The Complete Guide to Direct Traffic in Google Analytics

Posted by tombennet

When it comes to direct traffic in Analytics, there are two deeply entrenched misconceptions.

The first is that it’s caused almost exclusively by users typing an address into their browser (or clicking on a bookmark). The second is that it’s a Bad Thing, not because it has any overt negative impact on your site’s performance, but rather because it’s somehow immune to further analysis. The prevailing attitude amongst digital marketers is that direct traffic is an unavoidable inconvenience; as a result, discussion of direct is typically limited to ways of attributing it to other channels, or side-stepping the issues associated with it.

In this article, we’ll be taking a fresh look at direct traffic in modern Google Analytics. As well as exploring the myriad ways in which referrer data can be lost, we’ll look at some tools and tactics you can start using immediately to reduce levels of direct traffic in your reports. Finally, we’ll discover how advanced analysis and segmentation can unlock the mysteries of direct traffic and shed light on what might actually be your most valuable users.

What is direct traffic?

In short, Google Analytics will report a traffic source of “direct” when it has no data on how the session arrived at your website, or when the referring source has been configured to be ignored. You can think of direct as GA’s fall-back option for when its processing logic has failed to attribute a session to a particular source.

To properly understand the causes and fixes for direct traffic, it’s important to understand exactly how GA processes traffic sources. The following flow-chart illustrates how sessions are bucketed — note that direct sits right at the end as a final “catch-all” group.

Broadly speaking, and disregarding user-configured overrides, GA’s processing follows this sequence of checks:

AdWords parameters > Campaign overrides > UTM campaign parameters > Referred by a search engine > Referred by another website > Previous campaign within timeout period > Direct

Note the penultimate processing step (previous campaign within timeout), which has a significant impact on the direct channel. Consider a user who discovers your site via organic search, then returns via direct a week later. Both sessions would be attributed to organic search. In fact, campaign data persists for up to six months by default. The key point here is that Google Analytics is already trying to minimize the impact of direct traffic for you.

What causes direct traffic?

Contrary to popular belief, there are actually many reasons why a session might be missing campaign and traffic source data. Here we will run through some of the most common.

1. Manual address entry and bookmarks

The classic direct-traffic scenario, this one is largely unavoidable. If a user types a URL into their browser’s address bar or clicks on a browser bookmark, that session will appear as direct traffic.

Simple as that.

2. HTTPS > HTTP

When a user follows a link on a secure (HTTPS) page to a non-secure (HTTP) page, no referrer data is passed, meaning the session appears as direct traffic instead of as a referral. Note that this is intended behavior. It’s part of how the secure protocol was designed, and it does not affect other scenarios: HTTP to HTTP, HTTPS to HTTPS, and even HTTP to HTTPS all pass referrer data.

So, if your referral traffic has tanked but direct has spiked, it could be that one of your major referrers has migrated to HTTPS. The inverse is also true: If you’ve migrated to HTTPS and are linking to HTTP websites, the traffic you’re driving to them will appear in their Analytics as direct.

If your referrers have moved to HTTPS and you’re stuck on HTTP, you really ought to consider migrating to HTTPS. Doing so (and updating your backlinks to point to HTTPS URLs) will bring back any referrer data which is being stripped from cross-protocol traffic. SSL certificates can now be obtained for free thanks to automated authorities like LetsEncrypt, but that’s not to say you should neglect to explore the potentially-significant SEO implications of site migrations. Remember, HTTPS and HTTP/2 are the future of the web.

If, on the other hand, you’ve already migrated to HTTPS and are concerned about your users appearing to partner websites as direct traffic, you can implement the meta referrer tag. Cyrus Shepard has written about this on Moz before, so I won’t delve into it now. Suffice to say, it’s a way of telling browsers to pass some referrer data to non-secure sites, and can be implemented as a <meta> element or HTTP header.

3. Missing or broken tracking code

Let’s say you’ve launched a new landing page template and forgotten to include the GA tracking code. Or, to use a scenario I’m encountering more and more frequently, imagine your GTM container is a horrible mess of poorly configured triggers, and your tracking code is simply failing to fire.

Users land on this page without tracking code. They click on a link to a deeper page which does have tracking code. From GA’s perspective, the first hit of the session is the second page visited, meaning that the referrer appears as your own website (i.e. a self-referral). If your domain is on the referral exclusion list (as per default configuration), the session is bucketed as direct. This will happen even if the first URL is tagged with UTM campaign parameters.

As a short-term fix, you can try to repair the damage by simply adding the missing tracking code. To prevent it happening again, carry out a thorough Analytics audit, move to a GTM-based tracking implementation, and promote a culture of data-driven marketing.

4. Improper redirection

This is an easy one. Don’t use meta refreshes or JavaScript-based redirects — these can wipe or replace referrer data, leading to direct traffic in Analytics. You should also be meticulous with your server-side redirects, and — as is often recommended by SEOs — audit your redirect file frequently. Complex chains are more likely to result in a loss of referrer data, and you run the risk of UTM parameters getting stripped out.

Once again, control what you can: use carefully mapped (i.e. non-chained) code 301 server-side redirects to preserve referrer data wherever possible.

5. Non-web documents

Links in Microsoft Word documents, slide decks, or PDFs do not pass referrer information. By default, users who click these links will appear in your reports as direct traffic. Clicks from native mobile apps (particularly those with embedded “in-app” browsers) are similarly prone to stripping out referrer data.

To a degree, this is unavoidable. Much like so-called “dark social” visits (discussed in detail below), non-web links will inevitably result in some quantity of direct traffic. However, you also have an opportunity here to control the controllables.

If you publish whitepapers or offer downloadable PDF guides, for example, you should be tagging the embedded hyperlinks with UTM campaign parameters. You’d never even contemplate launching an email marketing campaign without campaign tracking (I hope), so why would you distribute any other kind of freebie without similarly tracking its success? In some ways this is even more important, since these kinds of downloadables often have a longevity not seen in a single email campaign. Here’s an example of a properly tagged URL which we would embed as a link:

https://builtvisible.com/embedded-whitepaper-url/?…_medium=offline_document&utm_campaign=201711_utm_whitepaper

The same goes for URLs in your offline marketing materials. For major campaigns it’s common practice to select a short, memorable URL (e.g. moz.com/tv/) and design an entirely new landing page. It’s possible to bypass page creation altogether: simply redirect the vanity URL to an existing page URL which is properly tagged with UTM parameters.

