Back in June of this year, Google made the announcement that it would begin deprecating its extremely popular Structured Data Testing Tool (SDTT) in favor of its new Rich Results Test (RRT). While this announcement wasn’t completely unexpected, it left digital marketers with one burning question: why?
Google regularly makes changes to how it reads and evaluates information, and as this system progresses, the company makes sure its tools follow suit. While the Rich Results Test provides users with new testing options and improved search result capabilities, it seems that this action just adds a little more strength to the idea that you don’t need to fix something that isn’t truly broken.
What is Structured Data and Why is it Important?
Let’s be upfront about this slightly uncomfortable fact: search engines are built into and around our lives. Whether we’re working, shopping for a product or service, looking up information, or just screwing around, we rely on search engines to help us handle our daily tasks. In the late 90s and early 2000s, companies knew they needed to be at the top of search results to survive, but the smart ones knew that they needed to grab a searcher’s attention before the competition did the same.
This emphasis on standing out in search results meant companies needed a way to conveniently and easily package and present information to search results. Multiple options were developed, including RDF (Resource Distribution Framework) and RSS (Rich Site Summary). Search engines began to gradually pick up these different informational sources, select which ones they deemed “best”, and present them to searchers. This led to an increase in search result interactivity, which made everyone happy.
Since then, Google has helped structured data grow from a visual curiosity that made your site stand out in search results to a core component of a successful digital marketing strategy. It’s been a long and difficult process, but today, markup styles like HTML microdata, RDFa, and JSON-LD are vital if you want your brand to succeed in search.
Google’s Free Digital Marketing Tools are Always Evolving
If Google does anything right, it’s providing digital marketers and business owners with effective, informative, and free tools. Platforms like Google Analytics, Google Tag Manager, and Google Search Console help website managers understand their audience and can form the data-driven backbone of many digital marketing teams. While there are plenty of options out there, it isn’t a far stretch to say that it’d be very, very difficult for modern marketers to work their magic without these tools.
One of the best parts of these tools is that Google is constantly updating them and providing marketers with new options. Most of these updates are excellent and have proven extremely useful, but some changes – like the constant downgrades to Search Console functionality – have been met with pushback.
The Structured Data Testing Tool is a different story. The bare-bones version that was rolled out years ago has been steadily improved and expanded. It’s a simple but effective tool that allows marketers to quickly diagnose, test, and implement fixes for their site’s markup and ensure a logical hierarchy. The biggest issues with the tool were that it didn’t display differences between desktop and mobile results, and it didn’t always align with what came out of Google Search Console.
So, with SDTT already out there to handle testing and RRT available for validation, why did Google feel the need to drop the first for the second?
What Does the Rich Results Test Actually Do?
The Rich Results Test has been available as a beta tool since 2017. It’s always been useful and interesting, but until late 2019, there weren’t very many good reasons to use it over the SDTT. In fact, several different aspects of RRT, like checking page rendering and loading issues, are already available in other Google tools, including Search Console.
Google kept quietly refining and updating RRT while we were all looking elsewhere, and now that it’s here, we can definitely say that it’s a technological improvement. The tool can help users select markup types, load dynamic structured data, and even renders both mobile and desktop versions of search results. These features, plus its alignment with Search Console reports (no more conflicting error messages!), make the new RRT a great tool.
However, RRT doesn’t have everything. It doesn’t easily allow users to edit and retest the page’s HTML right in the tool. This is one of SDTT’s strongest features and makes it a snap to test and fix errors. With RRT’s new URL testing option, users have to copy/paste the URL, see if it works, look at why it doesn’t work, go back to the CMS or code manager to try out a change, push the change live, and then test it again. This is a time-consuming process, and even with the option to test out code snippets, the interface is clunky and doesn’t provide the same level of interactivity and detail as SDTT.
Below are a few comparisons between the current SDTT tool and the new RRT. We took an example product from a national electronics retailer and examined how the two tools view and evaluate the page, and where some issues may exist.
SDTT immediately called out issues with the page’s Review markup, plus a minor formatting error for Product markup. When you inspect the Review markup, you’ll see that these 8 instances don’t have a markup label, like offers, review, or aggregateRating.
When the same URL is run through RRT, we get different results. RRT is now stating that it’s actually the Product markup that is broken or incorrect instead of the Review markup. RRT also states that most of this markup will still generate a rich result, though it might be missing key elements, like images or a description.
Issues like this will make it confusing for marketers to understand what Google does and doesn’t accept, and how to best improve their site’s markup.
Even though it’s only been about two months since the announcement, there are already side discussions going on about whether or not Google will begin to adjust how it displays rich results now that this new tool is in town. Plenty of digital marketers are already turning to third-party structured data testing tools, like JSON-LD Playground and Bing’s Markup Validator, just to be sure that what they’re seeing is real.
The Next Steps in Rich Results
Google is going to keep throwing out new tools and services, which is why it’s so important to stay up-to-date on what they’re doing and what’s available to digital marketing teams. We might see an entirely new set of features for the Rich Results Test in the next year or a spin-off tool that fills a gap that might only just now be starting to widen.
For now, I recommend relying on both SDTT and RRT to review and update your site’s structured data. SDTT will likely be available until the end of 2020, and with all the positive and negative feedback Google has received since its announcement, they’ll likely slip a few tweaks into the tool as time goes on. Nobody likes change, but when it’s gradual, it’s easier to stomach.
Until then, digital marketers can keep fine tuning their products and services with quality markup and careful attention to the details. If you’d like help with your site’s markup, or just want to know how your brand appears in search engines, then contact CQL. We have the knowledge and expertise that’ll help keep your results rich.