Our special guest for episode 357 of the award-winning EDGE of the Web podcast was Paul Lovell, Founder of Always Evolving SEO. Host Erin Sparks spoke with Paul about the importance of having properly structured data and using Google Tag Manage (GTM) to get there. Here’s what we learned:
Paul Lovell: His Background and Experience
Paul Lovell is an international SEO consultant helping clients all over the world. Based in the outskirts of London, he’s the founder of Always Evolving SEO—an aptly-named company given the constantly shifting nature of the SEO landscape. Paul’s specialty is technical SEO and his is a contributor to Search Engine Watch and many other blogs, webinars, and conferences including the recent virtual meeting of SMX London and several different events in conjunction with SEMrush.
Paul started his career in the digital ecosystem many years ago as a website designer, but then became annoyed with the constant stream of requests from SEOs to change this and that, so he decided to teach himself SEO and decided to make that his focus, along with some AdSense expertise. In a previous agency, one of his clients received substantial startup funding and he worked for them for 18 months and when that engagement ended he started up Always Evolving SEO.
Exciting Aspects of Technical SEO
If you like taking the deep dive down various rabbit holes, technical SEO might just be the thing for you. Paul recently got into analyzing server logs for sites with millions of pages in order to uncover which pages were being crawled and which ones weren’t and why. The lens of analysis is trying to see what Google is doing to save money on crawling and leverage that knowledge into better SEO.
Another rabbit hole Paul has gone down is attaining a deep understanding of Google Tag Manager and how to make use of its various features and functionalities, which figures prominently in his advice related to structured data and schema markup. There are really cool things ecommerce sites can do around this. As an example, let’s say you have an online store that sells running shoes and there is a search function so consumers can search for the specific trainers that interest them. If they do a search that comes back with zero results because you don’t carry that trainer, you can use Google Tag Manager to set an event that places a “no index” tag on that page since you don’t need or want it to be crawled. But you can also fire off an event in this case that tracks that search query so that you get a Google Analytics email every day that shows the things consumers are search for and not finding, which can be very useful if you do decide to carry that product, or were just waiting to see if there would be enough demand for it. And of course you can also set up a remarketing tag so if you do get that product included in your inventory then you can reach out to those folks who searched for it on your site but didn’t find it.
What Structured Data is and Why it Matters
Structured data means you’re giving the search engines information about your web pages in a machine readable format. It’s a way for you to call out very specific items on a page so the search engines don’t have to guess what it is. For example, on an ecommerce site with product listings, you’d want to specifically call out price and currency in a way that leaves no ambiguity for the search engines. The easier it is for the search engines to digest your pages, the better for you when it comes to visibility.
Way back when we had “meta data” we would include in the HTML for a page, but structured data takes it to a whole new level of specificity and the number of things you can itemize thanks to a consortium of search engines that got together and figure out a schema for how it works (see schema.org). It’s a way for site publishers to talk in code about their pages to search engines to make everything clearer. And there is constant updating of different schemas for handling structured data in different ways.
Reap the Benefits of Structured with Great Tools
The benefits of structured data are many, and you can get help on structured data from Google Developers. When you call things out in ways the search engines can easily understand, Paul has seen double-digit increases in click-through rates (CTRs) for different website. If you don’t do well with structured data, you’re going to rule yourself out of Google knowledge panes and featured snippets and things like that. You might find your site starts showing up in queries where it didn’t appear before, more organic impressions and so on. There are many layers of benefits to proper implementation of structured data.
There are all kinds of types of schema for specific applications. FAQ schema, job application schema, events schema, video content schema, and on and on ad nauseum. Using good schema for structured data is how Google is better understanding entities and how otherwise disparate elements of web pages fit together. You can even get a visual representation of this for a site by going to Classy Schema and using their structured data viewer. Another great tool that can really help is InLinks.net, which focuses on all kinds of content optimization, including some robust schema assistance and automation. Sites that utilize these tools could easily see double-digit increases in their rank position and organic results.
If you need to work on scheme for a news organization, be sure to follow the Google Developers guidelines, and then search out specific news schemas at schema.org for the organization itself and for news articles published by the organization. The schema for podcasts is very simple. You just have to create an RSS feed with the podcast information and then put one line of code into the blog post category page. There are schema types for everything imaginable!
Your first stop should always Google Developers in order to check out what Google wants to see in terms of requirements and make sure you fulfill those for your site and its schema, otherwise you won’t see the benefits of doing schema right. Underneath those requirements there will also be recommendations, which you can take or leave. And Google also has various schema types you can use as well. And yes, every page of your site should have a schema, and there is a schema type for every conceivable kind of page.
Then there’s deploying your schema types in your actual web pages. If you have a very small site with a limited number of pages, you can do this manually by just generating your schema mark-up and copying/pasting it into the corresponding pages of your website. But it doesn’t take all that many pages until you really won’t want to be doing it that way. And then if something changes on a web page or a blog post or whatever, that has to be accounted for in the schema markup. And this is where something like Google Tag Manager (GTM) can come in handy.
Deploying Schema Through GTM
To utilize Google Tag Manager for schema deployment, you first have to get the information your schema contains into GTM. For an ecommerce site that would include various pieces of product schema data, such as product name, which you can pull into GTM directly from the page. Same with an image URL of the product, and of course the price, the currency, and so on. And you can check all this in the GTM preview to make sure it’s pulling things correctly. Of course plenty of website platforms and ecommerce platforms include some kind of basic schema for you online store pages, but it is going to be very basic, and if you want a more nuanced schema type that lets you go deeper in a niche, then you’ll have to dig around in schema.org to find it and then figure out how to deploy it, which you can do with GTM. And if you want schema to keep working for you, then you’ve got to pay attention to the updates and changes happening, which you can do by visiting the Schema.org Community Group and signing up for its mailing list. And if you want to make sure you’re following Google’s structured data guidelines, then be sure to make use of Google’s Structured Data Testing Tool. It will give you what Google considers to be errors and recommended implementations. The biggest mistake people make around schema is not filling in all the fields of a deployed schema type. If you’re going to deploy it, you’ve got to either fill in all the fields, or delete the fields that don’t apply to you because empty fields in deployed schema will not do you any favors and could result in being penalized. Google has given us the ecosystem and the tools, so use them!
Connect with Paul Lovell and Always Evolving SEO
Twitter: @_PaulLovell (https://twitter.com/_PaulLovell)
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