So, whether you tag your URLs directly, use redirected vanity URLs, or — if you think UTM parameters are ugly — opt for some crazy-ass hash-fragment solution with GTM (read more here), the takeaway is the same: use campaign parameters wherever it’s appropriate to do so.

6. “Dark social”

This is a big one, and probably the least well understood by marketers.

The term “dark social” was first coined back in 2012 by Alexis Madrigal in an article for The Atlantic. Essentially it refers to methods of social sharing which cannot easily be attributed to a particular source, like email, instant messaging, Skype, WhatsApp, and Facebook Messenger.

Recent studies have found that upwards of 80% of consumers’ outbound sharing from publishers’ and marketers’ websites now occurs via these private channels. In terms of numbers of active users, messaging apps are outpacing social networking apps. All the activity driven by these thriving platforms is typically bucketed as direct traffic by web analytics software.

People who use the ambiguous phrase “social media marketing” are typically referring to advertising: you broadcast your message and hope people will listen. Even if you overcome consumer indifference with a well-targeted campaign, any subsequent interactions are affected by their very public nature. The privacy of dark social, by contrast, represents a potential goldmine of intimate, targeted, and relevant interactions with high conversion potential. Nebulous and difficult-to-track though it may be, dark social has the potential to let marketers tap into elusive power of word of mouth.

So, how can we minimize the amount of dark social traffic which is bucketed under direct? The unfortunate truth is that there is no magic bullet: proper attribution of dark social requires rigorous campaign tracking. The optimal approach will vary greatly based on your industry, audience, proposition, and so on. For many websites, however, a good first step is to provide convenient and properly configured sharing buttons for private platforms like email, WhatsApp, and Slack, thereby ensuring that users share URLs appended with UTM parameters (or vanity/shortened URLs which redirect to the same). This will go some way towards shining a light on part of your dark social traffic.

Checklist: Minimizing direct traffic

To summarize what we’ve already discussed, here are the steps you can take to minimize the level of unnecessary direct traffic in your reports:

  1. Migrate to HTTPS: Not only is the secure protocol your gateway to HTTP/2 and the future of the web, it will also have an enormously positive effect on your ability to track referral traffic.
  2. Manage your use of redirects: Avoid chains and eliminate client-side redirection in favour of carefully-mapped, single-hop, server-side 301s. If you use vanity URLs to redirect to pages with UTM parameters, be meticulous.
  3. Get really good at campaign tagging: Even amongst data-driven marketers I encounter the belief that UTM begins and ends with switching on automatic tagging in your email marketing software. Others go to the other extreme, doing silly things like tagging internal links. Control what you can, and your ability to carry out meaningful attribution will markedly improve.
  4. Conduct an Analytics audit: Data integrity is vital, so consider this essential when assessing the success of your marketing. It’s not simply a case of checking for missing track code: good audits involve a review of your measurement plan and rigorous testing at page and property-level.

Adhere to these principles, and it’s often possible to achieve a dramatic reduction in the level of direct traffic reported in Analytics. The following example involved an HTTPS migration, GTM migration (as part of an Analytics review), and an overhaul of internal campaign tracking processes over the course of about 6 months:

But the saga of direct traffic doesn’t end there! Once this channel is “clean” — that is, once you’ve minimized the number of avoidable pollutants — what remains might actually be one of your most valuable traffic segments.

Analyze! Or: why direct traffic can actually be pretty cool

For reasons we’ve already discussed, traffic from bookmarks and dark social is an enormously valuable segment to analyze. These are likely to be some of your most loyal and engaged users, and it’s not uncommon to see a notably higher conversion rate for a clean direct channel compared to the site average. You should make the effort to get to know them.

The number of potential avenues to explore is infinite, but here are some good starting points:

  • Build meaningful custom segments, defining a subset of your direct traffic based on their landing page, location, device, repeat visit or purchase behavior, or even enhanced e-commerce interactions.
  • Track meaningful engagement metrics using modern GTM triggers such as element visibility and native scroll tracking. Measure how your direct users are using and viewing your content.
  • Watch for correlations with your other marketing activities, and use it as an opportunity to refine your tagging practices and segment definitions. Create a custom alert which watches for spikes in direct traffic.
  • Familiarize yourself with flow reports to get an understanding of how your direct traffic is converting. By using Goal Flow and Behavior Flow reports with segmentation, it’s often possible to glean actionable insights which can be applied to the site as a whole.
  • Ask your users for help! If you’ve isolated a valuable segment of traffic which eludes deeper analysis, add a button to the page offering visitors a free downloadable ebook if they tell you how they discovered your page.
  • Start thinking about lifetime value, if you haven’t already — overhauling your attribution model or implementing User ID are good steps towards overcoming the indifference or frustration felt by marketers towards direct traffic.

I hope this guide has been useful. With any luck, you arrived looking for ways to reduce the level of direct traffic in your reports, and left with some new ideas for how to better analyze this valuable segment of users.

Thanks for reading!

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How to steal the competition’s best keywords: A 3-step guide

Why invest so much into keyword research when your competitors have already done the work? Columnist Jacob Baadsgaard explains how to use competitive research to inform your paid search keyword strategy. The post How to steal the competition’s best keywords: A 3-step guide appeared first on…

Please visit Search Engine Land for the full article.


