You probably already know about using schema.org markup in your web pages.
But did you know that you can use it in your emails as well?
In this article, I’ll explain how to use email markup language to enhance your emails and validate your efforts.
What We’ll Cover:
- Using Schema.org for email markup
- How to get started with email markup
- Adding email markup language to Gmail messages
- How to Use Google’s Email Markup Validator to Check Your Work
- Using email markup language with your clients
What is Email Markup?
Whether you’re a digital marketer or you’ve just read a few recent SEO articles, you know that schema.org is a huge part of search in 2020.
Schema.org markup may be best-known for helping you highlight parts of your website to optimize for SERP features and snippet slots, but you can also use it in the inbox to kick your emails up a notch.
While email markup won’t help you rank higher in the search results, it does offer some benefits that can give your communications a boost.
You might boost conversions by embedding “quick action” CTAs in your email or drive traffic with an appearance in the “Promotions” tab or reinforce branding by connecting Gmail data with users’ search experiences.
In these next few sections, I’ll show you how to get started with email markup and look at the features currently available for Gmail.
What is Schema.org?
I’ve talked about schema.org in several other blog posts, so I won’t get into too much detail, here, but here’s a quick intro for structured data newbies:
Schema.org is a collaborative, open-source project between Google, Microsoft, Yandex, and Yahoo designed to improve the web by creating a unified structured data schema supported by all major search engines.
How to Get Started with Email Markup
Like any other Google-based tool, getting started with email schema starts by registering with the search giant.
Google needs to vet your account before whitelisting your domain, which is part of a user experience effort to prevent spammers from harassing Gmail users with markup.
Here’s a quick overview of what criteria you’ll need to meet in order to gain access (full instructions can be found here):
- You’ll need to send an email from your servers with SPF or DKIM headers. Essentially, Google needs to verify that the domain you use to send emails is a domain that you control.
- That email must include correctly implemented email markup to help Google ensure you understand the guidelines. Validate your work using the Email Markup Tester ahead of sending.
- You’ll also need to have a low rate of spam complaints and a consistent record of sending 100+ (Gmail) emails a day from your domain.
Google’s main priority is maintaining positive user experience and may take a few days to review your account.
How to Add Email Markup Language to Gmail Messages
The easiest way to add email markup to Gmail is by using the free Email Markup Helper.
You can access this tool from your Search Console account or link directly to it by clicking here.
Here’s the basic rundown for how to use this tool:
1.Make sure you select the “Email” tab, then select a data type
2. Next, paste in your HTML code
3. Select “start tagging” and highlight areas that contain relevant information
4. Make sure you provide all required information for the data type you’ve selected
5. Add missing tags, if applicable
6. Remove any tags the Helper generated by mistake
7. When finished, click the “generate HTML” button to create the file you’ll use for your email
Do note that the Structured Data Helper will give you the option to generate your HTML file in one of two ways:
2. Microdata uses schema attributes in HTML header tags to define the data. While microdata doesn’t offer the same benefits as JSON-LD, it is an effective tool for indexing content–which can enhance SERP performance and potentially drive click-throughs.
According to Google, adding interactive actions to an email is an effective way to increase engagement in the inbox.
Gmail Actions aren’t exactly new.
I mean, the image below comes from a 2013 post from The Verge and Google still uses a YouTube video from 2014 to explain the benefits of email schema.
In any case, the simple CTA schema has remained largely unchanged over the years
Gmail supports a wide range of CTAs, all of which fall into one of two categories: one-click actions and go-to actions, which break down as follows:
One-Click Actions are simple CTAs that don’t require users to visit another website to complete the action. Here, you’ll have two choices: confirm or save. Confirmation actions, as you might have guessed, are ideal for confirming an appointment or a mailing list sign-up.
Save actions work the same way but are designed for actions like adding a podcast episode or movie to a list for later.
Go-to Actions take users to a second location to complete the action.
Here, you’ll have the option to use the View Action, which can be used to send users to any external landing page.
This type of action also allows you to add publisher data, if applicable. Potential use cases might include directing users to a YouTube video or long-form article (where the publisher markup applies).
Or, as you’ll see in the example below, view actions can also be used for check-ins, status updates, and the like.
There’s also the option to create a “track action,” which is a hyper-specific markup type that indicates that customers can track the shipping information for an order.
Other use cases for go-to actions include updating payment information, resetting passwords, or completing a purchase.
