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As a professional team of SEO experts, every once in a blue moon we come across some SEO-related snags that make us go back into the research mode to help our clients tackle the said issues.

Recently, one of our client’s website got hit with a schema markup/structured data manual action. And it was one of those rare times when we had to take some extra efforts to resolve the situation. But resolve we did – and we’re detailing the same in this blogpost so that you can guide your clients/associates if they have been hit with a schema-markup/structured-data manual action. But first, let’s go back to the basics of it all.

Schema Markup is one of the most powerful ways for optimizing your website for search engine result pages (SERPs). It helps you to send the correct information to search engines about your business and content. But as specified by Google earlier, if this feature is not used in an appropriate way, it can harm your website. Before getting deep into this topic let’s first understand what schema markup is.

A Powerful Tool For SEO: Schema Markup

Google, Bing, Yandex, and Yahoo collaborated and came up with Schema.org in order to provide the information their search engines need to understand the website content and provide the best search results to their users.
It is basically a specific vocabulary of tags that you can add to your HTML to improve the way your page is represented in SERPs.

The Schema can be used to markup types of items from events to products to recipes. It is most often used to provide additional information about the following:

● Place
● Product
● Person
● Event
● Organization

Click Here to view all items that can be marked up by Schema.

A study has determined that websites with markup rank an average of four positions higher in the SERPS’s than those without schema markup.

Some of Google’s features take advantage of schema markup that can prove to be very helpful for a business. Features like rich snippets and rich cards all take advantage of schema markup.

Manual Action Penalty: Improper Implementation of Structured Data Markup!

Spammy Structured Markup Penalties from Google can be a threat for your website if schema markup is not used correctly.

It only happens when Google detects some of the markups on your websites which are using techniques that violate Google’s Structure Data Guidelines.

Here’s a wall of shame of websites which historically tried to manipulate their schema markup to show false information on SERPs:

A fake schema markup with author image, name and ratings
Courtesy: CognitiveSEO

The website marked on the screenshot above tried to fake Snippet Ratings and votes but using the name and Author picture of Matt Cutts? Blasphemy!

Schema markup with fake rating and review numbers
Courtesy: CognitiveSEO

Faking the number of votes is not a good idea.

These websites basically implemented HTML structured data markup and hyped up the number of votes and rating. Something like this:

HTML code used to generate a fake rating structured data
Courtesy: CognitiveSEO

Basically, these websites tried to add fake AggregateRating Schema, bloating the numbers. This is even worse if a website does not have any presence of ratings and reviews on it.

Marking up content that is invisible to users, marking up irrelevant or misleading content or other manipulative behavior can lead your website to suffer from Manual Penalty Action by Google.

Google can apply a manual action to the affected portions of your site, which may affect how your site is displayed in search results. Actions that affect how your whole site is displayed are listed under Site-wide matches while the actions that affect how only part of your site is displayed are listed under Partial matches.

Let us have a look on an example of a manual structured data penalty message sent by Google in the search console.

Schema markup Manual action penalty message

The Penalty message would look like:

Spammy structured markup

Markup on some pages on this site appears to use techniques such as marketing up content that is invisible to users, marking up irrelevant or misleading content, and/or other manipulative behavior that violates Google’s Rich Snippet Quality guidelines.

Google has stated that, “In cases where we see structured data that does not comply with these standards, we reserve the right to take manual action (e.g., disable rich snippets for a site) in order to maintain a high-quality search experience for our users.”

How To Keep Your Website Protected From Such Manual Action Penalties?

Here are a few simple steps that can help you to avoid such kind of manual penalties on your website:

  • Review Your Webmaster Property:

    Go to Google Webmaster Tools, then select Search Traffic and then Manual Actions. If you see the message same as in the screenshot below, then your website is absolutely fine.

