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Understanding Information Security & Risk Management

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Understanding Information Security & Risk Management

This edited extract is from How to Use Customer Data by Sachiko Scheuing ©2024 and reproduced with permission from Kogan Page Ltd.

I have an extremely confidential piece of information on a particular sheet of paper. This A4-sized paper contains a list of Christmas presents I plan to give to my family members.

To make sure that no one gets access to this information, I have hidden it in my home office, in the cupboard next to my desk. There you find a chunky English dictionary.

When you open the page where “Christmas” is listed, you will find my precious list, carefully folded into two.

But what if my children or my other half comes to look something up in an analogue dictionary? Arguably, the risk is small, but I am not taking any chances. I have a secret language called Japanese.

My family might find that piece of paper, but all they will see will be タータンチェックの野球帽 and 腕時計, which are basically hieroglyphs to them.

Thanks to this, my family enjoys wonderful moments exchanging gifts every Christmas. Just writing about this makes me grin, imagining the surprised faces and a burst of laughter, surrounded by the green scent of the Christmas tree and the obligatory mulled wine.

This motivates me to conceal this highly sensitive information even more!

We will discuss how companies and their marketing department can protect their secrets, and their data, so that they, too, can bring a smile to their customers’ faces.

Understanding Information Security

In some games, you have this “get out of jail card.” With these cards, you can avoid missing out on a round of games. What if I said GDPR has something similar?

It is called data security.

The GDPR provisions for data security are in line with the risk-based approach embedded in law, where risk is mini­mized, and more flexibility is given to controllers.

For instance, when regulators decide on fines, they must take security measures companies have put in place to protect the data into consideration (see Article 83(2)c of GDPR) (legislation.gov.uk, 2016).

Say your laptop is stolen.

If it was encrypted, you do not need to inform your customers that there was a data breach. Not having to inform your customers saves the brand image your marketing department has been building for years.

That is one reason why data security is such an important discipline. Many organizations have a separate security department and a chief information security officer who heads the functional areas.

Those marketers who had security incidents published by news outlets must know how life-saving security colleagues can be in times of need.

Definition Of Information Strategy

The word data security is not found in Article 4 of GDPR, the article where definitions are listed. Instead, the word “security” appears in Article 5, where the basic premises of the data protection law are described.

In other words, data security is one of the main principles of the GDPR, “integrity and confi­dentiality.”

GDPR expects organizations to ensure the prevention of unauthorized or unlawful processing, accidental loss, destruction, or damage of data as one of the starting points for protecting personal data.

TOMs must be implemented to this end so that the integrity and confidentiality of the data are protected (Article 5(f) GDPR) (legislation.gov.uk, 2016).

Outside Of GDPR, Information Security Is Defined As Follows

Information security is the safeguarding of information and information systems against deliberate and unintentional unauthorized access, disruption, modification, and destruction by external or internal actors. (Gartner, Inc., 2023)

Information security is the technologies, policies, and practices you choose to help you keep data secure. (gov.uk, 2018)

Information security: The protection of information and information systems from unauthorized access, use, disclosure, disruption, modification, or destruction in order to provide confidentiality, integrity, and availability. (NIST, 2023)

Approach To Information Security

Just as marketing professionals created strategic frameworks – 4Ps, 7Ps, 4Cs, and so on – so the school of information security strategy has come up with frameworks: the CIA triad and the Parkerian Hexad.

CIA stands for Confidentiality, Integrity, and Availability.

Donn Parker, a security consult­ant, later expanded this framework with three more elements, namely Utility, Authenticity, and Possession.

Below is a brief description of the six aspects of the Parkerian Hexad (Bosworth et al, 2009).

Availability

Availability refers to the ability of the organization to access data. When, for instance, there is a loss of power and your marketers cannot access customer data, it is considered an availability problem.

The file is there, so it is not stolen. However, the marketer is temporarily unable to access the particular data.

