Google recently added support for HowTo Structured Data in their search results.

Depending on which side of the fence you’re on, you can view it as either Google wants to steal more of your website traffic or provide more rich results to their users.

At the early stages of this feature, it’s not quite clear as to how this markup will impact traffic to your site. So proceed with caution.

Glenn Gabe did however write an excellent article investigating the new SERP feature in more detail, which I would highly recommend checking out.

If you’re wanting to try it out for yourself, here’s the steps for getting the feature up and running for your site:

1. Assess your content for suitability

The first step is to assess whether your content is suitable for applying this markup. Although it’s still early days, I’ve already started to see it misused on large sites.

One of the big ones is using the markup only for non-food related content. If you’re wanting to markup your recipes, then there’s a specific markup for those already.

Example showing a site using the HowTo markup on a recipe. This was one of the first sites reported as showing the markup in SERPs.

The above shows a correct and incorrect example. But as a side note, “How to Open a Door”!? There’s barely any search volume for that query.

Another important distinction is that the “how to” component of the content is the main focus for the page. If not, then it’s probably not suitable to markup.

2. Check the latest required fields

Currently, there aren’t any schema generators (that I know of) that allow you to create this markup easily.

I tend not to rely on these tools too much anyway. I find it’s better to learn how to write the markup yourself with Google’s resources.

For this step, you’ll need to check in with Google’s Documentation for the HowTo markup. Here you’ll find example code written in JSON-LD and Microdata for varying applications.

Google’s Documentation for implementing HowTo Structured Data

You’ll have the choice to get a standard HowTo result, a result with images, or a even with a video included.

Google regularly updates their recommended fields for different types of markup, so it’s best to consult these examples prior to implementation.

Note: sometimes even Google’s own Documentation doesn’t align with their own tools, so keep that in mind.

3. Validate your markup with a Rich Results Test

Google recommends using their own Rich Results testing tool. This will allow you to see whether all required properties have been used.

The test will also give you the ability to see whether all recommended fields have been used (designed to create a better user experience).

I submitted the URL for this blog. There was 1 warning for the “supply” field, so I needed to go back and fill that section out.

Once you’ve fleshed out any issues with your code, you can validate the fixes as you go and pin point where the issues are arising within the rendered HTML.

4. Force a crawl through the URL Inspection tool

If you’re impatient like I am, you won’t want to wait until Google gets around to indexing your content to pick up the HowTo markup.

Instead, you can use Google’s URL Inspection tool with your verified Google Search Console property.

Now that the “supply” field has been added, I can validate this in Google Search Console also. I can then request Google to index this page.

Depending on the size and strength of a site, you’ll generally see the results reflected quickly in Google’s SERPs (sometimes in minutes).

The purpose of this step is to see whether everything is reflected correctly on Google. This will allow you to see if any changes need to be made.

And, of course, gives you near-instant gratification for your hard work.

5. Check how the content is appearing on Google

While checking Google’s SERPs, you’ll want to make sure your images (if used) are cropped correctly and whether you can help entice a click further.

For instance, you might want to rework a description for a step to fit a certain set of parameters on Google. This will mean you’ll have to go back and start again from step 1.

Glenn did this after his own HowTo test went live. Originally, his Featured Snippet went missing. But within 24 hours it seemed to return (in Australia anyway).

6. Assess performance and benefit for the business

Most importantly, we want to ensure our content performance is improved after implementation.

This is why I added the disclaimer at the beginning of the article. We need to know whether this markup is delivering more clicks to our site.

You can judge this in Search Console within the Performance report:

If you’re getting less clicks to your site after adding the markup to your page, then it might be worthwhile considering removal.

I do suspect that, in the early stages of this feature, it will be a good way to stand out in search results. If others haven’t caught on to it yet, then it could be a big opportunity.

Test it out for yourself and see how it goes. If you have findings, I’d love if you’d share with me.

Postscript: some learnings along the way

  • Use jump to links in for your headings. That way, when someone clicks on a step from the SERPs, they are directed straight to the correct section

  • More of a best practice learning for publishing content online in general, but make sure to centre your most important info in a feature image. The image will be cropped in the SERPs, so visualise where you want the cut off for the thumbnail

  • While Google’s Documentation states: “Each HowToStep must include the entire contents of the source step.”, you are the one in control over how much content you give Google. This is a big differentiator between a Featured Snippet and How-To’s

  • For next time, I will probably just inspect an existing URL (i.e. this blog article) that has the markup and mimic it’s content. Google’s Documentation had a lot of optional fields which got confusing at times (not everything applies)

  • Google is currently testing showing the How-To treatment in desktop search results.