Structured data helps search engines better understand the context of your site pages. Leveraging structured data, like the schema.org vocabulary, gives your site the potential to earn rich features in the search engine results pages (SERPs). The goal of this study was to determine the impact of earning these features had on URL impressions, clicks, and organic traffic.
For those who are not familiar with rich features, they are search engine result options like, Featured Snippets, FAQs, Video, and Review Stars, as rich features. These stand-out features have been showing up in Google Search results for the past few years, and new options are being tested and implemented by Google frequently. The goal behind them is to increase user engagement and help users find the information they need as fast as possible. To see all the available types, visit the rich results feature gallery here.
While not all rich features are impacted by structured data implemented using schema.org, many of them are connected. So, I decided to test how earning a specific rich result in search would impact the visibility and organic traffic a site receives.
“I believe leveraging structured data using schema.org, will result in more impressions, clicks, and traffic after a site has earned a rich result feature.”
In this study, I looked at seven different websites across a variety of verticals:
- Local Business
- Marketing Services
The sites I used ranged from a small website of approximately 100 pages to large sites with 5000+URLs. I sampled a wide variety of verticals and websites to get a broad idea of how earning rich features impacts the web in general.
To determine what feature was gained and when, I used Search Console’s “Search Appearance” filter. To track the organic traffic, we created custom segments in Google Analytics that showed the organic traffic of only the pages we were tracking.
Since we do many SEO tasks for our clients, we created control groups (when possible) to make sure we could see the real impact of the markup.
We targeted the following rich features:
- Rich Results
- Review Rich Results
- FAQ Rich Results
- Product Results
In total, we looked at the data from 2702 URLs and dates between January 2019 to June 2020. Below are the results of this study broken down by rich results feature.
The site we used to test the impact of this rich feature was a large B2B eCommerce site. We added product markup dynamically on all of the products on the site. Because of this, we didn’t have a control group, but this was the only major SEO task performed on these pages during the time of our test.
After adding the Product markup and earning the rich feature, here were the results.
- Increase in Impressions of 119.14%
- Increase in Clicks of 111.13%
- Increase in Organic Users of 42.21%
- Increase in Organic Sessions of 37.44%
Based on this one change, we saw a very significant increase across the board for this site’s product pages. Using Product markup, we were able to tag images in Google Image Search and add additional product information, like price, right into the search listings. It stands to reason that the additional product information improved the visibility of these pages and encouraged more users to click on the links provided to them.
Not only did this type of markup result in more traffic, but it also led to an increase in eCommerce conversions and sales. After adding the markup, the revenue generated from these pages increased more than 500%, generating over $80K more in revenue than the previous period.
The data around reviews and how they influence the trust of online shoppers is well documented. The “five stars rating” displayed with the help of review markup lead me to believe that this rich feature would have an impressive impact as well.
The URLs used in the review test were part of a large structured data project we are working on with a client. Like the products test, this was the second and final group that did not have a control group. The only SEO work done during the time of this test was the implementation of reviews.
We tested a little over 1500 pages. Here were the results:
- Increase in Impressions of 18.23%
- Decrease in Clicks of 8.47%
- Increase in Organic Users of 23.96%
- Increase in Organic Sessions of 24.51%
The result here surprised me. While this markup has only been on the site for about 30 days, I expected reviews to increase the number of clicks, but so far, this has not been the case. Overall, the traffic trend increased and that was the main metric the client was interested in.
You can see that several other data points improved as well, like bounce rate, pages/session, avg. session duration and “contact us” conversions. So while the click data was down, many of the other important data points saw improvement.
I still believe this feature is one that you should target, and I’ll continue to track the data on these pages. I believe that as these reviews stars remain, the clicks will eventually increase as well and that we will see a much larger impact in the other areas.
The rich results search appearance is a combination of several potential SERP features. According to Google, “Rich Results” under “Search Appearance” in Search Console are a combination of your pages that show up in the search results as rich cards or other forms of rich snippets. (Source)
For this test, we had an experimental and control group. Here are the results.
- Impressions increased 29.26%
- Click increase of 41.16%
- Organic user increase of 29.82%
- Organic session increase of 22.69%
- Impressions increased 106.88%
- Click increase of 10.81%
- Organic user increase of 21.51%
- Organic session increase of 21.48%
Both groups saw increases over the period, but the control group outperformed the experimental group in all categories except impressions.
What we can learn from this is that while rich results will increase impressions, this does not necessarily translate into more clicks. What we can do now is go to the pages that have earned these features and test ways to increase the clicks to our site.
While the differences in organic traffic were not huge, the increased impressions should garner more traffic if we can better match users’ intent.
I am a big fan of video and leverage this medium quite a bit. Video rich results can show up in a few different places, like video carousels and video search, to name a few. But what is the impact of these features when it comes to organic traffic?
For this test, we had both an experimental and control group. Here are the results:
- Impressions increased 87.08%
- Click increase of 65.82%
- Organic user increase of 24.03%
- Organic session increase of 22.69%
- Impressions increased 138.38%
- Click increase of 21.64%
- Organic user increase of 20.39%
- Organic session increase of 20.40%
Similar to the rich results test, video led to a large increase in impressions. However, the control group outperformed pages with video features on Clicks, Organic Users, and Organic Sessions. So again, video does seem to increase the visibility of a page, but it does not necessarily result in a higher increase in clicks and traffic.
Using these results, I am looking deeper into the impact of video. I’m exploring how we can optimize for clicks by better matching the user’s intent. I also plan to look at whether this type of markup has any impact on the views of those videos on YouTube. Google seems to favor YouTube listings in these results much more than any other video platform.
The final rich result we studied were FAQs. The FAQ rich feature is one of my favorites to target but has also been abused and lead Google to make some changes. Google now limits the number of listing that can earn this feature to 3 per query. This feature gives the site link large real estate within the SERPs and can be very lucrative if earned.
For this test we had an experimental and control group. Here are the results.
- Impressions increased 43.41%
- Click increase of 71.75%
- Organic user increase of 5.65%
- Organic session increase of 10.64%
- Impressions increased 337.68%
- Click increase of 817.60%
- Organic user increase of 982.32%
- Organic session increase of 866.97%
As you can see, FAQ had a massive impact on impressions, clicks, and organic traffic. When looking into the data and the pages that earn this feature, all of them took off. One note on this, some of the gains spiked quickly and then normalized over time. But even when the initial spike was over, the pages remained very strong in organic.
Of all the rich features, we can say that FAQs have the largest impact on organic traffic. I believe this has to do with the significant amount of real estate this feature gives to the pages that earn it.
This study is by no means perfect, nor does it represent exactly what you can expect by targeting rich results features, but I hope that it does shed some light on how rich features impact search performance. My goal is to continue to expand on this research and run tests to optimize for even better results over time.
As for my hypothesis, it was not fully proven. Yes, overall, rich results did increase impressions more than our control groups, but there were mixed results for clicks and organic traffic.
Today’s search results present site owners with several opportunities to help drive traffic and improve a site’s reach. In digital marketing, it is essential to track and measure your actions, so you know if they are driving the right results.
If you are interested in leveraging rich results features, check out my eBook on how to leverage schema.org and structured data for rich results.