Utility

Utility of the Parkerian Hexad relates to the problem of losing the usefulness of the data. For instance, if a campaign manager loses the encryption key to the data, the data is still there, and it can be accessed.

However, the data cannot be used because the emails needed for carrying out an email campaign are encrypted so they are useless.

Integrity

Maintaining integrity refers to preventing unauthorized changes to the data.

For instance, if an intern of the marketing department accidentally deletes the field “purchased more than two items” within the dataset, this is an integ­rity-related security incident.

If the manager of the intern can undo the deletion of the field, then the integrity of the data is intact.

Typically, integ­rity is maintained by assigning different access rights, such as read-only access for interns and read-and-write access for the marketing manager.

Authenticity

Authenticity relates to the attribution of data or information to the rightful owner or the creator of that data or information.

Imagine a situation where your advertising agency, acting as your data service provider, receives a fake email which instructs them to delete all your customer data.

The agency might think that it is a genuine instruction from your company, and executes the command. This is then an authenticity problem.

Confidentiality

When someone unauthorized gets access to a particular marketing analytic file, confidentiality is being breached.

Possession

The Parkerian Hexad uses the term possession to describe situations where data or information is stolen.

For instance, a malevolent employee of the marketing department downloads all the sales contact information to a mobile device and then deletes them from the network. This is a possession problem.

Risk Management

In addition to understanding the problems you are facing, using the Parkerian Hexad, your organization must know the potential security risks for the business.

Andress suggests a useful and generic five-step risk management process, for a variety of situations (Andress, 2019).

Step 1: Identify Assets

Before your organization can start managing your marketing department’s risks, you need to map out all data assets belonging to your marketing department.

In doing so, all data, some distributed in different systems or entrusted to service providers, must be accounted for.

Once this exercise is completed, your marketing department can determine which data files are the most critical. RoPA, with all processes of personal data mapped out, can be leveraged for this exercise.

Step 2: Identify Threats

For all data files and processes identified in the previous step, potential threats are determined. This may mean holding a brainstorming session with marketers and security and data protection departments to go through the data and processes one by one.

The Parkerian Hexad from the previous section can be a great help in guiding through such sessions. It will also be helpful to identify the most critical data and processes during this exercise.

Step 3: Assess Vulnerabilities

In this step, for each data-use surfaced in Step 2, relevant threats are identified.

In doing so, the context of your organization’s operation, products and services sold, vendor relations as well as the physical location of the company premises are considered.

Step 4: Assess Vulnerabilities

In this step, the threats and vulnerabilities for each data and process are compared and assigned risk levels.

Vulnerabilities with no corresponding threats or threats with no associated vulnerabilities will be seen as not having any risk.

Step 5: Mitigate Risks

For the risks that surfaced in Step 4, measures necessary to prevent them from occurring will be determined during this stage.

Andress identifies three types of controls that can be used for this purpose. The first type of control, logical control, protects the IT environment for processing your customer data, such as password protection and the placing of firewalls.

The second type of control is administrative control, which is usually deployed in the form of corporate security policy, which the organization can enforce. The last type of control is physical control.

As the name suggests, this type of control protects the business premises and makes use of tools such as CCTV, keycard-operated doors, fire alarms, and backup power generators.

With the time, risks may change.

For instance, your marketing department may be physically relocated to a new building, changing the physical security needs, or your company might decide to migrate from a physical server to a cloud-based hosting service, which means your customer data will have to move, too.

Both such situations necessitate a new round of the risk management process to kick off.

In general, it is advisable to revisit the risk management process on a regular interval, say annually, to keep your company on top of all risks your marketing department, and beyond, carry.

Approaching Risk Management With Three Lines Of Defence

Institute of Internal Auditors (IIA) established a risk management model called Three Lines of Defence.

The model requires three internal roles: (1) the governing body, with oversight of the organization, (2) senior management, which takes risk management actions and reports to the governing body, and (3) internal audit, which provides independent assurance, to work together and act as robust protections to the organization (IIA, 2020).