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Rewriting the Beginner’s Guide to SEO

Posted by BritneyMuller

(function($ ) { // code using $ as alias to jQuery $ (function() { // Hide the hypotext content. $ (‘.hypotext-content’).hide(); // When a hypotext link is clicked. $ (‘a.hypotext.closed’).click(function (e) { // custom handling here e.preventDefault(); // Create the class reference from the rel value. var id = ‘.’ + $ (this).attr(‘rel’); // If the content is hidden, show it now. if ( $ (id).css(‘display’) == ‘none’ ) { $ (id).show(‘slow’); if (jQuery.ui) { // UI loaded $ (id).effect(“highlight”, {}, 1000); } } // If the content is shown, hide it now. else { $ (id).hide(‘slow’); } }); // If we have a hash value in the url. if (window.location.hash) { // If the anchor is within a hypotext block, expand it, by clicking the // relevant link. console.log(window.location.hash); var anchor = $ (window.location.hash); var hypotextLink = $ (‘#’ + anchor.parents(‘.hypotext-content’).attr(‘rel’)); console.log(hypotextLink); hypotextLink.click(); // Wait until the content has expanded before jumping to anchor. //$ .delay(1000); setTimeout(function(){ scrollToAnchor(window.location.hash); }, 1000); } }); function scrollToAnchor(id) { var anchor = $ (id); $ (‘html,body’).animate({scrollTop: anchor.offset().top},’slow’); } })(jQuery);

Many of you reading likely cut your teeth on Moz’s Beginner’s Guide to SEO. Since it was launched, it’s easily been our top-performing piece of content:

Most months see 100k+ views (the reverse plateau in 2013 is when we changed domains).

While Moz’s Beginner’s Guide to SEO still gets well over 100k views a month, the current guide itself is fairly outdated. This big update has been on my personal to-do list since I started at Moz, and we need to get it right because — let’s get real — you all deserve a bad-ass SEO 101 resource!

However, updating the guide is no easy feat. Thankfully, I have the help of my fellow Mozzers. Our content team has been a collective voice of reason, wisdom, and organization throughout this process and has kept this train on its tracks.

Despite the effort we’ve put into this already, it felt like something was missing: your input! We’re writing this guide to be a go-to resource for all of you (and everyone who follows in your footsteps), and want to make sure that we’re including everything that today’s SEOs need to know. You all have a better sense of that than anyone else.

So, in order to deliver the best possible update, I’m seeking your help.

This is similar to the way Rand did it back in 2007. And upon re-reading your many “more examples” requests, we’ve continued to integrate more examples throughout.

The plan:

  • Over the next 6–8 weeks, I’ll be updating sections of the Beginner’s Guide and posting them, one by one, on the blog.
  • I’ll solicit feedback from you incredible people and implement top suggestions.
  • The guide will be reformatted/redesigned, and I’ll 301 all of the blog entries that will be created over the next few weeks to the final version.
  • It’s going to remain 100% free to everyone — no registration required, no premium membership necessary.

To kick things off, here’s the revised outline for the Beginner’s Guide to SEO:

Click each chapter’s description to expand the section for more detail.

Chapter 1: SEO 101

What is it, and why is it important? ↓


Chapter 2: Crawlers & Indexing

First, you need to show up. ↓


Chapter 3: Keyword Research

Next, know what to say and how to say it. ↓


Chapter 4: On-Page SEO

Next, structure your message to resonate and get it published. ↓


Chapter 5: Technical SEO

Next, translate your site into Google’s language. ↓


Chapter 6: Establishing Authority

Finally, turn up the volume. ↓


Chapter 7: Measuring and Tracking SEO

Pivot based on what’s working. ↓


Appendix A: Glossary of Terms

Appendix B: List of Additional Resources

Appendix C: Contributors & Credits


What did you struggle with most when you were first learning about SEO? What would you have benefited from understanding from the get-go?

Are we missing anything? Any section you wish wouldn’t be included in the updated Beginner’s Guide? Leave your suggestions in the comments!

Thanks in advance for contributing.

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The non-developer’s guide to reducing WordPress load times up to 2 seconds (with data)

Wondering where to start with page speed improvements? Columnist Tom Demers shares how he tackled page speed improvements on several WordPress sites without (much) input from a developer. The post The non-developer’s guide to reducing WordPress load times up to 2 seconds (with data) appeared first…

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The Beginner’s Guide to Structured Data for SEO: How to Implement Structured Data

Posted by bridget.randolph

Part 2: How to implement structured data for SEO

Welcome to Part 2 of The Beginner’s Guide to Structured Data: How to Implement Structured Data for SEO. In Part 1, we focused on gaining a high-level understanding of what structured data is and how it can be used to support SEO efforts.

(If you missed Part 1, you can go check it out here).

In Part 2, we’ll be looking at the steps to identify opportunities and implement structured data for SEO on your website. Since this is an introductory guide, I’ll be focusing on the most basic types of markup you can add and the most common use cases, and providing resources with additional detail for the more technical aspects of implementation.

Is structured data right for you?

Generally speaking, implementing structured data for SEO is worthwhile for most people. However, it does require a certain level of effort and resources, and you may be asking yourself whether it’s worth prioritizing.

Here are some signs that it’s a good time to prioritize structured data for SEO:

  • Search is a key value-driving channel for your business
  • You’ve recently audited your site for basic optimization issues and you know that you’ve achieved a competitive baseline with your keyword targeting, backlinks profile, site structure, and technical setup
  • You’re in a competitive vertical and need your results to stand out in the SERPs
  • You want to use AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages) as a way to show up in featured areas of the SERP, including carousels
  • You have a lot of article-style content related to key head terms (e.g. 10 chicken recipes) and you’d like a way to display multiple results for those terms in the SERP
  • You’re ranking fairly well (position 15 or higher) already for terms with significant search volume (5000–50,000 searches/month)*
  • You have solid development resources with availability on staff and can implement with minimal time and financial investment
  • You’re in any of the following verticals: e-commerce, publishing, educational products, events/ticketing, creative production, TV/movie/book reviews, job listings, local business

*What is considered significant volume may vary according to how niche your market is.

If you said yes to any of these statements, then implementing structured data is particularly relevant to you! And if these criteria don’t currently apply to you, of course you can still go ahead and implement; you might have great results. The above are just a few of the most common indicators that it’s a worthwhile investment.

