Can Structured Data Warnings on Search Console Hurt SEO?

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Structured Data Warnings Hurting SEO

Structured Data Warnings Hurting SEO

Any error on any of your website dashboards means something is wrong. The question is, how high of a priority should it be to fix it? Should you drop everything and solve the problem immediately, or is it something to add to the general checklist of “things to solve eventually”?

Diagnosing an error’s severity becomes one of the most important skills you can have as a webmaster and digital marketer. This beginner’s guide will teach you how to make sense of each warning and error and whether it’s worth the trouble to do anything about it.

Let’s get started!

What is Structured Data?

Let’s start at the beginning. What is structured data in the first place?

Structured data is metadata markup. This metadata is seen as HTML / JSON flags in your code. This is JavaScript code that tell bots what the data means, particularly Googlebot.

What is Structured Data

Have you ever browsed a shopping aggregator and seen a mistake? For example, a pricing aggregator where one product’s pricing is way out of line. Upon looking, you realize that the price listed on the eCommerce aggregator is the SKU number for the product; somewhere along the line, a data scraper pulled the wrong number for the wrong field, and now your $5 product looks like it costs $13887532.

Structured data is a way to avoid scenarios like this. Google’s bots will make their best guess on what data on a page refers to what information. They’ll look for a two-point decimal for currency (in areas that use it; some use three, others use one, and so on. Hence the option for confusion, right?), or they’ll look for field labels like “Price: “to identify the data.

Since Google is simply making its best guess, there’s always room for error. It’s relatively rare – especially on Google – but more common on less sophisticated bot scrapers and aggregators.

Structured data identifies specific data in code to ensure that bots know what it means, assuming those bots can read the structured data in the first place.

Google supports various kinds of structured data, but they generally recommend using Schema.org. You can also use the Schema.org structured data testing tool to verify the integrity of your Schema markup.

Schema.org Website

Schema.org is a collaborative, community-created form of structured data meant to cover any kind of data you would publish to the web, from recipes to book citations to reviews and product pages. It was founded by a combination of Google, Bing, Yandex, and Yahoo and currently has widespread support with various search engines.

What Are Structured Data Warnings in Google Search Console?

When you apply structured data to your website, Google expects two things.

  1. That your data is formatted correctly.
  2. That any structured fields in use are populated.

First, take an example of a product listing for a book. When you’re listing a book on a product page, you may want to list the ISBN enhancements for the book so that potential shoppers can verify that they have the correct book/edition they’re looking to buy.

An ISBN is a number so Google will expect a number. If you were to put data other than a number in that field, Google would show an error in the Google Search Console. It would say something like this under the Search Appearance section titled “Enhancements”:

Invalid value type for field “ISBN”

For example, if you had a brief moment of clouded judgment and thought the field was a boolean yes/no and put “yes” or “Y” in that section, you would throw an error. Sure, whether or not a book has an ISBN is relevant sometimes! But it’s not what the purpose of the structured field is for, so it’s incorrect, and Google will tell you as such.

Structured Data Warning Example

The second error means cases where a field exists but has no data.

Suppose that you have a store that sells books, but not all books you sell have ISBNs. ISBNs aren’t required to publish or sell a book, and eBooks, in particular, rarely have them. You can have product pages that sell eBooks or print-on-demand PDFs of books that don’t have ISBNs.

But, since all of your product pages are identical, with data filled out based on a database entry for the book’s information, all of those pages will have an ISBN field. What do you enter for a book that doesn’t have an ISBN? Nothing, right?

Missing field “ISBN”

Google will happily let you know that your page has a section for the ISBN in its structured data, but the ISBN is missing.

This scenario puts you in a tricky situation.

On the one hand, to fix the error, you have to either populate the field – which you can’t because the data doesn’t exist – and incorrectly filling it out is likely worse than not having it. The other option is to remove the field. Clearing the field may mean editing a template or making a forked template and using the correct one for each kind of product. That’s fine for a store with a handful of products, but it becomes a huge burden and labor overhead if you have thousands.

Or, you can take the third option: ignore those errors.

In some rare cases, you may have crawl errors where Google could not crawl the page. A crawl error could be due to your robots.txt file, your page being password protected or hidden behind a login, a firewall, or something else preventing Google from seeing your page. You don’t want to ignore these errors, though, as it impacts your SEO if Google cannot crawl your critical pages. You can use the URL inspection tool to get more details on your crawl errors. These errors may not have to do with Schema (such as mobile usability, like if your text is too close together on mobile devices), but they are essential to fix for your SEO and search traffic.

Other user experience errors can include your searchbox and breadcrumbs, as defined in your Schema markup.

What about the less severe errors, though – can you ignore those?

Do Structured Data Errors Hurt SEO?

To know whether or not an error in structured data hurts your search engine optimization efforts, you first need to understand how structured data is used in the Google search results.

Generally, structured data is used in two ways.

The first is to populate rich search results in particular formats. For example, consider a Google Shopping search result. On these search queries, you can see how each product has pricing information, status about new/used/refurbished or attributes such as free delivery or if a price is a sale price, and in the case of this product, what kind of product it is (like SATA vs. M.2).

Structured Data Error Example

The second is to populate rich snippets on Google’s main page. Consider the exact search on the home page instead. Here, you see typical search results, but you see a star rating and some reviews beneath each of them. Both of those pieces of data are specified in the structured data of a website.