The elements of the Three Lines of Defence are (IIA, 2020):

First Line Of Defence

Manage risks associated with day-to-day operational activities. Senior management has the primary responsibility, and emphasis is put on people and culture.

Marketing managers’ task here is to make sure that their department is aware of data protection risks, including security risks, and are following relevant corporate policies.

Second Line Of Defence

Identify risks in the daily business operation of the business. Security, data protection, and risk management teams carry out monitoring activities.

Senior management, including the CMO, is ultimately accountable for this line of defence. A well-functioning second line of defence requires good cooperation between marketing and security, data protection, and risk management teams.

Practically, it would mean understanding the importance of operational-level auditing and providing input to the security team, even when there are other pressing deadlines and business issues.

Third Line Of Defence

Provide independent assurance on risk management by assessing the first and second lines of defence. Independent corporate internal audit teams usually have this role.

Here, too, the marketing department will be asked to cooperate during audits. Assurance results reported to the governance body inform the strategic business actions for the senior management team.

References

  • Andress, J (2019) Foundations of information security, No Starch Press, October 2019.
  • Bosworth, S, Whyne, E and Kabay, M E (2009) Computer Security Handbook, 5th edn, Wiley, chapter 3: Toward a new framework for information security, Donn B Parker
  • Gartner, Inc. (2023) Information technology: Gartner glossary, www.gartner.com/ en/information-technology/glossary/information-security (archived at https:// perma.cc/JP27-6CAN)
  • IIA (2020) The Institute of Internal Auditors (IIA), The IIA”s Three Lines model, an update of the Three Lines of Defense, July 2020, www.theiia.org/globalassets/documents/resources/the-iias-three-lines-model-an-update-of-the-three-lines-ofdefense-july-2020/three-lines-model-updated-english.pdf (archived at https://perma.cc/9HX7-AU4H)
  • legislation.gov.uk (2016) Regulation (EU) 2016/679 of the European Parliament and of the Council, 27 April 2016, www.legislation.gov.uk/eur/2016/679/ contents (archived at https://perma.cc/NVG6-PXBQ)
  • NIST (2023) National Institute of Standards and Technology, US Department of Commerce, Computer Security Resource Centre, Information Technology Laboratory, Glossary, updated 28 May 2023, https://csrc.nist.gov/glossary/term/ information_security (archived at https://perma.cc/TE3Z-LN94); https://csrc. nist.gov/glossary/term/non_repudiation (archived at https://perma.cc/DJ4A- 44N2)

To read the full book, SEJ readers have an exclusive 25% discount code and free shipping to the US and UK. Use promo code SEJ25 at koganpage.com here.

More resources: 


Featured Image: Paulo Bobita/Search Engine Journal

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The 6 Biggest SEO Challenges You’ll Face in 2024

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The 6 Biggest SEO Challenges You'll Face in 2024

Seen any stressed-out SEOs recently? If so, that’s because they’ve got their work cut out this year.

Between navigating Google’s never-ending algorithm updates, fighting off competitors, and getting buy-in for projects, there are many significant SEO challenges to consider.

So, which ones should you focus on? Here are the six biggest ones I think you should pay close attention to.

Make no mistake—Google’s algorithm updates can make or break your site.

Core updates, spam updates, helpful content updates—you name it, they can all impact your site’s performance.

As we can see below, the frequency of Google updates has increased in recent years, meaning that the likelihood of being impacted by a Google update has also increased.

How to deal with it:

Recovering from a Google update isn’t easy—and sometimes, websites that get hit by updates may never fully recover.

For the reasons outlined above, most businesses try to stay on the right side of Google and avoid incurring Google’s wrath.

SEOs do this by following Google’s Search Essentials, SEO best practices and avoiding risky black hat SEO tactics. But sadly, even if you think you’ve done this, there is no guarantee that you won’t get hit.

If you suspect a website has been impacted by a Google update, the fastest way to check is to plug the domain into Ahrefs’ Site Explorer.