Implementing structured data on your site

In this guide, we will be looking solely at opportunities to implement Schema.org markup, as this is the most extensive vocabulary for our purposes. Also, because it was developed by the search engine companies themselves, it aligns with what they support now and should continue to be the most supported framework going forward.

How is Schema.org data structured?

The way that the Schema.org vocabulary is structured is with different “types” (Recipe, Product, Article, Person, Organization, etc.) that represent entities, kinds of data, and/or content types.

Each Type has its own set of “properties” that you can use to identify the attributes of that item. For example, a “Recipe” Type includes properties like “image,” “cookTime,” “nutritionInformation,” etc. When you mark up a recipe on your site with these properties, Google is able to present those details visually in the SERP, like this:

Image source

In order to mark up your content with Schema.org vocabulary, you’ll need to define the specific properties for the Type you’re indicating.

For example:

If you’re marking up a recipe page, you need to include the title and at least two other attributes. These could be properties like:

  • aggregateRating: The averaged star rating of the recipe by your users
  • author: The person who created the recipe
  • prepTime: The length of time required to prepare the dish for cooking
  • cookTime: The length of time required to cook the dish
  • datePublished: Date of the article’s publication
  • image: An image of the dish
  • nutritionInformation: Number of calories in the dish
  • review: A review of the dish
  • …and more.

Each Type has different “required” properties in order to work correctly, as well as additional properties you can include if relevant. (You can view a full list of the Recipe properties at Schema.org/Recipe, or check out Google’s overview of Recipe markup.)

Once you know what Types, properties and data need to be included in your markup, you can generate the code.

The code: Microdata vs JSON-LD

There are two common approaches to adding Schema.org markup to your pages: Microdata (in-line annotations added directly to the relevant HTML) and JSON-LD (which uses a Javascript script tag to insert the markup into the head of the page).

JSON-LD is Google’s recommended approach, and in general is a cleaner, simpler implementation… but it is worth noting that Bing does not yet officially support JSON-LD. Also, if you have a WordPress site, you may be able to use a plugin (although be aware that not all of WordPress’ plugins work they way they’re supposed to, so it’s especially important to choose one with good reviews, and test thoroughly after implementation).

Whatever option you choose to use, always test your implementation to make sure Google is seeing it show up correctly.

What does this code look like?

Let’s look at an example of marking up a very simple news article (Schema.org/NewsArticle).


Here’s the article content (excluding body copy), with my notes about what each element is:

[posted by publisher ‘Google’] [headline]Article Headline [author byline]By John Doe [date published] Feb 5, 2015 [description] A most wonderful article [image] [company logo] 

And here’s the basic HTML version of that article:

<div>   <h2>Article headline</h2>   <h3>By John Doe</h3>     <div>     <img src="https://google.com/thumbnai1.jpg"/>     </div>   <div>       <img src="https://google.com/logo.jpg"/>       </div> 

If you use Microdata, you’ll nest your content inside the relevant meta tags for each piece of data. For this article example, your Microdata code might look like this (within the <body> of the page):

<div itemscope itemtype="http://schema.org/NewsArticle">   <meta itemscope itemprop="mainEntityOfPage"  itemType="https://schema.org/WebPage" itemid="https://google.com/article"/>   <h2 itemprop="headline">Article headline</h2>   <h3 itemprop="author" itemscope itemtype="https://schema.org/Person">     By <span itemprop="name">John Doe</span>   </h3>   <span itemprop="description">A most wonderful article</span>   <div itemprop="image" itemscope itemtype="https://schema.org/ImageObject">     <img src="https://google.com/thumbnail1.jpg"/>     <meta itemprop="url" content="https://google.com/thumbnail1.jpg">     <meta itemprop="width" content="800">     <meta itemprop="height" content="800">   </div>   <div itemprop="publisher" itemscope itemtype="https://schema.org/Organization">     <div itemprop="logo" itemscope itemtype="https://schema.org/ImageObject">       <img src="https://google.com/logo.jpg"/>       <meta itemprop="url" content="https://google.com/logo.jpg">       <meta itemprop="width" content="600">       <meta itemprop="height" content="60">     </div>     <meta itemprop="name" content="Google">   </div>   <meta itemprop="datePublished" content="2015-02-05T08:00:00+08:00"/>   <meta itemprop="dateModified" content="2015-02-05T09:20:00+08:00"/> </div> 

The JSON-LD version would usually be added to the <head> of the page, rather than integrated with the <body> content (although adding it in the <body> is still valid).

JSON-LD code for this same article would look like this:

<script type="application/ld+json"> {   "@context": "http://schema.org",   "@type": "NewsArticle",   "mainEntityOfPage": {     "@type": "WebPage",     "@id": "https://google.com/article"   },   "headline": "Article headline",   "image": {     "@type": "ImageObject",     "url": "https://google.com/thumbnail1.jpg",     "height": 800,     "width": 800   },   "datePublished": "2015-02-05T08:00:00+08:00",   "dateModified": "2015-02-05T09:20:00+08:00",   "author": {     "@type": "Person",     "name": "John Doe"   },    "publisher": {     "@type": "Organization",     "name": "Google",     "logo": {       "@type": "ImageObject",       "url": "https://google.com/logo.jpg",       "width": 600,       "height": 60     }   },   "description": "A most wonderful article" } </script> 

This is the general style for Microdata and JSON-LD code (for Schema.org/Article). The Schema.org website has a full list of every supported Type and its Properties, and Google has created “feature guides” with example code for the most common structured data use cases, which you can use as a reference for your own code.

How to identify structured data opportunities (and issues)

If structured data has previously been added to your site (or if you’re not sure whether it has), the first place to check is the Structured Data Report in Google Search Console.

This report will tell you not only how many pages have been identified as containing structured data (and how many of these have errors), but may also be able to identify where and/or why the error is occurring. You can also use the Structured Data Testing Tool for debugging any flagged errors: as you edit the code in the tool interface, it will flag any errors or warnings.

If you don’t have structured data implemented yet, or want to overhaul your setup from scratch, the best way to identify opportunities is with a quick content audit of your site, based on the kind of business you have.