By adding CTA markup to your emails, you remove several friction points that prevent users from acting.
Gmail Highlights are designed to surface key details or actions from an email and display them as easy-to-read chips inside an email message.
Highlights are generally used in the sort of confirmation emails that you might receive when you buy a ticket or make a reservation.
For example, if you book a rental car, that confirmation email might contain a chip with a confirmation number, the dates you’ve booked, and details for pick-up and drop-off.
Additionally, highlights can be used for order confirmations, invoices, and delivery details. In these cases, a customer might place an order and receive a chip confirming order details, then a follow-up email with another chip that provides an ETA for the packages.
As of May 2020, Gmail supports the following highlight schema:
Gmail Promotions Tab
Gmail users will immediately recognize Gmail Promotions tab markup from the consumer point of view.
The familiar feature is used to surface top deals in users’ promotions tab, which according to Google, drives more engagement among users.
While Promotions schema looks a lot like a PPC ad, it’s not a paid placement. Instead, Google uses machine-learning algorithms to determine which email is the “most valuable” to the user and gives that email the top spot.
The Promotions feature allows you to control the content that appears as a rich preview by annotating the images, deals, and other key details you want your customers to know about.
Supported annotations can be found here and include the following options:
- Image previews
- Deal badges
You can add email annotations as JSON-LD in the script tag, which can be found at the head of your email’s HTML code.
Additionally, you can preview your results by editing the code found on the Gmail promotions reference page (click here to test it out).
Google Answers in Search
A clear indication that Google’s gone all-in on journeys, Answers in Search links personalized info across all Google properties for a seamless experience.
This feature allows users to access answers and information from Gmail, Google Drive, and Google Calendar from the Google search bar.
According to the Developer Center, users can enter queries such as “my flights” or “my events” to pull up information about upcoming to-dos.
Here’s what happens when you Google “my flights:”
And another example showing what appears when you ask Google about an upcoming restaurant reservation:
While this feature has been around since ~2013, the rise of voice search and Google’s ever-improving NLP capabilities allow users to speak their queries and receive structured information cards in return.
By marking up email you can help your users quickly locate and consume key information in an appealing, accessible format.
Confirmation cards are used to provide users with the information they need at the right time. Like the Answer Card schemas, confirmation cards are only available for events, flights, hotels, and restaurant reservations.
Here’s what the Event template looks like:
Events from Gmail pulls event data from users’ booking confirmation emails and automatically populates Google Calendar with relevant details and notifications, making it easy for users to stay on top of engagements.
Google currently supports the following four “Events from Gmail” markup types (same options as you’ll find with Answers in Search):
- Event Reservations (specifically for events with tickets)
- Hotel Reservations
- Flight Reservations
- Restaurant Reservations
How to Use Google’s Email Markup Validator to Check Your Work
To validate your Gmail schema, navigate to Google’s aptly-named Email Markup Tester Tool and paste in your HTML code.
Hit the “validate” button and Google will scan your code and generate a report listing any errors detected in that scan.
Can You Use Email Markup Language with Other Email Clients?
According to Google, the search giant has worked closely with the schema.org community to standardize email-related schema, as part of a larger effort to help other email clients leverage the benefits of email markup.
What this actually means is, email services provided through Bing, Yahoo, and Yandex, as well as those offered by email clients also support email schema though they may support a different mix of markup options.
Email Markup for Gmail is specifically for Gmail users on both the brand side and the recipient side. You’ll want to split up your email recipients, though, so that your markup-driven campaigns only go to Gmail users. Consult your autoresponder for instructions about how to do that.
This feature seems to be designed for smaller companies or those performing 1:1 outreach. So, salespeople, freelancers, entrepreneurs, and others focused on low-volume relationship-building.
Brands that need something more robust will likely be able to find the same features (and then some) by working with a traditional email client.
If you’re looking for an email solution, this article goes over the best ones in the game.
Bottom line: email markup is a relatively simple way to improve the email experience for your recipients. However, many of these schema options only apply to “reservation-based businesses.”
The Action buttons, which are available to all whitelisted users make it easy for users to respond to your CTAs, which could bump up your conversion numbers.
I could see this being useful for freelancers or entrepreneur-types looking for a fast, easy way to create professional-looking emails that stand out in the inbox.
The Promotions tab also could work for a broad range of brands. I think the main benefit of this one is, it’s another way to reach your target audience by highlighting relevant images and offers.