Podcast 60: Google adds rich results support for how-to content

In this episode of the Cherryleaf Podcast, we look at Google’s announcement to support and promote rich, how-to structured data in Google Search and the Google Assistant.


Hello and welcome to the latest episode of the Cherryleaf Podcast. In this episode we’re going to look at a recent announcement by Google (it was also on the Google Blog)We’ll provide a link to it in the show notes from May 2019. It’s about Google adding rich results supports for how-to content and FAQs.  

So let me read from the blog post and then let’s talk about it. 

So, the blog post says “Today we’re announcing support for FAQ and how to structure data on Google search and the Google assistant including new reports in search console to monitor how your site is performing.

So, for a number of years Google and a number of other organizations such as Yahoo have been working to encourage more semantic structure content on the web. Google was one of the founders of a website or a body or standard you might call it called schema.org which set some rules or some standards for writing semantic meaning to certain types of web content with the encouragement that that will improve the ability of the search  engines and also mean that your if you’re using these more likely to appear higher in the search engine rankings so the news that has come out from Google is that with schema.org introducing a standard for writing how-to articles and FAQs Google is going to work to encourage organizations to use those in their webpages. 

So, let me read on a  little bit more from the blog “how to rich results provide users with richer previews of web results that guide users through step-by-step tasks. For example: if you provide information on how to tile a tree house you can add how to structure data to your pages to enable the page to appear as a rich result on search and a how-to action for the assistant.” 

OK so let’s explain that a little bit more. Soone of the ways in which Google uses this type of information or rich information as it describes it, is in the search engine results. So, for example, if you type in information such as a recipe or a football score or the weather what you’ll often see in the search engine results from the search engine providers is that answer in the search engine resultsSo if you’re looking for a score say, for example, Catalan Dragons against Wigan, you type that in, you’ll actually see the result in the search engine. You don’t need to click on to a website to find the answer that you’re looking for.  

And you see these little boxes of rich information that appears in Google and Google also uses this type of approach with the Google assistantthe voice activated devices the speakers the intelligent speakers the insurgents assistance that you can get for the home and also that you can use with your smartphone.

So what this means is that if you search how do I do this or that then the move will be for Google to provide that answer in a window in the search engine results without somebody having to click through to a relevant page and that’s going to mean for end-users they’re more likely just to look at that one top result that Google serves rather than pick from maybe three alternatives, the best three that appear in the search engine rankings. 

So how is the how-to standard or template going to be applied? Again, let’s go on with the blog posts and then we’ll  talk a little bit further. So, the post says “add structure data to the steps tools duration and other properties to enable a how-to rich result for your content in the search page. If your page uses images or video for each step make sure to mark up your visual content to enhance the preview and expose a more visual representation of your content to users.

So, what this means is that the search engine results that Google serves up could include videos or images in  those results particularly where you’ve got smartphone assistant or the like where it might run the video for you and there’s a little bit more on the approach for the assistance the speaker’s your content can also start surfacing on the assistant through voice guided experiences 

This feature lets you expand your content to new surfaces to help users complete tasks wherever they are and interactively progress the steps using voice commands as shown in the Google home hub example below which is in the bill post. The assistant provides a conversational hands-free experience that can help users complete a task this is an incredibly light way for web developers to expand their content to the assistant.  

So if you are somebody who is writing content which involves people using their hands so you’re writing instructional content to maintain or service a physical piece of equipment this gives you the opportunity to describe your instructions with voice with sound, so that people can listen to what they should be doing and do it at the same time. And the way in which Google is implementing this means that from a development side of things web development side of things that is going to be relatively straightforward 

So there is a structure for these how-tos and what is defined by how-to is instructions that explain how to achieve a result by performing a sequence of steps and this is defined on the schema.org slash how-to web page. So we’re still writing content that is HTML, so we’re still going to be using div tags and heading ones and heading twos for things like lists of items that are requiredbut there are certain semantic markup tags that we can use, such as preparation, which we can walk into, div tag, and we can add attributes today of searches and ID equals, steps for the set of steps that are required in the order that’s to be done. And there is a very long list of properties that we can add to our pages our how-to pages that conform to schema.org 

So let me go through some of those estimated costSo the estimated cost of the supplies that are needed to complete this action. There is something called perform time, which is the duration the length of time it takes to prepare or perform the instructions. 

I should say prep time the amount of time it takes to prepare the items steps which is a single step which is again similar to what you might do in data.

We’ve got tool, so an instrument or an object that’s to be used to complete it to carry out these tasks total time the total time required to perform the instructions.

There’s also something called the yield which is what comes out from completing these instructions quantity, so it might be by doing this you create ten widgets.  

Now to make it easier to implement this what Google is also producing is templates and there’s a template for you to make it easy for you to create a video a how-to video and for it to appear in the results and what the template that Google has developed thus it allows you to add your how-to video guides and their steps to a Google Sheet. 

Google Sheets is their spreadsheet their equivalent to Excel and then after completing those quick steps what that produces is what they call a fully working action which you can then test and submit to Google for approval 

That the action can be invoked through one of the Google assistants through one of the speakers so when users want to invoke your action they’re able to select one of your how-to guide videos and they can watch it and that can be in conjunction with the steps being written out and also what the user is able to do is to tap on a specific step and to go straight to a particular point in a video 

So, what does this mean for the technical author?

What happens if you’re writing your content semantically today but you’re using DITA?

Does this mean you’re going to need to abandon DITA or another XML standard and go to this schema.org how-to approach. Well no, because what can happen is that you can still write your content in a structured way using XML. What you’ll need to do is just change the way in which you publish your contentSo when it’s converted from XML to being HTML to get the most out of these new standards is to publish it so that semantically the delivered HTML conforms to the schema.org schema for how-to instructions 

So, there was another schema that’s has been announced and is for FAQs, but generally within the technical writing world we tend to discourage people from using FAQs because they’re rarely questions they’re rarely frequently asked.

But if you do need to write FAQ pages and people are likely to search on certain questions in Google and you want your answers to appear at the top of the list then again it would make sense for you to make sure that your FAQ pages conform to the frequently asked schema that’s there if you look at the schema for FAQs there isn’t anything particularly specific that you probably need to consider there’s not a great deal of specific markup in that structured semantic markup that’s there that you would need to pay attention to.  

This also suggests that Google is going to be giving greater emphasis on spoken content than it does today, that its ability to take the spoken word and to transcribe it to be text and to index it will mean that it will include that into the search engine results and give that prominence. 

Also, as an indication or a sign of that is that Google is now indexing podcasts and if you search on a particular podcast now what can happen is that you can see the list of episodes in the Google search engine rankings and you can actually play those episodes directly from the search engine, you don’t need to go to a player to play them. 

Another consequence of Google playing greater emphasis on structured data is that it does help make the case for an organization to take structured content more seriously, or to give it greater prominence than it has today.

That by having structured content on your web pages you’ll do better in Google and if you write your content in a structured way from the start then it will be easier to make your web pages structured and get that benefit that Google is promising all that prominence that Google will provide. 

So anyway, that’s it for this episode. Just a short one on two chains that’s happening within Google something to keep attention to. 

Until next time, if you want more news on information about technical communication and its developments don’t forget the Cherryleaf newsletter if you go to the Cherryleaf website and sign up then you can get our free monthly newsletter with a list of links to articles and news developments such as this one. You can get that free of charge 

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And if you want more information: www.Cherryleaf.com and info on our training courses is in the same placewww.Cherryleaf.com .  

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Thank you very much thanks for listening, until the next time byebye. 

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