Ahrefs Site Explorer screenshotAhrefs Site Explorer screenshot

Here’s an example of a website likely affected by Google’s August 2023 Core Update. The traffic drop started on the update’s start date.

Website impacted by Google's August 2023 Core UpdateWebsite impacted by Google's August 2023 Core Update
Hover over the G circles on the X axis to get information about each update.

From this screen, you can see if a drop in traffic correlates with a Google update. If there is a strong correlation, then that update may have hit the site. To remedy it, you will need to understand the update and take action accordingly.

Follow SEO best practices

It’s important your website follows SEO best practices so you can understand why it has been affected and determine what you need to do to fix things.

For example, you might have missed significant technical SEO issues impacting your website’s traffic. To rule this out, it’s worth using Site Audit to run a technical crawl of your website.

Site Audit screenshot, via Ahrefs Site AuditSite Audit screenshot, via Ahrefs Site Audit

Monitor the latest SEO news

In addition to following best practices, it’s a good idea to monitor the latest SEO news. You can do this through various social media channels like X or LinkedIn, but I find the two websites below to be some of the most reliable sources of SEO news.

Even if you escape Google’s updates unscathed, you’ve still got to deal with your competitors vying to steal your top-ranking keywords from right under your nose.

This may sound grim, but it’s a mistake to underestimate them. Most of the time, they’ll be trying to improve their website’s SEO just as much as you are.

And these days, your competitors will:

How to deal with it:

If you want to stay ahead of your competitors, you need to do these two things:

Spy on your competitors and monitor their strategy

Ok, so you don’t have to be James Bond, but by using a tool like Ahrefs Site Explorer and our Google Looker Studio Integration (GLS), you can extract valuable information and keep tabs on your competitors, giving you a competitive advantage in the SERPs.

Using a tool like Site Explorer, you can use the Organic Competitors report to understand the competitor landscape:

Organic competitors screenshot, via Ahrefs' Site ExplorerOrganic competitors screenshot, via Ahrefs' Site Explorer

You can check out their Organic traffic performance across the years:

Year on Year comparison of organic traffic, via Ahrefs' Site ExplorerYear on Year comparison of organic traffic, via Ahrefs' Site Explorer

You can use Calendar to see which days changes in Positions, Pages, Referring domains Backlinks occurred:

Screenshot of Ahrefs' Calendar, via Ahrefs' Site ExplorerScreenshot of Ahrefs' Calendar, via Ahrefs' Site Explorer

You can see their Top pages’ organic traffic and Organic keywords:

Top pages report, via Ahrefs' Site ExplorerTop pages report, via Ahrefs' Site Explorer

And much, much more.

If you want to monitor your most important competitors more closely, you can even create a dashboard using Ahrefs’ GLS integration.

Google Looker Studio integration screenshot,Google Looker Studio integration screenshot,

Acquire links and create content that your competitors can’t recreate easily

Once you’ve done enough spying, it’s time to take action.

Links and content are the bread and butter for many SEOs. But a lot of the time the links that are acquired and the content that is created just aren’t that great.

So, to stand the best chance of maintaining your rankings, you need to work on getting high-quality backlinks and producing high-quality content that your competitors can’t easily recreate.

It’s easy to say this, but what does it mean in practice?

The best way to create this type of content is to create deep content.

At Ahrefs, we do this by running surveys, getting quotes from industry experts, running data studies, creating unique illustrations or diagrams, and generally fine-tuning our content until it is the best it can be.

As if competing against your competitors wasn’t enough, you must also compete against Google for clicks.

As Google not-so-subtly transitions from a search engine to an answer engine, it’s becoming more common for it to supply the answer to search queries—rather than the search results themselves.

The result is that even the once top-performing organic search websites have a lower click-through rate (CTR) because they’re further down the page—or not on the first page.

Whether you like it or not, Google is reducing traffic to your website through two mechanisms:

  • AI overviews – Where Google generates an answer based on sources on the internet
  • Zero-click searches – Where Google shows the answer in the search results

With AI overviews, we can see that the traditional organic search results are not visible.

