In view of the COVID-19 pandemic, many governmental organizations, healthcare groups and schools are publishing important coronavirus-related announcements that affect schedules and everyday lives. Google, the search engine giant, supports COVID-19 special announcements by highlighting them in search and by providing facilities for publishers to add structured data in those announcements.
At the same time, Schema has also published Schema.org 7.0 version, which includes fast-tracked new vocabulary to assist the global response to the coronavirus outbreak.
Special announcements during this situation are mainly related to
- Announcement of a shelter-in-place directive
- Closure notice (for example, closing a school or public transportation)
- Quarantine guidelines
- Travel restrictions
- Notification of a new drive-through testing center
- Announcement of an event transitioning from offline to online, or cancellation
- Announcement of revised hours and shopping restrictions
- Disease spread statistics and maps
Google has suggested two ways in which publishers can implement their COVID-19 announcements.
- Add Special Announcement structured data to their web pages, or
- Submit a COVID-19 announcement in Search Console
Adding Special Announcement structured data
Structured data is a standardized format for providing information about a page and classifying the page content. Google uses structured data that it finds on the web to understand the content of the page, as well as to gather information about the web and the world in general.
Be sure to test your structured data using the Structured Data Testing tool during development, and the Rich result status reports after deployment, to monitor the health of your pages, which might break after deployment due to templating or serving issues.
To build, test, and release structured data, Google recommends these steps –
Allow Googlebot to access your pages
To note the pages blocked on your site, either use the Index Coverage report, or test a specific page using the URL Inspection tool.
- Add the required and recommended properties in your data.
The required properties include details such as date Posted (DateTime), name (Text) and either text or a specific properties (diseasePreventionInfo, diseaseSpreadStatistics, gettingTestedInfo, newsUpdatesAndGuidelines, publicTransportClosuresInfo, quarantineGuidelines, schoolClosuresInfo, travelBans) that points to more info.
The recommended properties include announcement Location (address, name, url), category, diseasePreventionInfo, diseaseSpreadStatistics, expires, gettingTestedInfo, newsUpdatesAndGuidelines, publicTransportClosuresInfo, quarantineGuidelines, schoolClosuresInfo, spatialCoverage, text and travelBans.
- Follow clear guidelines
To find out more technical errors and to test compliance with technical guidelines, use the Structured Data Testing Tool and the URL Inspection tool. And for rich results, mark up your site’s pages using one of three supported formats – JSON-LD (recommended), Microdata or RDFa.
Also, make sure not to block structured data pages to Googlebot using robots.txt, noindex, or any other access control methods.
Violating a quality guideline can prevent syntactically correct structured data from being displayed as a rich result in Google Search, or possibly cause it to be marked as spam.
Here is a brief idea of these quality guidelines –
- Provide up-to-date, original content and avoid misleading information
- Never mark up content that is not visible to readers of the page
- Do not use structured data to deceive or mislead users
- Structured data should be a true representation of the page content
- Place the same structured data on all page duplicates too
- Use the most specific applicable type, property names defined by schema.org for your markup
- All image URLs must be crawlable and indexable.
You can include multiple structured data objects on a page, as long as they describe user-visible page content.
- Validate your code using the Structured Data Testing Tool.
- Deploy a few pages that include your structured data and use the URL inspection tool to test how Google sees the page.
- Submit a sitemap to keep Google informed of future changes. You can automate this with the Search Console Sitemap API.
Submitting announcement in Search Console
Google allows Government agencies and official health organizations can submit important COVID-19 announcement on their website, especially if they are unable to use structured data. Google recently released a COVID-19 Announcement Submission BETA Tool.
Such announcements could be related to rescheduling of events, closure of facilities, availability of new testing centers and other medical facilities and so on. Google Search would use this information to have a better understanding of the content on your web page and show the important announcement to targeted audience alongside your web page result.
The tool is available in Google Search Console and allows web publishers to create coronavirus related announcements straight from the Google Search console without having to use structured data. The Google Search Console BETA tool supports six coronavirus announcement types, which are COVID-19 Testing Facility, School Closure, Shelter in place, Disease spread statistics, Travel bans and Other/general.
However, the Search Console tool is only for short-lived announcements that are set to expire within a month of posting. Also, there is currently no way to update the announcement and the tool is not meant for news sites. Long Island website marketing companies that provide marketing solutions to healthcare, governmental and other organizations must be up to date with Google’s search console tool and the use of structured data.