Structured Data Error Example 2

Most of Google’s rich data comes from structured data markup. They’ve scraped that data manually in the past; now that they’ve pushed Schema.org, they tend only to scrape the information if no structured data exists. They may also not scrape this information on a site that doesn’t use structured data but has all the relevant information listed on their web pages. Google’s algorithm can be picky, and it can choose to ignore your structured data, the attributes on your website, or both.

So, here’s the first question: does it hurt your SERPs if you don’t have that data available?

The answer is yes and no. When you look at any given search result, you’ll see most of the results have structured data snippets, but not all of them. Google claims that structured data is not a ranking factor. However, user behaviors like click-through rate can affect your SEO, so it’s an indirect search ranking factor.

That’s overly broad, though. If the question is between using structured data or not using it, it will be better if you use it.

What about the errors, though? Does the presence of mistakes hurt your organic traffic?

Generally, the answer to this is no, with one major caveat.

Errors do not show up on the user’s side of things, only to Google and any other scraper that uses the data. Since most errors are either “the field doesn’t exist” or “the field is filled with the wrong data,” it’s easy to ignore that data.

Ignoring these errors could hurt your SEO if it meant an otherwise required field is missing or incorrect, like price.

On the other hand, what about the example of the missing ISBN on a book that doesn’t have an ISBN in the first place? Is that going to hurt your SEO?

Answer: no. Google understands that sometimes there is no information to put into a field. They would prefer if you didn’t have the data listed in the first place, but they aren’t going to penalize you for it.

What is The Difference Between Warnings and Errors?

When you’re looking at the structured data reports for your site, you’ll notice that the information will show three numbers in GSC (Google’s search console).

  • Pages with Errors
  • Pages with Warnings
  • Valid Pages

Valid pages are fine and don’t need to be touched; Google accepted the structured data, and you can leave it alone.

The other two, though, what’s the difference between a warning and an error?

To put it simply:

Errors mean Google is likely to disregard your structured data for that page as a whole, while you can ignore a warning, and Google can still parse the rest of the data.

Errors are things like data of the wrong format being specified or missing a “critical” piece of data. Generally, errors only refer to essential parts of data, like the product’s price, while warnings will more likely refer to optional data, like the ISBN of a book.

If your structured data has errors, Google is likely to not give you any rich snippets for those pages until the errors are fixed. However, sometimes you can still get those snippets because Google may recognize that you’ve been put in a difficult spot. An example might be a page that allows users to review it, like a recipe. One of the pieces of structured data is ratingCount, which is the number of ratings the page has. However, you will get an error in your search console if the page has no ratings because 0 is not a valid number for that field.

Warnings vs Errors

If you remove the field, Google will complain that a required field is missing. The best option is to review the page yourself, so it ticks up to 1, but that’s potentially viewed as fraudulent and, especially if it’s public, might get you in trouble with your users. Sometimes, you can ignore errors and just let the issue sort itself out. When the page finally gets its first rating, the error will disappear.

Warnings are when optional fields aren’t populated.

One typical example is in recipes. One of the most popular recipe plugins for WordPress is WPRM, WordPress Recipe Maker. WPRM has a field for nutritional information, but the free version of the plugin doesn’t allow you to add nutritional information. So, the section is there, but you can’t add data to it, leading to a warning in your dashboard that says “Missing field ‘Nutrition.'”

Will your site be punished for missing this field? Probably not. Google does say things like:

“If you want your recipe to display as a Guided Recipe on the Assistant, make sure you add recipeIngredient and recipeInstructions. If you add the video property, you must also add the contentUrl property. If your recipe doesn’t have these properties, the recipe won’t be eligible for Guided Recipes (but may still be eligible to appear in search results).”

So it’s likely that your page will lose out on some of the rich results or alternative search displays, but Google won’t remove you from the general search index.

John Mueller of Google had this to say about structured data in general:

“You don’t have to fix all the warnings. A lot of sites have warnings with structured data, and that’s perfectly fine. Structured Data Warnings do not have to be Fixed. That’s clear guidance about Google’s structured data checker. This means if it is impossible to provide the information that the structured data tool requires, then it’s okay to have a warning. However, all errors that are flagged must be fixed.”

This situation can be tricky if an error puts you in a catch-22 of asking for data that doesn’t exist. Still, ideally, that will be fixed when Google finds out about those edge cases and moves the problem into the warning category. And, even then, this is more of a recommendation than a requirement: structured data is not a direct ranking factor regardless.

What Should You Do?

If you have errors in your structured data report, you should strive to fix as many of them as possible. This step might mean populating the fields with data, removing the fields, or legitimately finding an error that needs solving. If you can’t solve the problem, you’re probably free to ignore it until you find a way to fix it.

If you have warnings in your structured data report, see if you can fix them, but don’t worry about it if you can’t. These error notifications don’t hurt your SEO or prevent your rich markup from appearing. These metrics may be annoying in your search console, but site owners should not worry about it if they can’t do anything about them.

David Curtis
David Curtis
David Curtis is the founder and CEO of Blue Pig Media. With twenty years of successful execution in sales, marketing and operations, for both clients and vendors, he has a bottom line ROI driven mentality rooted in metrics driven performance across highly competitive global corporate initiatives.

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