And with zero-click searches, Google supplies the answer directly in the SERP, so the user doesn’t have to click anything unless they want to know more.

Zero Click searches example, via Google.comZero Click searches example, via Google.com

These features have one thing in common: They are pushing the organic results further down the page.

With AI Overviews, even when links are included, Kevin Indig’s AI overviews traffic impact study suggests that AI overviews will reduce organic clicks.

In this example below, shared by Aleyda, we can see that even when you rank organically in the number one position, it doesn’t mean much if there are Ads and an AI overview with the UX with no links in the AI overview answer; it just perpetuates the zero-clicks model through the AI overview format.

How to deal with it:

You can’t control how Google changes the SERPs, but you can do two things:

Make your website the best it can be

If you focus on the latter, your website will naturally become more authoritative over time. This isn’t a guarantee that your website will be included in the AI overview, but it’s better than doing nothing.

Prevent Google from showing your website in an AI Overview

If you want to be excluded from Google’s AI Overviews, Google says you can add no snippet to prevent your content from appearing in AI Overviews.

nosnippet code explanation screemshot, via Google's documentationnosnippet code explanation screemshot, via Google's documentation

One of the reasons marketers gravitated towards Google in the early days was that it was relatively easy to set up a website and get traffic.

Recently, there have been a few high-profile examples of smaller websites that have been impacted by Google:

Apart from the algorithmic changes, I think there are two reasons for this:

  • Large authoritative websites with bigger budgets and SEO teams are more likely to rank well in today’s Google
  • User-generated content sites like Reddit and Quora have been given huge traffic boosts from Google, which has displaced smaller sites from the SERPs that used to rank for these types of keyword queries

Here’s Reddit’s traffic increase over the last year:

Reddit's organic traffic increase, via Ahrefs Site ExplorerReddit's organic traffic increase, via Ahrefs Site Explorer

And here’s Quora’s traffic increase:

Quora's organic traffic increase, via Ahrefs Site ExplorerQuora's organic traffic increase, via Ahrefs Site Explorer

How to deal with it:

There are three key ways I would deal with this issue in 2024:

Focus on targeting the right keywords using keyword research

Knowing which keywords to target is really important for smaller websites. Sadly, you can’t just write about a big term like “SEO” and expect to rank for it in Google.

Use a tool like Keywords Explorer to do a SERP analysis for each keyword you want to target. Use the effort-to-reward ratio to ensure you are picking the right keyword battles:

Effort to reward ratio illustrationEffort to reward ratio illustration

If you’re concerned about Reddit, Quora, or other UGC sites stealing your clicks, you can also use Keywords Explorer to target SERPs where these websites aren’t present.

To do this:

  • Enter your keyword in the search bar and head to the matching terms report
  • Click on the SERP features drop-down box
  • Select Not on SERP and select Discussions and forums
Example of removing big UGC sites from keyword searches using filters in Ahrefs' Keywords ExplorerExample of removing big UGC sites from keyword searches using filters in Ahrefs' Keywords Explorer

This method can help you find SERPs where these types of sites are not present.

Build more links to become more authoritative

Another approach you could take is to double down on the SEO basics and start building more high-quality backlinks.

Write deep content

Most SEOs are not churning out 500-word blog posts and hoping for the best; equally, the content they’re creating is often not deep or the best it can possibly be.

This is often due to time restraints, budget and inclination. But to be competitive in the AI era, deep content is exactly what you should be creating.

As your website grows, the challenge of maintaining the performance of your content portfolio gets increasingly more difficult.

And what may have been an “absolute banger” of an article in 2020 might not be such a great article now—so you’ll need to update it to keep the clicks rolling in.

So how can you ensure that your content is the best it can be?

How to deal with it:

Here’s the process I use:

Steal this content updating framework

And here’s a practical example of this in action:

Use Page Inspect with Overview to identify pages that need updating

Here’s an example of an older article Michal Pecánek wrote that I recently updated. Using Page Inspect, we can pinpoint the exact date of the update was on May 10, 2024, with no other major in the last year.

