Neil Patel

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FAQ and HowTo Structured Data Update: Winners and Losers

Did you know that 53 percent of web traffic is organic traffic? This means the majority of traffic comes from an organic search engine results page (SERP) listing.

The best way to ensure that traffic is coming to your website is to take up space on the SERPs. This of course means ranking on the first page and, up until recently, it also meant utilizing rich results to increase the visibility of your listing.

With Google’s FAQ and HowTo structured data updates, though, an expanded listing is no longer possible.&

In this post, I’ll share what Google’s latest update is and how it’s impacting websites. This will include a look at my own digital marketing agency’s website performance post-update, as well as three of our clients. Finally, I’ll share ways that digital marketers can react to minimize the damage.

Key Insights on the FAQ and HowTo Structured Data Update

  • On August 8th, 2023, Google announced significant changes to FAQ structured data and HowTo Rich Results.
  • NP Digital experienced a decline in FAQ-related clicks (73% YoY) and impressions (69% YoY).
    • HowTo-related metrics showed a substantial decrease: 77% YoY in clicks and 71% YoY in impressions.
  • NP Digital also examined the results of 3 clients:
    • Client A (Luxury Watch Marketplace):
      • Experienced a sudden drop in clicks and impressions on August 8th.
      • HowTo results were still available on desktop at that time.
    • Client B (Lender Comparison Site):
      • This client saw a spike in March followed by drop-offs in April and August.
      • There was an August drop correlated with the removal of FAQ and HowTo structured data from mobile SERPs.
    • Client C (Online Personal Finance Company):
      • This site experienced a significant drop in mobile clicks and impressions on August 8th.
      • Desktop performance was stable until September, then decreased with HowTo removal from desktop.
    • Digital marketers should expect a marked decrease in clicks and impressions due to the removal of FAQ and HowTo structured data.
    • Despite the impact, there’s no need to proactively remove structured data; there are no penalties.
    • Clicks and impressions may stabilize over the next few months but might not fully recover.

What Do We Know About the FAQ and HowTo Structured Data Update?

Before we dive into the details, let’s first cover the basics. What are FAQ and HowTo rich results?

These are the expanded results that would show under select SERP listings, as shown below:

search engine result followed by frequently asked questions

Where do they come from?

They are added to websites by webmasters in a code called schema markup. When crawling the site, Google takes this markup and turns it into rich results which is the plain language version that you see above.

These rich results helped certain listings to stand out while also providing additional information to searchers.

So, what happened?

On August 8th, 2023, Google announced that FAQ structured data would no longer be available for the vast majority of websites or SERP listings. Instead, it would be reserved for high-authority government and health websites. This update rolled out on both desktop and mobile.

On that same day, HowTo rich results were limited to desktop users only.

Google updated their announcement article on September 14th, 2023, to state that the HowTo structured data changes now apply to desktop in addition to mobile.

While the FAQ rich result may still show on government and health websites, the HowTo rich results are effectively deprecated after September 14th, 2023.

Following this change, numerous dimensions and reports will be removed from Google Search Console. Namely, the HowTo search appearance dimension within the performance report and the entire rich result reports.

Changes NP Digital Found to FAQ and HowTo Structured Data Performance

When it comes to evaluating the impact that a Google update has on websites, we must consider various performance metrics. For most updates, we look largely to clicks and impressions. It’s no different with this update, which has shown to have major implications for websites across industries.

My agency, NP Digital, has been impacted.

The removal of FAQ rich results from SERP resulted in a 73 percent year-over-year (YoY) decrease in FAQ-related clicks and a 69 percent YoY decrease in impressions.

It didn’t stop there, though.

Since the HowTo update was completed in the middle of September, NP Digital has seen a noticeable decrease in performance metrics. Most notably, a 77 percent YoY decrease in HowTo-related clicks and a 71 percent YoY decrease in impressions.

An interesting thing to note is the marked decrease in both clicks and impressions month-over-month since the beginning of the year:

two line graphs showing downward trend of global FAQs and HowTo's

It’s not surprising that Google would begin to phase out FAQs and HowTos even before announcing it. After all, they want to see how such a change would impact their own performance metrics.

As I said above, NP Digital isn’t the only website to see a marked decrease in SERP performance. For a better understanding of the overall impact, let’s look at three of NP Digital’s clients.

Client A

Our first client is a global, pre-owned luxury watch marketplace.

