Google has changed rich search results for FAQs and How-To structured data

Google has changed rich search results for FAQs and How-To structured data

Google frequently releases updates to its ranking system that can significantly affect your site's ranking and visibility in search results. One such change that caused some "shock" in the SEO community was Google's decision to remove rich search results for FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) and How-To (instructions) pages. In this article, let's discuss the causes and consequences of this change and how to adapt to the new conditions.

Google blog post from August 8, 2023
To provide a cleaner and more consistent search experience, we're changing how some rich results types are shown in Google's search results. In particular, we're reducing the visibility of FAQ rich results, and limiting How-To rich results to desktop devices. This change should finish rolling out globally within the next week.

Using FAQ and How-To in SEO

Before we dive into analyzing the Google update, let's first assess the rationale behind the existence of the FAQ and How-To rich results.

These formats are designed to provide visitors with valuable information in a concise and convenient format, and importantly, right on the Google search results page.

FAQ pages serve as a hub for frequently asked questions, helping users find answers quickly. How-To pages provide similar functionality, but they are less common due to their more complex content.

But sites everywhere are using FAQ pages in a somewhat "spam" format. Instead of creating pages of questions to answer - they create, for example, articles or products with a block of primitive questions that meaningfully duplicate the text of the main page. This increases the visibility of the page's snippet in SERPs, which has a positive impact on CTR and, consequently, traffic to the site.

The essence and reasons for the change

With the availability of many solutions for different CMSs and popularization in the SEO community, this became used too often and gave too little value to users to exist further in this format. Google puts it this way:

Google blog post from August 8, 2023
Going forward, rich results will only be shown for well-known, authoritative government and health websites. For all other sites, this rich result will no longer be shown regularly. Sites may automatically be considered for this treatment depending on their eligibility.

What makes it clear is that only authoritative sites will get enhanced results, and most likely for questions with specific intents. For example, "how to cut your nails" is probably not important, but "what time the city administration works" will probably be shown.

Why would Google want to make such a drastic change? Let's understand the motivations behind this decision.

1 - Quality Control

Google's main goal is to improve user experience by providing high quality and relevant search results. Over time, some website owners started using structured data to trick the system.

They filled their pages with low-quality content and irrelevant keywords, polluting the rich search results with low-quality information. By eliminating such results, Google aims to maintain the integrity of the search results.

2 - Diversity focus

Another important aspect of Google's decision is its desire to diversify the types of content displayed in the rich search results.

Rather than being dominated by FAQ pages, Google intends to showcase a wider range of content formats such as videos, images and topical snippets.

Also in support of this trend, in a video on Google Search Central's YouTube channel, John Mueller, who holds the position of "Senior Search Analyst / Search Relations team lead" at Google, stated that Google intends to introduce new formats for rich search results in the future, and site owners should be prepared to adapt their content.

This change promotes diversity and ensures that users get more complete answers to their queries.

3 - Encourage better content

Google's decision can also serve as a call for website owners to improve the overall quality of content. Instead of relying on spammy FAQ boxes on every page, webmasters are encouraged to create comprehensive and informative content that provides real value to users.

Implications for SEO professionals

For SEO professionals, these changes have profound implications in terms of strategy. Let's break down what this means for those in the industry.

1 - Rethinking keyword strategy

With the disappearance of rich search results for FAQ pages, SEO professionals need to rethink their strategies for dealing with this format.

Instead of getting hung up on using keywords in them - you need to focus on useful topics for visitors and create content that answers a wide range of user queries related to your niche.

However, you don't need to remove the markup itself - in fact, it complies with Schema.org standards and helps search engines better scan and understand your site. The update is all about Google's search engine crawl.

2 - Content Optimization

The focus now shifts from FAQs to comprehensive, well-optimized site-wide content. Conduct thorough keyword research and integrate them naturally into articles, blog posts, and other relevant pages. Make sure your content provides comprehensive answers to user queries.

3 - Structured Schema Alternatives

While FAQ schema may no longer offer the same benefits, we should explore other structured data options.

Google Guide with rich results formats

Schema markup for recipes, reviews, events, ratings, etc. can still improve your search presence and increase clicks.

Adapting to new environments

The world of SEO is constantly changing, and adaptation is key to staying ahead of the curve. Google's decision to eliminate rich search results for FAQ pages emphasizes the importance of quality content and user-centered strategies. By adapting to these changes, SEO professionals can continue to thrive in this dynamic digital ecosystem.

To do list

  • Don't clean up old FAQ blocks
  • Don't get hung up on designing new FAQ pages for SEO
  • Create FAQs tailored to users' interests
  • Pay attention to overall content quality
  • Select alternative formats for expanded results

Conclusion

In conclusion, Google's decision to eliminate rich search results for FAQ pages represents a significant change in SEO because it was one of the most important areas of optimization.

It serves as a reminder that search engine optimization is not about tricking the system, but providing real value to users. Adapt your approach and continue to provide your audience with valuable content and your efforts will be fruitful in the long run.

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