Ahrefs Page Inspect screenshot, via Ahrefs' Site ExplorerAhrefs Page Inspect screenshot, via Ahrefs' Site Explorer

According to Ahrefs, this update almost doubled the page’s organic traffic, underlining the value of updating old content. Before the update, the content had reached its lowest performance ever.

Example of a content update and the impact on organic traffic, via Ahrefs' Site ExplorerExample of a content update and the impact on organic traffic, via Ahrefs' Site Explorer

So, what changed to casually double the traffic? Clicking on Page Inspect gives us our answer.

Page Inspect detail screenshot, via Ahrefs' Site ExplorerPage Inspect detail screenshot, via Ahrefs' Site Explorer

I was focused on achieving three aims with this update:

  • Keeping Michal’s original framework for the post intact
  • Making the content as concise and readable as it can be
  • Refreshing the template (the main draw of the post) and explaining how to use the updated version in a beginner-friendly way to match the search intent

Getting buy-in for SEO projects has never been easy compared to other channels. Unfortunately, this meme perfectly describes my early days of agency life.

SEO meme, SEO vs PPC budgetsSEO meme, SEO vs PPC budgets

SEO is not an easy sell—either internally or externally to clients.

With companies hiring fewer SEO roles this year, the appetite for risk seems lower than in previous years.

SEO can also be slow to take impact, meaning getting buy-in for projects is harder than other channels.

How long does SEO take illustrationHow long does SEO take illustration

How to deal with it:

My colleague Despina Gavoyannis has written a fantastic article about how to get SEO buy-in, here is a summary of her top tips:

  • Find key influencers and decision-makers within the organization, starting with cross-functional teams before approaching executives. (And don’t forget the people who’ll actually implement your changes—developers.)
  • Adapt your language and communicate the benefits of SEO initiatives in terms that resonate with different stakeholders’ priorities.
  • Highlight the opportunity costs of not investing in SEO by showing the potential traffic and revenue being missed out on using metrics like Ahrefs’ traffic value.
  • Collaborate cross-functionally by showing how SEO can support other teams’ goals, e.g. helping the editorial team create content that ranks for commercial queries.

And perhaps most important of all: build better business cases and SEO opportunity forecasts.

If you just want to show the short-term trend for a keyword, you can use Keywords Explorer:

Forecasting feature for keywords, via Ahrefs' Keywords ExplorerForecasting feature for keywords, via Ahrefs' Keywords Explorer
The forecasted trend is shown in orange as a dotted line.

If you want to show the Traffic potential of a particular keyword, you can use our Traffic potential metric in SERP overview to gauge this:

Traffic potential example, via Ahrefs' Site ExplorerTraffic potential example, via Ahrefs' Site Explorer

And if you want to go the whole hog, you can create an SEO forecast. You can use a third-party tool to create a forecast, but I recommend you use Patrick Stox’s SEO forecasting guide.

Final thoughts

Of all the SEO challenges mentioned above, the one keeping SEOs awake at night is AI.

It’s swept through our industry like a hurricane, presenting SEOs with many new challenges. The SERPs are changing, competitors are using AI tools, and the bar for creating basic content has been lowered, all thanks to AI.

If you want to stay competitive, you need to arm yourself with the best SEO tools and search data on the market—and for me, that always starts with Ahrefs.

Got questions? Ping me on X.



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Why Now’s The Time To Adopt Schema Markup

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Why Now's The Time To Adopt Schema Markup

There is no better time for organizations to prioritize Schema Markup.

Why is that so, you might ask?

First of all, Schema Markup (aka structured data) is not new.

Google has been awarding sites that implement structured data with rich results. If you haven’t taken advantage of rich results in search, it’s time to gain a higher click-through rate from these visual features in search.

Secondly, now that search is primarily driven by AI, helping search engines understand your content is more important than ever.