A note on keeping it simple

There are lots of options when it comes to Schema.org markup, and it can be tempting to go crazy marking up everything you possibly can. But best practice is to keep focused and generally use a single top-level Type on a given page. In other words, you might include review data on your product page, but the primary Type you’d be using is Schema.org/Product. The goal is to tell search engines what this page is about.

Structured data must be representative of the main content of the page, and marked up content should not be hidden from the user. Google will penalize sites which they believe are using structured data markup in scammy ways.

There are some other general guidelines from Google, including:

  • Add your markup to the page it describes (so Product markup would be added to the individual product page, not the homepage)
  • For duplicated pages with a canonical version, add the same markup to all versions of the page (not just the canonical)
  • Don’t block your marked-up pages from search engines
  • Be as specific as possible when choosing a Type to add to a page
  • Multiple entities on the same page must each be marked up individually (so for a list of products, each product should have its own Product markup added)
  • As a rule, you should only be adding markup for content which is being shown on the page you add it to

So how do you know which Schema.org Types are relevant for your site? That depends on the type of business and website you run.

Schema.org for websites in general

There are certain types of Schema.org markup which almost any business can benefit from, and there are also more specific use cases for certain types of business.

General opportunities to be aware of are:

  • Organization: use Organization markup on your homepage to indicate that your website is a brand site.
  • Knowledge Graph content: brand information (logo, social profiles) as well as your business mailing address, and corporate contact info (like phone numbers) can be marked up on the homepage and appear in a Knowledge Graph box in branded search:

  • Sitelinks Search Box: if you have search functionality on your site, you can add markup which enables a search box to appear in your sitelinks:

Image source

  • Breadcrumbs: get breadcrumbs in the SERP:

Image source

  • VideoObject: if you have video content on your site, this markup can enable video snippets in SERPs, with info about uploader, duration, a thumbnail image, and more:

A note about Star reviews in the SERP

You’ll often see recommendations about “marking up your reviews” to get star ratings in the SERP results. “Reviews” have their own type, Schema.org/Review, with properties that you’ll need to include; but they can also be embedded into other types using that type’s “review” property.

You can see an example of this above, in the Recipes image, where some of the recipes in the SERP display a star rating. This is because they have included the aggregate user rating for that recipe in the “review” property within the Schema.org/Recipe type.

You’ll see a similar implementation for other properties which have their own type, such as Schema.org/Duration, Schema.org/Date, and Schema.org/Person. It can feel really complicated, but it’s actually just about organizing your information in terms of category > subcategory > discrete object.

If this feels a little confusing, it might help to think about it in terms of how we define a physical thing, like an ingredient in a recipe. Chicken broth is a dish that you can make, and each food item that goes into making the chicken broth would be classified as an ingredient. But you could also have a recipe that calls for chicken broth as an ingredient. So depending on whether you’re writing out a recipe for chicken broth, or a recipe that includes chicken broth, you’ll classify it differently.

In the same way, attributes like “Review,” “Date,” and “Duration” can be their own thing (Type), or a property of another Type. This is just something to be aware of when you start implementing this kind of markup. So when it comes to “markup for reviews,” unless the page itself is primarily a review of something, you’ll usually want to implement Review markup as a property of the primary Type for the page.


In addition to this generally applicable markup, there are certain Schema.org Types which are particularly helpful for specific kinds of businesses:

  • E-commerce
    • including online course providers
  • Recipes Sites
  • Publishers
  • Events/Ticketing Sites
    • including educational institutions which offer courses
  • Local Businesses
  • Specific Industries (small business and larger organizations)
  • Creative Producers

Schema.org for e-commerce

If you have an e-commerce site, you’ll want to check out:

  • Product: this allows you to display product information, such as price, in the search result. You can use this markup on an individual product page, or an aggregator page which shows information about different sellers offering an individual product.
    • Online Courses: If your product is an online course, you can use the Schema.org/Course type to get more specific snippets.
  • Offer: this can be combined with Schema.org/Product to show a special offer on your product (and encourage higher CTRs).
  • Review: if your site has product reviews, you can aggregate the star ratings for each individual product and display it in the SERP for that product page, using Schema.org/aggregateRating.

Things to watch out for…

  • Product markup is designed for individual products, not lists of products. If you have a category page and want to mark it up, you’ll need to mark up each individual product on the page with its own data.
  • Review markup is designed for reviews of specific items, goods, services, and organizations. You can mark up your site with reviews of your business, but you should do this on the homepage as part of your organization markup.
  • If you are marking up reviews, they must be generated by your site, rather than via a third-party source.
  • Course markup should not be used for how-to content, or for general lectures which do not include a curriculum, specific outcomes, or a set student list.

Schema.org for recipes sites

For sites that publish a lot of recipe content, Recipe markup is a fantastic way to add additional context to your recipe pages and get a lot of visual impact in the SERPs.

Things to watch out for…

If you’re implementing Recipe Rich Cards, you’ll want to be aware of some extra guidelines:

  • You’ll have to build AMP versions of your recipes pages
  • If you want to have a host carousel/list with multiple recipes for the same keyword, you must have a summary page that lists all the recipes in that collection (e.g. “chicken recipes”), and use ItemList markup to summarize recipes.
    • See Mark Up Your Lists for more detail on this.

Schema.org for publishers

If you have an publisher site, you’ll want to check out the following:

  • Article and its subtypes,
    • NewsArticle: this indicates that the content is a news article
    • BlogPosting: similar to Article and NewsArticle, but specifies that the content is a blog post
  • Fact Check: If your site reviews or discusses “claims made by others,” as Google diplomatically puts it, you can add a “fact check” to your snippet using the Schema.org/ClaimReview.

Image source

  • CriticReview: if your site offers critic-written reviews of local businesses (such as a restaurant critic’s review), books, and /or movies, you can mark these up with Schema.org/CriticReview.
    • Note that this is a feature being tested, and is a knowledge box feature rather than a rich snippet enhancement of your own search result.