On August 8th, the same day as the FAQ structured data update was fully implemented, they saw a sudden and significant drop in both the number of clicks and the number of impressions they received from SERPs:

line graph of clicks and impressions dropping after update

Notice above that we’re just tracking desktop performance.

At the time when the decrease was most noticeable, HowTo results were still available on desktop. This means that on September 14th when the HowTo structured data update was expanded to remove it from desktop, too, this client likely saw another significant drop-off.

Client B

Our second client is a product comparison site where users can compare financial offers from multiple lenders.

Here, we’ve captured mobile device data.

Client B has a more interesting history, with a massive spike in clicks and impressions in the middle of March. It also has two noticeable drop-offs, first at the beginning of April and then, more drastically, on August 8th. 

line graph showing decline following update

Why might this be?

The spike in clicks and impressions could be for several reasons, like an indexing of a large number of new pages or posts. If that were the case, then the first decrease that we see at the beginning of April would be the leveling out of those results to more “normal” levels.

The August 8th drop, as we know, is due to the complete removal of FAQ structured data and HowTo structured data from mobile SERPs.

Client C

Our third client is an online personal finance company and online bank.

We captured both mobile and desktop data.

For FAQ rich results, Client C sees a significant drop in mobile clicks and impressions on August 8th. Their desktop clicks and impressions remained stable at that time, but they decreased in the following weeks due to the expansion to desktop SERPs in September.

two line graphs showing declines in clicks and impressions for mobile and desktop

The same results can be seen on August 8th when looking at pages with HowTo schema:

line graphs showing declines in clicks on mobile

In particular, note the significant drop-off in clicks and impressions for mobile SERPs.

Remember, HowTo rich results were removed from mobile search results on the same day as FAQ (August 8th). However, HowTo was still available on desktop until September 14th. While not seen in the graphic above, desktop clicks and impressions decreased just weeks later.

How Should Digital Marketers Adapt to the FAQ and HowTo Structured Data Update?

Many websites, regardless of industry, utilize FAQ and HowTo schema to capture more space on the SERP. With the updates announced by Google regarding the removal of this rendered schema from both mobile and desktop, this means a marked decrease in SERP listing real estate.

What does this all mean for digital marketers?

Like NP Digital and our client websites, you probably noticed a drastic decrease in clicks and impressions in August and September. This may also lead to YoY losses.

The key is not to panic.

While these updates have impacted your website, they have also impacted everyone else’s site. The clicks and impressions will level out over the next few months though they’ll likely not recover to pre-update levels.

So what, if anything, should digital marketers do to adapt?

While you can drop this structured data from your site, there’s no need to proactively remove it. There are no penalties for keeping FAQ structured data and HowTo structured data in place, so going back and removing them from your schema would be a lot of time with no return on investment.

In fact, you may find it beneficial to keep FAQ schema intact on your website, both for old and new pages and posts. Why? Let’s look back at that Google announcement. Regarding the changes to FAQ rich results, it states (emphasis added): 

“Going forward, FAQ (from FAQPage structured data) 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.

While HowTo rich results have been deprecated, FAQ has not. There is still a chance that any website might qualify for FAQ rich results in the future. This is true for FAQ page schema and FAQ schema on other pages (like blog posts).

It’s best to keep that opportunity open and monitor your FAQ results using Google Search Console’s rich results report.

FAQs

What is FAQ schema markup and HowTo schema markup?

Schema markup, also known as structured data, is a code that is added to websites and readable by search engines like Google. Google turns these into rich results, that people can read and understand. FAQ and HowTo schema markup are just two kinds of schema markup available for websites.

Do these updates impact only FAQ page structured data?

FAQ structured data can be used anywhere on your website where FAQs exist. This can certainly mean your dedicated FAQ page, if you have one, but it can also be used on other pages and posts.

Should I continue to add FAQ and HowTo schema markup to my website?

Since HowTo rich results have been deprecated, there is no point in adding HowTo schema markup to your website. There is still a chance that your website can benefit from FAQ structured data, though, so be sure to continue to add FAQ schema markup to your website

Conclusion

As a digital marketer, it’s not your job to anticipate changes like those implemented by Google. It is your job to react in such a way as to minimize the damage to your website performance.

Sometimes, though, it’s best to temper your reaction and wait for the changes to level out.

The good news is that this Google algorithm update impacts not just you, but your competitors too. This levels the playing field, and it’s important to consider this when looking at your year-over-year performance.

Do you have questions about the Google FAQ and HowTo structured data updates? Drop them in the comments section.

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