Schema Markup allows your organization to clearly articulate what your content means and how it relates to other things on your website.

The final reason to adopt Schema Markup is that, when done correctly, you can build a content knowledge graph, which is a critical enabler in the age of generative AI. Let’s dig in.

Schema Markup For Rich Results

Schema.org has been around since 2011. Back then, Google, Bing, Yahoo, and Yandex worked together to create the standardized Schema.org vocabulary to enable website owners to translate their content to be understood by search engines.

Since then, Google has incentivized websites to implement Schema Markup by awarding rich results to websites with certain types of markup and eligible content.

Websites that achieve these rich results tend to see higher click-through rates from the search engine results page.

In fact, Schema Markup is one of the most well-documented SEO tactics that Google tells you to do. With so many things in SEO that are backward-engineered, this one is straightforward and highly recommended.

You might have delayed implementing Schema Markup due to the lack of applicable rich results for your website. That might have been true at one point, but I’ve been doing Schema Markup since 2013, and the number of rich results available is growing.

Even though Google deprecated how-to rich results and changed the eligibility of FAQ rich results in August 2023, it introduced six new rich results in the months following – the most new rich results introduced in a year!

These rich results include vehicle listing, course info, profile page, discussion forum, organization, vacation rental, and product variants.

There are now 35 rich results that you can use to stand out in search, and they apply to a wide range of industries such as healthcare, finance, and tech.

Here are some widely applicable rich results you should consider utilizing:

  • Breadcrumb.
  • Product.
  • Reviews.
  • JobPosting.
  • Video.
  • Profile Page.
  • Organization.

With so many opportunities to take control of how you appear in search, it’s surprising that more websites haven’t adopted it.

A statistic from Web Data Commons’ October 2023 Extractions Report showed that only 50% of pages had structured data.

Of the pages with JSON-LD markup, these were the top types of entities found.

  • http://schema.org/ListItem (2,341,592,788 Entities)
  • http://schema.org/ImageObject (1,429,942,067 Entities)
  • http://schema.org/Organization (907,701,098 Entities)
  • http://schema.org/BreadcrumbList (817,464,472 Entities)
  • http://schema.org/WebSite (712,198,821 Entities)
  • http://schema.org/WebPage (691,208,528 Entities)
  • http://schema.org/Offer (623,956,111 Entities)
  • http://schema.org/SearchAction (614,892,152 Entities)
  • http://schema.org/Person (582,460,344 Entities)
  • http://schema.org/EntryPoint (502,883,892 Entities)

(Source: October 2023 Web Data Commons Report)

Most of the types on the list are related to the rich results mentioned above.

For example, ListItem and BreadcrumbList are required for the Breadcrumb Rich Result, SearchAction is required for Sitelink Search Box, and Offer is required for the Product Rich Result.

This tells us that most websites are using Schema Markup for rich results.

Even though these Schema.org types can help your site achieve rich results and stand out in search, they don’t necessarily tell search engines what each page is about in detail and help your site be more semantic.

Help AI Search Engines Understand Your Content

Have you ever seen your competitor’s sites using specific Schema.org Types that are not found in Google’s structured data documentation (i.e. MedicalClinic, IndividualPhysician, Service, etc)?

The Schema.org vocabulary has over 800 types and properties to help websites explain what the page is about. However, Google’s structured data features only require a small subset of these properties for websites to be eligible for a rich result.

Many websites that solely implement Schema Markup to get rich results tend to be less descriptive with their Schema Markup.

AI search engines now look at the meaning and intent behind your content to provide users with more relevant search results.

Therefore, organizations that want to stay ahead should use more specific Schema.org types and leverage appropriate properties to help search engines better understand and contextualize their content. You can be descriptive with your content while still achieving rich results.

For example, each type (e.g. Article, Person, etc.) in the Schema.org vocabulary has 40 or more properties to describe the entity.

The properties are there to help you fully describe what the page is about and how it relates to other things on your website and the web. In essence, it’s asking you to describe the entity or topic of the page semantically.