Image source

Things to watch out for…

  • If you use AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages) or are considering implementing this feature, you’ll need to a) make sure you include structured data on your AMP versions, and b) you’ll need Articles markup on your canonical version if you want to make it into the Top Stories AMP carousel.
  • Google has some additional guidelines around accessibility for Articles (pagination, canonicalization, restricted content, and First Click Free).

Schema.org for events/ticketing sites

If your business hosts or lists events, and/or sells tickets, you can use:

  • Events: you can mark up your events pages with Schema.org/Event and get your event details listed in the SERP, both in a regular search result and as instant answers at the top of the SERP:

  • Courses: If your event is a course (i.e., instructor-led with a student roster), you can also use Schema.org/Course markup.

Things to watch out for…

  • Don’t use Events markup to mark up time-bound non-events like travel packages or business hours.
  • As with products and recipes, don’t mark up multiple events listed on a page with a single usage of Event markup.
    • For a single event running over several days, you should mark this up as an individual event and make sure you indicate start and end dates;
    • For an event series, with multiple connected events running over time, mark up each individual event separately.
  • Course markup should not be used for how-to content, or for general events/lectures which do not include a curriculum, specific outcomes, and an enrolled student list.

Schema.org for job sites

If your site offers job listings, you can use Schema.org/JobPosting markup to appear in Google’s new Jobs listing feature:

Note that this is a Google aggregator feature, rather than a rich snippet enhancement of your own result (like Google Flights).

Things to watch out for…

  • Mark up each job post individually, and do not mark up a jobs listings page.
  • Include your job posts in your sitemap, and update your sitemap at least once daily.
  • You can include Review markup if you have review data about the employer advertising the job.

Schema.org for local businesses

If you have a local business or a store with a brick-and-mortar location (or locations), you can use structured data markup on your homepage and contact page to help flag your location for Maps data as well as note your “local” status:

  • LocalBusiness: this allows you to specify things like your opening hours and payment accepted
  • PostalAddress: this is a good supplement to getting all those NAP citations consistent
  • OrderAction and ReservationAction: if users can place orders or book reservations on your website, you may want to add action markup as well.

You should also get set up with GoogleMyBusiness.

☆ Additional resources for local business markup

Here’s an article from Whitespark specifically about using Schema.org markup and JSON-LD for local businesses, and another from Phil Rozek about choosing the right Schema.org Type. For further advice on local optimization, check out the local SEO learning center and this recent post about common pitfalls.

Schema.org for specific industries

There are certain industries and/or types of organization which get specific Schema.org types, because they have a very individual set of data that they need to specify. You can implement these Types on the homepage of your website, along with your Brand Information.

These include LocalBusiness Types:

  • AnimalShelter
  • AutomotiveBusiness
  • ChildCare
  • Dentist
  • DryCleaningOrLaundry
  • EmergencyService
  • EmploymentAgency
  • EntertainmentBusiness
  • FinancialService
  • FoodEstablishment
  • GovernmentOffice
  • HealthAndBeautyBusiness
  • HomeAndConstructionBusiness
  • InternetCafe
  • LegalService
  • Library
  • LodgingBusiness
  • ProfessionalService
  • RadioStation
  • RealEstateAgent
  • RecyclingCenter
  • SelfStorage
  • ShoppingCenter
  • SportsActivityLocation
  • Store
  • TelevisionStation
  • TouristInformationCenter
  • TravelAgency

And a few larger organizations, such as:

  • Airline
  • Corporation
  • EducationalOrganization
  • GovernmentOrganization
  • LocalBusiness
  • MedicalOrganization
  • NGO
  • PerformingGroup
  • SportsOrganization

Things to watch out for…

  • When you’re adding markup that describes your business as a whole, it might seem like you should add that markup to every page on the site. However, best practice is to add this markup only to the homepage.

Schema.org for creative producers

If you create a product or type of content which could be considered a “creative work” (e.g. content produced for reading, viewing, listening, or other consumption), you can use CreativeWork markup.

More specific types within CreativeWork include:

  • Book
  • Course
  • Episode
  • Game
  • Movie
  • MusicComposition
  • MusicPlaylist
  • MusicRecording
  • Painting
  • Photograph
  • Sculpture
  • SoftwareApplication
  • TVSeason
  • TVSeries
  • VisualArtwork
  • …and several others.

Schema.org new features (limited availability)

Google is always developing new SERP features to test, and you can participate in the testing for some of these. For some, the feature is an addition to an existing Type; for others, it is only being offered as part of a limited test group. At the time of this writing, these are some of the new features being tested:

  • Actions
  • Books
  • Podcasts
  • Datasets
  • Music
  • Software Apps
  • Top Places Lists (Publishers)
  • Live Coverage(Publishers)

Structured data beyond SEO

As mentioned in Part 1 of this guide, structured data can be useful for other marketing channels as well, including:

  • Social Cards
  • Email markup
  • AdWords

For more detail on this, see the section in Part 1 titled: “Common Uses for Structured Data.”

How to generate and test your structured data implementation

Once you’ve decided which Schema.org Types are relevant to you, you’ll want to add the markup to your site. If you need help generating the code, you may find Google’s Data Highlighter tool useful. You can also try this tool from Joe Hall. Note that these tools are limited to a handful of Schema.org Types.

After you generate the markup, you’ll want to test it at two stages of the implementation using the Structured Data Testing Tool from Google — first, before you add it to the site, and then again once it’s live. In that pre-implementation test, you’ll be able to see any errors or issues with the code and correct before adding it to the site. Afterwards, you’ll want to test again to make sure that nothing went wrong in the implementation.

In addition to the Google tools listed above, you should also test your implementation with Bing’s Markup Validator tool and (if applicable) the Yandex structured data validator tool. Bing’s tool can only be used with a URL, but Yandex’s tool will validate a URL or a code snippet, like Google’s SDT tool.

You can also check out Aaron Bradley’s roundup of Structured Data Markup Visualization, Validation, and Testing Tools for more options.

Once you have live structured data on your site, you’ll also want to regularly check the Structured Data Report in Google Search Console, to ensure that your implementation is still working correctly.

