What Google’s FAQ Schema Update Means For Your SEO Strategy

By Brodie Clark

June 22, 2021
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Key sections: How It WorksWhat It MeansOther Important AspectsKey Takeaways

When support for FAQ Schema rich results first launched in May of 2019, there was always the feeling of “how long can this actually last”. Because the markup applied to effectively any page, usage grew exponentially.

But what came with this rollout was a very strict parameter. A parameter which filters out the rich result from appearing when >3 pages use the markup and are ranking on the 1st page of Google.

This filter is one that many SEO professionals are an unaware of, being a large contributor to why every result on Google hasn’t become infiltrated with largely irrelevant Infrequently Asked Questions.

Along with the >3 pages and 1st page filtering, there are also other, more discrete filters. I covered each in a post at the beginning of 2020, involving HTML usage in the ‘question’ and more.

This has now all led to the introduction of a new filter, which was confirmed to have come into play in mid-June of 2021. This post outlines how the new filter works, what it means for SEO, along with other important aspects.

How the new FAQ Schema limit works

Previously, there were a few different approaches SEO professionals could take to making the most of the FAQ rich result format. Many preferred the approach of marking up only 4 FAQs to get the most coverage possible.

If you were to add >4 FAQs, a ‘show more’ drop-down would appear, meaning any additional FAQs in the sequence would only be revealed when pressing to expand the accordion. But you could have up to 10 in total showing.

With the new FAQ Schema rich result update that’s been introduced by Google, you can now only have 2 FAQs per URL appearing in Search. Here’s what each of the most impactful filters now look like:

The above example shows 3 results with the markup. With a total of 6 questions showing in Google’s search results, which will now be the limit due to the recent FAQ rich result update that has happened.

So you could have more than 2 FAQs marked up, but Google will only ever show the first 2 for the most part. For sites that were making the most of the 4 row treatment, this FAQ treatment has now been halved.

There is however some nuance involved with this update, which is important to be across. In particular, the way that FAQ Schema has increasingly become a query-dependent SERP feature, rather than a standalone feature.

What the change means for your SEO strategy

Because of the increasing dependence of a query to generate FAQ rich results, this puts an interesting spin on the change that Google has rolled out to limit FAQs to 2 per page. And it’s more simple than you might think.

Looking at a page that has in excess of 2 FAQs marked up, it has the ability to show different FAQs in Google’s search results based on the search term, which is a situation that can happen within Search.

Here’s an example of a page which has 4 FAQs within the content that have also been marked up with FAQPage, where adding a query into the mix shows completely different rich results for the page.

Based on my research, it is possible (like within the example above) for a query to influence which FAQs appear. But this also appears to be quite rare, with Google mostly defaulting to the first 2 FAQs in the sequence.

This means that the first 2 FAQs are now the most important by a long shot when optimising for FAQ rich results. If your page already has over 2 FAQs being marked up on the page, that is completely fine too.

Because of Google’s ability to surface FAQs that are relevant to a query, this could actually be an advantage. But I wouldn’t rely on it, because Google does default to showing the first 2 FAQs in the vast majority of cases.

Other important aspects to keep in mind

What about if you just wanted to mark-up a single FAQ from your page and have that appear in the FAQ rich result? Based on my research, you won’t be able to generate a rich result at all if only a single FAQ is added to your code.

This is where the announcement from Google could have been more specific. The announcement included the explanation of: “we made a change recently that limits these to two maximum“.

When working with a large publisher client recently, they fell into this trap with thousands of pages on their site. They had marked up only 1 FAQ in the code for each page, trying to receive the rich result treatment.

only faq schema no rich result when having a single FAQ

The result was that they had the code added to pages for a single FAQ, but weren’t receiving the rich result benefit, which defeats the purpose of having this code on their pages. A more considered approach was needed.

Note: when testing your Structured Data implementation, you should now be using the tool located on the schema.org site (the above screenshot was before it's introduction). The previous tool, which will soon be deprecated is located here: search.google.com/structured-data/testing-tool. You should now be replacing this with this tool: validator.schema.org which is said to be simpler but continuing to be Google-hosted and should be your primary testing tool (alongside the Rich Results Test) when testing Schema implementation.

The “maximum of 2” component of the announcement could actually be explained as you “need to have at least 2 FAQs marked up to be eligible, but Google will only ever show a maximum of 2 at a time”. That’s more of a mouthful, but is more accurate in my opinion.

This does however come with the caveat that it will likely be the first 2 FAQs that appear in the code 99% of the time, if other criteria has been met to allow for a rich result to appear for a page.

Key takeaways from the update

One thing that Google likes to ensure when removing features is that the old feature don’t go unused, making site owners feel like their time has been wasted. This is also the case with the latest FAQ Schema update.

For sites that have over 2 FAQs marked up on a page, I wouldn’t worry about going back and changing your code. The additional FAQs could be used in Google’s rich results for query variations that you’re unaware of.

But I would however recommend revisiting the first 2 FAQs that have been marked up. Because we now know that the first 2 will be likely be the only 2 showing, so we need to be confident that our best foot is being put forward.

This should have really been the case all along, but I do recognise that thinking and strategies may need to change due to potentially half the amount of FAQs being visible in search results now.

Here’s a summary of some of the key aspects discussed in this post:

  • The most impactful filter that Google currently has in place for FAQ Schema is not the most recent change. It is limiting rich results to 3 at max on the first page of Google only.
  • With the new update, there are many pages which have had their FAQ snippet sliced in half. Because 4 FAQs marked up was essentially the “sweet spot” prior to this update, this will be the case for a lot of sites.
  • The new rich result limit works by selecting the first 2 FAQs that have been marked up on a page. This is purely in order of appearance, and does work this way for the majority of situations, but can have the ability to show others that are marked up if the search term is relevant to the FAQ content.
  • For the majority of sites, there is no immediate action needed to adjust your strategies to this update. You will however want to review your first 2 marked up FAQs to ensure that they are the best to include.

Something else that comes up regularly at the moment is the impact of Google Core Updates on rich results. This is an aspect that I’ve covered a lot in the past, where your FAQ rich result may be temporarily disabled.

This update (where Google only shows 2 FAQs) is however unrelated. If you’ve lost your rich results completely in the past few weeks, and you’re not in breach of guidelines, they may eventually return on their own.

If you have any questions or feedback on the recent FAQ Schema update, feel free to tag me on Twitter.

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