One thing I've been predicting is that Google's structured data guidelines will be getting tougher.
For the past few years Google Search hasn't required a lot of data. Supplying more data was nice but it didn't seem like Google would use it.
Then in December's Google update, much of that optional data started showing up as warnings. They still aren't required but this could be the first step that that way.
The interesting part is that Google Search's data requirements are getting closer to Google Merchant Center's super-strict data requirements.
If you're not aware, Merchant Center helps power Google Ads for ecommerce stores and it has very strict data requirements. Your products need a few dozen fields in their data feed and then another dozen on the landing page's structured data.
With December's update, many of those Merchant Center fields are now showing up as part of the regular Google Search check.
- gtin fields
The latter three are all around Google wanting unique product identifiers which is a huge part of Merchant Center. This is how Google Ads knows which ads to show when a customer searches for a specific product. It's also used by Google to compare different stores and even product sizes.
I'm curious if in 2019 we'll see Google Search using this data more.
Currently Google doesn't use structured data as a ranking signal. But if they know a specific product (from the data) is available (from the data) at a specific price (from the data), then I can imagine a world where they'd use that data for ranking and drive traffic to the stores who have that product available at the best price or best reviews.
If that happens, the stores who got their structured data cleaned up early could pull away from competitors.
And based on the lackluster support for structured data from Shopify themes, when that happens many stores are going to be hurting unless they've hired someone or used an app like JSON-LD for SEO to take care of their data.