The word ‘semantic’ is about understanding the meaning of language.

Note that the word “understanding” is part of the definition. Funny enough, in October 2023, John Mueller at Google released a Search Update video. In this six-minute video, he leads with an update on Schema Markup.

For the first time, Mueller described Schema Markup as “a code you can add to your web pages, which search engines can use to better understand the content. ”

While Mueller has historically spoken a lot about Schema Markup, he typically talked about it in the context of rich result eligibility. So, why the change?

This shift in thinking about Schema Markup for enhanced search engine understanding makes sense. With AI’s growing role and influence in search, we need to make it easy for search engines to consume and understand the content.

Take Control Of AI By Shaping Your Data With Schema Markup

Now, if being understood and standing out in search is not a good enough reason to get started, then doing it to help your enterprise take control of your content and prepare it for artificial intelligence is.

In February 2024, Gartner published a report on “30 Emerging Technologies That Will Guide Your Business Decisions,”  highlighting generative AI and knowledge graphs as critical emerging technologies companies should invest in within the next 0-1 years.

Knowledge graphs are collections of relationships between entities defined using a standardized vocabulary that enables new knowledge to be gained by way of inferencing.

Good news! When you implement Schema Markup to define and connect the entities on your site, you are creating a content knowledge graph for your organization.

Thus, your organization gains a critical enabler for generative AI adoption while reaping its SEO benefits.

Learn more about building content knowledge graphs in my article, Extending Your Schema Markup From Rich Results to Knowledge Graphs.

We can also look at other experts in the knowledge graph field to understand the urgency of implementing Schema Markup.

In his LinkedIn post, Tony Seale, Knowledge Graph Architect at UBS in the UK, said,

“AI does not need to happen to you; organizations can shape AI by shaping their data.

It is a choice: We can allow all data to be absorbed into huge ‘data gravity wells’ or we can create a network of networks, each of us connecting and consolidating our data.”

The “networks of networks” Seale refers to is the concept of knowledge graphs – the same knowledge graph that can be built from your web data using semantic Schema Markup.”

The AI revolution has only just begun, and there is no better time than now to shape your data, starting with your web content through the implementation of Schema Markup.

Use Schema Markup As The Catalyst For AI

In today’s digital landscape, organizations must invest in new technology to keep pace with the evolution of AI and search.

Whether your goal is to stand out on the SERP or ensure your content is understood as intended by Google and other search engines, the time to implement Schema Markup is now.

With Schema Markup, SEO pros can become heroes, enabling generative AI adoption through content knowledge graphs while delivering tangible benefits, such as increased click-through rates and improved search visibility.

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Google Quietly Ends Covid-Era Rich Results

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Google Quietly Ends Covid-Era Rich Results

Google removed the Covid-era structured data associated with the Home Activities rich results that allowed online events to be surfaced in search since August 2020, publishing a mention of the removal in the search documentation changelog.

Home Activities Rich Results

The structured data for the Home Activities rich results allowed providers of online livestreams, pre-recorded events and online events to be findable in Google Search.

The original documentation has been completely removed from the Google Search Central webpages and now redirects to a changelog notation that explains that the Home Activity rich results is no longer available for display.

The original purpose was to allow people to discover things to do from home while in quarantine, particularly online classes and events. Google’s rich results surfaced details of how to watch, description of the activities and registration information.

Providers of online events were required to use Event or Video structured data. Publishers and businesses who have this kind of structured data should be aware that this kind of rich result is no longer surfaced but it’s not necessary to remove the structured data if it’s a burden, it’s not going to hurt anything to publish structured data that isn’t used for rich results.

The changelog for Google’s official documentation explains:

“Removing home activity documentation
What: Removed documentation on home activity structured data.

Why: The home activity feature no longer appears in Google Search results.”

Read more about Google’s Home Activities rich results:

Google Announces Home Activities Rich Results

Read the Wayback Machine’s archive of Google’s original announcement from 2020:

Home activities

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