Last month Google announced that it was dropping support for How-to schema and FAQ rich snippets on mobile search results. Yesterday they confirmed that they will be extending this to desktop results as well.
What is How-To schema
How-To schema (or HowTo schema) is a form a structured data markup that allows developers and digital marketers to provide a list of instructions for how to accomplish a task. For example, an automotive enthusiast site might markup a webpage (aka add HTML or JSON to their source code) with the steps to perform an oil change. Below are examples from Google’s (former) documentation of How-To rich snippets – the intended outcome of implementing this form of schema.
The problem is that schema, or structured data, should match your content. And in many cases SEOs were straying a little too far for Google’s liking. But we’re jumping ahead.
First, it’s worth pointing out that a form of structured data can exist (i.e., on schema.org) and not be supported by search engines. In fact, only a small fraction of the overall schemas on schema.org are supported/used for rich results. As Google’s John Mueller pointed out, you can keep the structured data markup on your site — but it won’t do much.
Also, How-To schema isn’t the only type of structured data markup being affecting through these updates.
FAQ schema is closely related, but different than How-To schema. They are often used alongside each other on webpages and they are often used interchangeably when articles reference Google’s recent updates.
From a technical perspective it’s worth distinguishing FAQPage structured data from How-To structured data. Interestingly enough, Google documentation still has an FAQ structured data page. A notice has been added to the top of the page stating that FAQ rich results will only be displayed for well-known, authoritative government and health websites. While this means that only a small fraction of websites/SEOs can effectively use FAQ schema moving forward – the How-To documentation page have been redirected completely.
Many SEOs were already reported massive drops in traffic from FAQ rich results early in 2023. And it’s easy to see why as we dig into how some SEOs were misusing, abusing and spamming these forms of schema.
Misuse, abuse & spam
Spammy schema, like most black hat SEO tactics, has long been a problem and Google issued penalties back in 2015 targeting review schema spam. Whether it’s caused by improperly automating schema or purposely spamming, schema stuffing became a noticeable issue in recent years as well.
Autogenerating any content, whether it’s body copy or schema code is a gamble without proper validation. It may not be realistic to hand code every piece of schema for an enterprise-level ecommerce client – but it’s important to remember bad SEO is often worse than no SEO. Engaging in spammy behavior can cause much more harm long-term than have missing titles or an out-of-date sitemap.xml.
Using schema properly is like spoon-feeding search engines important information that can be used for rich snippets. Unfortunately the collective industry has been feeding search engines the wrong stuff when it comes to How-To & FAQ schema. And while it’s easy to conceive why Google might deprecate these results over spam issues, there’s also another likely factor influencing their decision.
Or is this SGE’s doing?
Many SEOs are speculating the Google dropping FAQ rich snippets from traditional search results could be related to their Search Generative Experience (SGE). SGE is Google’s experimental generative AI experience that the industry expects to go rollout by end of year (though some are questioning if SGE should “survive”). Regardless of the cause, we will miss using FAQ & How-To schema responsibility.