. It could be an article that is the subject of an FAQ, or you can just do it as an FAQ page, but it allows you to test more, and within a more free-flow area.
The other thing about blogs is that they have authors. Authors are important because a lot of the changes that we’re seeing in the latter half of 2022 have a huge tie-in with EAT: expertise, authority, and trust. Expertise, authority, and trust all come into play when you talk about the author. Who’s writing this? Do you have an opportunity to call out an expert? You can do that in your articles, your blogs, and your news pieces - and then use structured data to elaborate on who that author is.
Why are they an expert? What authority do they have to talk about this specific topic? It could be talking about their education, how they’re tied to an organisation, or what they’re a member of and what affiliations they have. That’s a great way to tie in that EAT, which is another theme I’m seeing a lot of in the Google updates. It’s not called out specifically, but the helpful content update has EAT written all over it.
That’s why I see the blog as a fun place to experiment and test things.”
Using your financial portfolio analogy, you said that the blockchain of schema is machine learning, what do you mean by that?
“For my most ‘out there’ recommendation, I started thinking about two things: semantics and machine learning.
Machine learning is one of the other themes that I’m seeing across the announcements and updates from Google. For example, in a podcast that came out in June of 2022, Ryan Levering was talking about structured data and what it’s all about. He talked about how structured data was really built in order to be a baseline to help machine learning with regard to understanding. He talked about how it is still evolving, and how they’re still using it to check in on things.
I was also reading and listening to Alan Kent (also from Google) about the product update. He was talking about how machine learning is looking for trends and patterns, specifically around product reviews and content. If you put those things together: the structured data is helping Google to understand trends and patterns in order to determine whether or not content is helpful.
We’re seeing this across the board, in different areas. Structured data is helping Google to learn, using their machine learning, which is why you should invest in it and manage it as part of the ‘financial portfolio’ for your organisation.”
What shouldn’t SEOs be doing in 2023? What’s seductive in terms of time, but ultimately counterproductive?
“Don’t keep your head in the sand and try to get everything done on your own. More and more, especially in large enterprise, SEO needs to be a team sport.
There’s so much that we know, as SEOs, that can help other teams to have a bigger impact on the financial outcomes of the company - which ties it all back to the overall theme.
We have to be educating, sharing those best practices, and getting them to share in both the ‘doing’ and in the wins. Don’t keep your head down. Don’t just think of the SEO team; think of that broader team that you can impact.”
Martha van Berkel is CEO at Schema App, and you can find her over at schemaapp.com.
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