Until it happened, I’d never heard of this manual action penalty. Now I want to make sure you know about it, and avoid it…
It’s called Spammy Structured Data. Shortly after seeing the Manual Action I found myself reading a detailed explanation of the penalty here, but if you want my short, non techy description it’s this…
It’s common now to use “Microformats” on your pages. You might have heard them called “Rich Snippets”. It’s those little bits of data that show up along with your meta description in search results. It might be an author name, a “star rating”, a date or something else. All of that is Structured Data.
If you have the technology (a plugin usually) for putting Structured Data on your pages, and you’re not using it (or using it properly) – filling in the fields to tell Google what the correct Structured Data is – you might be creating Structured Data errors. And if you have too many of these Structured Data errors, Google isn’t going to be happy.
The way to check whether you have Structured Data errors, is log into your Webmaster Tools (Search Console) and go to Search Appearance >> Structured Data…
When I clicked on Structured Data, I saw something like the following…
If you ask me what “Hatom” is… or what “Hcard” is… our conversation is over. I don’t know and I don’t want to know because that knowledge isn’t a big driver of results in SEO. It’s only important at times like this, at which it’s helpful to have someone who does know, that you can ask.
When I got the penalty the Structured Data page looked the same as it does there, except that part that says 53, said 150. It was basically telling me most of this site’s pages had a Structured Data problem.
When I click that line with the 53 errors on it, Search Console gives me a more detailed explanation of the errors that gives a list of URLs and the specific Structured Data errors that exist on each.
The biggest one for me was Hatom and called “Missing: Updated”.
What’s “Missing: Updated”? I’m not even going to try and explain.
Even trying to learn myself was a nightmare of forum threads and nonsense.
The most I can get, is that some themes have a kind of coding that makes this Rich Snippet appear on pages and in places it shouldn’t, and that causes a Structured Data error. By the end of this post you’ll know at least how to fix that.
Anyway, Spammy Structured Data was the penalty and Hatom Missing Updated was the cause.
The worst part was, I got a message about the manual action that I didn’t check for a week. I just didn’t open the “message” box of the Search Console. Why? Because I’m an idiot and I was looking at everything else instead. That’s as good an explanation as I have. Suffice it to say I don’t recommend you doing the same.
Fixing The Error – Part 1
To insert Structured Data in the first place, we used a plugin called All in One Schema.org. It works and it’s fine.
It’s fine unless you have it installed and you don’t use it to put the Structured Data on your pages.
When you publish a new piece of content, you have to select what kind of content it is, from a box like this that appears below the post, and fill in all the fields appropriately…
We published a new round of content on this site last month and accidentally left out the Structured Data for it. We also had old pieces of content with a couple of missing fields (like the Updated, and also a missing “Author”).
Interestingly, we noticed while testing in the Structured Data Testing tool to fix the error, that one field, the “Short Description” doesn’t show up as an error when it’s missing.
To fix the issues, we went back through every page of the site, and tested it using the Structured Data Testing Tool that you can get to if you click on one of the lines with Errors in the table above, and hit “Test Live Data” like this…
When we did that, we could see on most pages that one of those Rich Snippet fields was missing. We could then insert the missing data, test again, and the errors were gone.
NOTE: The most frustrating thing about this issue is that **Missing Updated does not show up on the Live Testing Tool.** The tool can show 0 errors but the Structured Data area of Search Console can still show a Missing Updated error. More on that soon.
Fixing The Error – Part 2
Part 1 seemed to be fixing the errors that weren’t “Missing Updated” but that one was harder since you couldn’t see when the issue was fixed.
On further digging I found this little plugin that claimed to fix the error by correcting places in a theme where this erroneous code had been placed.
I hesitate to recommend a plugin like this since it wasn’t even in the WP Database as far as I could see. Keep an eye on this plugin, make sure it stays up to date and if it doesn’t update, replace it or remove it. The author gives his details on that page so you can ask him in future if something does need updating.
Bottom line is: This plugin worked. I didn’t do anything in WP-Admin that was clearly fixing the Missing Updated, but my Missing Updated errors started plummeting after I installed it.
The professional solution is to get your developer to adjust your theme code to prevent this, and SEO experienced developers will be able to do this with ease. Until your developer wakes up, this solution works in a pinch.
Writing For Reconsideration
When I could test all of our pages in the Live Testing Tool and confirm there were no remaining errors, it was time to submit the Reconsideration Request.
I’ve got just enough experience with this kind of thing to feel confident about how this email had to go…
How do you do it?
First, consider in each word of the message that you’re writing for a – probably – underpaid employee, who’s looking at hundreds of these requests per day, doesn’t have enough time, and doesn’t care an iota about you or your website.
Second, do exactly as their instructions say, whether you want to or not.
The instructions Google gave looked like this…
So here I go…
I started by uploading the report with my 150 errors to Dropbox, so I could link them to it and they could see without having to scroll through my account to find it. Starved for time, remember?
I then said clearly that I had now fixed the 150 errors, and what the proof was: That I’d tested all pages in THEIR structured data testing tool, and they were showing no errors. Remember I’m convincing them that it’s fixed by THEIR standards, not mine.
I then took screenshots of 10 of my pages as a sample, tested through the Structured Data Testing tool, and showing no errors, and sent links to those 10 screenshots, in a list. If they wanted proof that I’d fixed them, they had it.
I then wrote 3 bullet points which described what I’d done to fix the errors. They each referenced a type of error I’d had in Search Console (Missing Author, Missing Updated and some other random “Missing”s).
That was it. The message can’t have been more than 100 words.
4 days later I got the confirmation in Search Console that the reconsideration request had been approved. Then I had an extra glass of the wine I was drinking at the time, and thanked every god who’s name I knew that Google’s processes worked properly this time instead of… well, you know.
are probably summarized as…
- Don’t ignore your Search Console inbox.
- Use your Rich Snippets plugin properly.
- Check your Structured Data page in Search Console regularly for errors.
- When you see errors, go back to your Rich Snippets plugin to fix them, and if you can’t fix them, reach out to a developer for help.
I hope this post saves you some of the trouble.