Schema markup provides website publishers with ways to influence the way your content appears in search results, by passing more information to the search engines than appears to human visitors.
One relatively recent capability is the ability to use Schema to create Google Actions – we’ll come on to how you do that in a moment, but first in case you’re not aware, it’s worth asking what exactly is a Google Action?
What is a Google Action?
Google Actions allow you to make content interactive via the Google Assistant. That’s the cloud-based voice-activated system used in smart speakers, smart displays and Android smartphones.
Put simply, it means your website can be one of those that respond to “OK Google, talk to…” requests.
How does Schema enable Google Actions?
By adding complete and correct Schema markup to your pages, you give Google the necessary information to run Google Actions on that page.
That might mean giving the user instructions on how to do something or how to prepare a recipe, answering frequently asked questions, reading news articles aloud or playing a podcast episode.
In essence, it’s a simplified form of computer programming. These specific types of Schema markup transform your content from a static web page into an app that can be accessed from any Google Assistant compatible device.
Benefits of Schema
Adding comprehensive Schema markup to your pages has multiple benefits:
• Multimedia (non-text) content becomes more visible to search engines.
• Content has a chance to feature as a rich snippet in Google Search results.
• Specific content types (see below) become Google Assistant ‘apps’.
Your content becomes more discoverable, more accessible (for example, to vision-impaired users) and more easily interactive, e.g. rich snippets that include buttons to place an order or buy tickets for an event.
Schema for Google Actions: Supported content types
Schema markup is linked with specific content types, and Schema for Google Actions is no exception – so what content types are supported?
There are five broad types of content that you might want to publish using Schema to create Google Actions.
• How-to Guides
These content types fall into several categories: informational (FAQs and News), instructional (How-to Guides and Recipes) and entertaining (Podcasts).
Using Schema, you can define ways for users to interact with your content via their Google Assistant device.
Briefly, some more things to be aware of for each content type include:
Schema to create Google Actions for FAQs is a versatile opportunity, as you can add markup to almost any page where the content takes the form of questions and answers.
The content contained within your Schema markup must match what’s visible on the page. But if you score an exact match with a Google Assistant user’s question, their device may read your specified answer out loud exactly and in full.
Remember this is an informational content type, so you should resist the urge to advertise; however, in some cases it may be appropriate to mention your brand, products or services in a non-commercial way.
Make sure that your web page does not allow user-generated content. The questions and answers you provide must be static. You cannot create a Google Action for user-generated Q&A pages.
How-to Guides are another very broad category for instructions, rather than information.
The entire page must be focused on how-to instructions – not just a short sub-section. Your instructions should also be step by step, not just a solid block of text.
Recipes have their own dedicated markup, but how-to markup can be used to create Google Actions for non-food recipes. You can also include elements like images, tools and lists of required materials.
News content is arguably less interactive and entertaining as the other content types, but its potential audience is very large.
In order to appear as news content on Google Assistant devices, you must be a registered Google News publisher – if you are, the level of competition you face for this feature is relatively small and tightly controlled.
There are different methods to create Google Actions for AMP news pages and non-AMP pages:
• AMP: Google’s recommended option as it loads faster. You’ll need to define a list of properties such as the headline, publication date, author name and so on.
• Non-AMP: If you’re not ready to AMP it up just yet, you can use structured data to add markup to non-AMP pages then use the Structured Data Testing Tool to verify it.
Either method improves your chance to appear as a rich search result snippet, and when done correctly and in full, means your articles may be read aloud by Google Assistant devices.
Schema for podcasts makes it much easier for audio content to be found via Google Search, instead of publishers relying on it being discovered via a streaming platform or promoting it independently.
Using Schema, podcast publishers can provide episode-specific information and create Google Actions so episodes can be played directly from a Google Assistant device like a smartphone or smart speaker.
To create a podcast Google Action, select ‘Add Podcast’ from the top-right menu in the Google Play Portal, add your podcast RSS feed and specify your chosen tags.
Recipes are specifically for edible food dishes – not things like home-made bath salts, face scrubs or kids’ slime (although you can use ‘how-to’ markup for those).
To begin, just complete the required Google Form with your name, company name, domain name and email address.
Be aware that to appear as a Google Action and in rich snippets in Google Search, your page must include not only recipe Schema markup, but also ‘guidance’ markup that allows users to follow along with your instructions.
How to create Google Actions using templates
If you’re not confident writing Schema code from scratch, Google offers a simplified, template-based method specifically for how-to videos on YouTube, flashcards, personality quizzes and trivia pages.
Rather than adding Schema code to your web page, you instead fill in a Google Sheet template you can find via the Actions Console.
Once completed and tested, you upload the finished sheet via the Actions Console and assuming everything is done correctly, your Google Action should be enabled shortly after.
This keeps your Google Action separate from your actual content. It’s free to create a template-based Google Action and everything is hosted (for free) by Google.
Importantly if your Google Action is part of your web marketing campaign, you can track your analytics directly from the Actions Console, or by including your Google Analytics tracking ID in the configuration tab of your Google Sheet.
How to claim a Google Action
Once Google detects the structured data markup on your page – assuming it is complete and correct – it will generate an entry in the Google Assistant directory.
You should then receive an email direct to your designated website owner to claim that entry. Alternatively, visit the relevant entry in the Google Assistant directory and click the link to claim the page.
How to remove a Google Action
If Google auto-generates an Action you don’t want, you can remove it easily via the Actions Console.
Just log in, choose the unwanted Action, go to the Overview page and then the Versions section.
On the published version of the Action, click Overflow and then Unpublish and it will be removed from public view.
Are Schema and Google Actions worth it?
Schema can seem like a leap into the unknown, especially if you’re used to using a content management system that does all the HTML or PHP coding for you.
But it can give you a competitive advantage. Many of your competitors will not yet have Schema markup on their site, so it’s one thing you can do to instantly get ahead of them.
It also gives you the chance to appear in ‘position zero’, that hallowed rich snippet placing on Google Search results pages that features even above the top organic result.
By using Schema to create Google Assistant Actions, you open up your content to an entirely new audience too, and the competition to feature in this way might be very low in your industry or market niche.