    A webmaster property without any manual action

    And this is what this section will look like with a manual action

    Webmaster with a schema markup manual action penalty

  • Don’t Forget To Use Google’s Structured Data Testing Tool:

    You can use Structure Data Testing Tool to check if there are any structural markup issues in your pages.

    Errors in structured data markup

    Publisher schema markup error

  • Choose the right Schema to markup pages:

    Make sure that the formats or templates that you use are the best suitable for the data on which you are using them. Try to use the template which is most relevant to your data.

    You can use Google’s Structured Data Markup Helper that allows you to highlight the required areas on your site in the WYSIWYG editor and grab the HTML code with all the necessary tags put in place.

  • Google Search Console Account:

    You should monitor the structured data report in your Google Search Console account which will show you your website’s Structured Data indexation and errors.

    Multiple schema markup errors

  • Stay Updated About The latest Structured Data News:

    Regularly check Google’s Webmaster Blog to stay updated with the latest news on Structured Data.

How To Recover From Structured Data Penalty?

Following are the steps to be taken in order to recover from Structured Data Penalty:

  • Identification of the issue:

    Structured Data Testing Tool can help you in finding the exact issue. After identifying the issue, you can start working on your code to fix the problem. If you are unable to find the issue, then the best option is to delete all schema from your site and start again.

  • Use Schema.org website:

    Use the Schema.org website to determine what you want your schema to do. Copy your existing code into a Notepad file and make the changes you need to within the file.

  • Check Your New Code:

    Check your new code with the help of ‘Code Snippet’ tab. This will help you to check if your new code passes the guidelines before setting it live on your site.

  • Replace Your Existing Code:

    Run the site through the testing tool again after replacing your existing code with your new schema markup.

  • Reconsideration Request:

    Submit your reconsideration request with the acknowledgment of the penalty and explanations of how you went about fixing this and what you expected the issue to be. You can submit your request through your Search Console account.

    Have a look on one of the examples of a reconsideration request for a structured data penalty:

    Hello Webmaster,

    We have identified some possible reasons that led to our website receiving manual action. We have cleaned up our old schema codes and have replaced them with new ones.

    In order to comply with Google’s guidelines, we have also made sure that the schema are viewable to the users and does not contain any elements that are not present in the website itself.

    Regards,
    Webmaster
    example.com

  • Have Patience and Wait:

    A real person in the Google Webspam team will read your reconsideration request. Google says you should wait a few weeks before expecting a response.

The Case Study:

So as we mentioned in the beginning, one of our clients got hit by a spammy structured data/schema markup manual action penalty.

The first thing we did, was to review the schema codes present on the website. While reviewing the codes, we identified the following:

  • There were some schema codes that were being generated by some plugin that the client had recently installed.
  • There were multiple ‘Hentry’ type markups that were being identified by the webmaster tool and all of them had errors.
  • There was an AggregateRating type schema present in the original ‘Organization’ type schema code.

Since it was not clear which elements were exactly the root of the problem, we decided to deal with all of them ASAP.

The plugin generated markups were easily removed by adding a small code to the website’s function.php file.

The ‘Hentry’ errors were a bit tricky. The website was using WordPress as a CMS platform, and a custom theme by Themepunch. Since the codes were being generated by the theme itself, and any small mistake could ruin the website. However, there are some good articles on the internet that can help you out with this, especially this one. Since many WordPress themes generate ‘Hentry’ markups, the solution should work for them. The method that we tried reduced the errors considerably.

Next came the AggregateRating type schema. We had some doubt with this one since the website no longer had the review and rating feature. So we decided to remove this code completely.

Once these steps were completed, we decided to fire up a reconsideration request to Google. We pointed out each and every steps that we had taken to resolve the issue.

Once that was done, we just had to wait. After three days, we got a notification from Google, saying that our reconsideration request had been approved and the manual action had been withdrawn!

That day, we learned a few things. While schema markup can be a pretty powerful tool, it should be used very carefully. A few lines of harmless code can prove to be disastrous if they do not follow Google’s guidelines.

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