Common mistakes in Schema.org structured data implementation

When implementing Schema.org on your site, there are a few things you’ll want to be extra careful about. Marking up content with irrelevant or incorrect Schema.org Types looks spammy, and can result in a “spammy structured markup” penalty from Google. Here are a few of the most common mistakes people make with their Schema.org markup implementation:

Mishandling multiple entities

Marking up categories or lists of items (Products, Recipes, etc) or anything that isn’t a specific item with markup for a single entity

  • Recipe and Product markup are designed for individual recipes and products, not for listings pages with multiple recipes or products on a single page. If you have multiple entities on a single page, mark up each item individually with the relevant markup.

Misapplying Recipes markup

Using Recipe markup for something that isn’t food

  • Recipe markup should only be used for content about preparing food. Other types of content, such as “diy skin treatment” or “date night ideas,” are not valid names for a dish.

Misapplying Reviews and Ratings markup

Using Review markup to display “name” content which is not a reviewer’s name or aggregate rating

  • If your markup includes a single review, the reviewer’s name must be an actual organization or person. Other types of content, like “50% off ingredients,” are considered invalid data to include in the “name” property.

Adding your overall business rating with aggregateRating markup across all pages on your site

  • If your business has reviews with an aggregateRating score, this can be included in the “review” property on your Organization or LocalBusiness.

Using overall service score as a product review score

  • The “review” property in Schema.org/Product is only for reviews of that specific product. Don’t combine all product or business ratings and include those in this property.

Marking up third-party reviews of local businesses with Schema.org markup

  • You should not use structured data markup on reviews which are generated via third-party sites. While these reviews are fine to have on your site, they should not be used for generating rich snippets. The only UGC review content you should mark up is reviews which are displayed on your website, and generated there by your users.
    • This is a relatively recent update to the guidelines.

General errors

Using organization markup on multiple pages/pages other than the homepage

  • It might seem counter-intuitive, but organization and LocalBusiness markup should only be used on the pages which are actually about your business (e.g. homepage, about page, and/or contact page).

Improper nesting

  • This is why it’s important to validate your code before implementing. Especially if you’re using Microdata tags, you need to make sure that the nesting of attributes and tags is done correctly.

So there you have it — a beginner’s guide to understanding and implementing structured data for SEO! There’s so much to learn around this topic that a single article or guide can’t cover everything, but if you’ve made it to the end of this series you should have a pretty good understanding of how structured data can help you with SEO and other marketing efforts. Happy implementing!

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The Beginner’s Guide to Structured Data for SEO: A Two-Part Series

Posted by bridget.randolph

Part 1: An overview of structured data for SEO

SEOs have been talking about structured data for a few years now — ever since Google, Bing, Yahoo! and Yandex got together in 2011 to create a standardized list of attributes and entities which they all agreed to support, and which became known as Schema.org. However, there’s still a lot of confusion around what structured data is, what it’s for, and how and when to implement structured data for SEO purposes. In fact, a survey carried out last year by Bing found that only 17% of marketers are using (or were planning to use) Schema.org structured data markup.

In this two-part series, you’ll learn the basics of structured data: first we’ll talk about what it is, and how it relates to SEO (Part 1), and then I’ll take you through a simple process for identifying structured data opportunities and implementing structured data on your own site (Part 2).

What is “structured data”?

“Structured data” as a general term simply refers to any data which is organized (i.e., given “structure”). For example, if you have a bunch of scattered Post-It notes with phone messages about meetings, dates, times, people, etc, and you organize these into a table with labeled rows and columns for each type of information, you’re structuring the data.

Example of unstructured data

Post-It 1: “John called, confirming 3pm on Wed at Coffee Shop”

Post-It 2: “Don’t forget your 10am meeting at Mary’s Office this Friday”

Example of structured data

Meeting With

Date

Time

Location

John

Wednesday

3pm

Coffee Shop

Mary

Friday

10am

Office


Structured data can be used in many different ways, such as using Open Graph markup to specify a Facebook title and description, or using SQL to query a relational database. In an SEO context, “structured data” usually refers to implementing some type of markup on a webpage, in order to provide additional detail around the page’s content. This markup improves the search engines’ understanding of that content, which can help with relevancy signals and also enables a site to benefit from enhanced results in SERPs (rich snippets, rich cards, carousels, knowledge boxes, etc). Because this type of markup needs to be parsed and understood consistently by search engines as well as by people, there are standardized implementations (known as formats and/or syntaxes) and classifications of concepts, relationships, and terms (known as vocabularies) which should be used.

There are three syntaxes which search engines will typically support (Microdata, JSON-LD, and microformats) and two common vocabularies which can be used with these syntaxes: Schema.org and Microformats.org. If you’re reading up on this topic, you may also see references to RDFa, which is another syntax.

*This all gets pretty confusing, so if you’re feeling less-than-crystal-clear right now, you might want to check out this great glossary cheat sheet from Aaron Bradley.


When we talk about structured data for SEO, we’re usually talking about the particular vocabulary known as “Schema.org.” Schema.org is the most commonly used approach to structured data markup for SEO purposes. It isn’t the only one, though. Some websites use the Microformats.org vocabulary, most often for marking up product reviews (h-review markup) or defining a physical location (h-card markup).

In addition to being able to use different vocabularies to mark up your site, you can also implement this markup in different ways using syntaxes. For Schema.org vocabulary, the best ways to add markup to your site are either through using the Microdata format, or JSON-LD. With Microdata markup, your structured data is integrated within the main HTML of the page, whereas JSON-LD uses a Javascript object to insert all of your markup into the head of the page, which is often a cleaner, simpler implementation from a development perspective.

The Microdata approach was originally the recommended one for SEO purposes, but Google’s JSON-LD support has improved in the past few years and now it is their recommended approach when possible. Note, however, that Bing does not currently support JSON-LD (although hopefully this may be changing soon).

How does structured data support SEO?

Google, Bing, and other search engines encourage webmasters to use structured data, and incentivize that usage by providing benefits to websites with structured data correctly implemented.

Some of these benefits include search result enhancements and content-specific features, such as:

  • Rich search results: Includes styling, images, and other visual enhancements
  • Rich cards: A variation on rich search results, similar to rich snippets and designed for mobile users
  • Enriched search results: Includes interactive or immersive features
  • Knowledge Graph: Information about an entity such as a brand
  • Breadcrumbs: Breadcrumbs in your search result
  • Carousels: A collection of multiple rich results in a carousel style
  • Rich results for AMP: To have your AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages) appear in carousels and with rich results, you’ll need to include structured data

These enhanced search results can also improve your click-through rate (CTR) and drive additional traffic, because they are more visually appealing and provide additional information to searchers. And improved CTR can also indirectly improve your rankings, as a user behavior signal.

Implementing structured data on your site is also a way to prepare for the future of search, as Google in particular continues to move in the direction of hyper-personalization and solving problems and answering questions directly. Tom Anthony gave a presentation about this topic not too long ago, titled Five Emerging Trends in Search.

Common uses for structured data

Part 2 of this series will go into more detail around specific structured data opportunities and how to implement them. However, there are certain common uses for structured data which almost any website or brand can benefit from:

Knowledge Graph

If you have a personal or business brand, you can edit the information which appears on the right-hand side of the SERP for branded searches. Google uses structured data to populate the Knowledge Graph box.

Rich snippets and rich cards

The most commonly used markup allows you to provide additional context for:

  • Articles
  • Recipes
  • Products
  • Star Ratings and Product Reviews
  • Videos

Using this markup allows your site to show up in the SERPs as a rich snippet or rich card:

Google’s rich cards examples for “Recipe”

If your site has several items that would fit the query, you can also get a “host carousel” result like this one for “chicken recipes”:

Image source

In addition to these types of content markup, Google is currently experimenting with “action markup,” which enables users to take an action directly from the SERP, such as booking an appointment or watching a movie. If this is relevant to your business, you may want to express interest in participating.

AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages)

If your site uses AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages), you’ll want to make sure you include structured data markup on both the regular and AMP pages. This will allow your AMP pages to appear in rich results, including the Top Stories carousel and host carousels.

Social cards

Although Open Graph, Twitter cards, and other social-specific markup may not have a big impact from a purely SEO perspective, this markup is visible to search engines and Bing specifically notes that their search engine can understand Open Graph page-level annotations (although at the moment they only use this data to provide visual enhancements for a specific handful of publishers).

If you use any social networks for marketing, or simply want your content to look good when it’s shared on social media, make sure you correctly implement social markup and validate using the various platforms’ respective testing tools:

  • Facebook: Open Graph + Validation Tool
  • LinkedIn: Open Graph
  • Twitter: Cards + Validation Tool
  • Pinterest: Rich Pins + Validation Tool
  • Instagram: Open Graph

AdWords

You can include structured data in your AdWords ads, using structured snippet extensions. These allow you to add additional information within your ad copy to help people understand more about your products or services and can also improve click-through rate (CTR) on your ads.

Email marketing

If you have Gmail, you may have gotten a confirmation email for a flight and seen the information box at the top showing your flight details, or seen a similar information box for your last Amazon order. This is possible due to structured data markup for emails. Google Inbox and Gmail support both JSON-LD and Microdata markup for emails about various types of orders, invoices and reservations.

3 common myths about structured data & SEO

Myth #1: Implementing structured data means I will definitely get rich snippets.

Although using structured data markup is necessary to be eligible for rich snippets and rich cards, there is no guarantee that simply adding structured data markup to your site will immediately result in rich snippets or cards. Sometimes it may not show up at all, or may appear inconsistently. This doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve done anything wrong.

Myth #2: Structured data is a ranking signal.

Using structured data correctly can help search engines to better understand what your content is about and may therefore contribute to a stronger relevancy signal. In addition, studies have shown that rich snippets can improve click-through rate (CTR), which can lead to better rankings indirectly. However, the use of structured data markup on its own is not a direct ranking signal.

Myth #3: Google can figure it out without the extra work.

Sometimes it’s tempting to skip extra steps, like implementing structured data, since we know that Google is getting smarter at figuring things out and understanding content without much help. But this is a short-sighted view. Yes, Google and other search engines can understand and figure out some of this stuff on their own, but if you want them to be able to understand a specific thing about your content, you should use the correct markup. Not only will it help in the short term with the things the algorithms aren’t so good at understanding, it also ensures that your site itself is well structured and that your content serves a clear purpose. Also, Google won’t give you certain features without correct implementation, which could be costing you on a large scale over time, especially if you’re in a competitive niche. Apart from anything else, studies have shown that rich snippets can improve CTR by anywhere from 5%–30%.

Additional resources

In Part 2 of this two-part series, we’ll be looking at the practical side of structured data implementation: how to actually identify structured data opportunities for your site, and how to implement and test the markup correctly.

But for now, here are some resources to help you get started:

  • Google’s Overview of Structured Data for SEO: Information from Google about how they recommend approaching structured data for SEO and AMP
  • Google’s Structured Data Markup Helper: This tool can guide you through creating the code for various common use cases.
  • Structured Data Testing Tool – Google: This tool from Google allows you to test whether your markup is working correctly.
  • Bing Guide to Marking Up Your Site: More information about how Bing supports structured data.
  • Structured Data Validator – Yandex: A tool from Yandex to test how they see your structured data markup.
  • Schema.org: The official Schema.org website. Here you’ll find information about the latest updates, FAQs, and a guide to adding Schema.org markup to your site.

In the meantime, I’d love to hear from you: Have you implemented structured data markup on your site? Share your results in the comments!

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Facebook for Business: The Ultimate Facebook Marketing Guide

If you’re new to Facebook business options or want to add something new to your current Facebook marketing plan, this page is for you. Here, you’ll find articles and resources to help beginner, intermediate, and advanced marketers use Facebook pages, profiles, groups, ads, Live video, analysis, contests, and more for business. Put My Business on Facebook […]

This post Facebook for Business: The Ultimate Facebook Marketing Guide first appeared on .
– Your Guide to the Social Media Jungle