The coronavirus emergency has been officially recognized as a pandemic and now affects the whole world: digital is also dealing with the consequences of this battle to the invisible enemy, as has been defined the dreaded virus, and a few days ago we talked about its impacts on Google’s SERPs and many online activities. Now even the new version of schema.org takes into consideration this topic of very close relevance, with specific structured data to update the information on sites in the coronavirus era.

The new version of Schema.org

Released on March 16th, the 7.0 version of Schema was born to be “up to date” with what is happening on a global scale, with lots of “Special announcements” related to changes in programs and other aspects of everyday life. Not only the closure of facilities, businesses or schools and the reprogramming of events, but also the possibility of temporary use of medical facilities such as test centers.

It was therefore necessary to have a “new, accelerated vocabulary” to help the response of the entire Web ecosystem to the coronavirus outbreak.

Structured data for the Coronavirus

There are several new structured data introduced with this update, starting with “SpecialAnnouncement” and “eventAttendanceMode“, which will allow sites to inform users more accurately and provide services and responses adapted to people’s needs.

The Special Announcement typology

The first type is useful to signal “special announcements” and provides simple text updates marked by the date, with a markup to associate that announcement to an abnormal situation (as is precisely the coronavirus pandemic). For example, we can provide URLs for several different types of updates such as school closures, public transport closures, quarantine guidelines, travel bans and information on how to undergo tests/swabs to check for infection with COVID-19.

And as new structures are being created around the world to perform such analyses, Schema.org has developed the CovidTestingFacility type that allows you to represent them, regardless of whether they are part of permanent medical facilities or temporary emergency facilities.

The typology for the events

The Schema team also explains that they are working to “make improvements to other areas and help smart working”, facilitating the migration that is affecting the world to work online from home. An example is the EventMovedOnline property, which allows you to report that an event has been transferred from a physical location to an online mode.

With eventAttendanceMode, instead, the organizers can indicate the type of event, that is if it is offline (in physical location), completely online or mixed (for instance, an event with speakers physically present but without audience in the room, connected only in streaming).

Google and Coronavirus, info to whoever organizes events

Subsequently, yesterday Google’s  webmaster central blog hosted an article in which it explains in detail how sites can manage structured data for scheduled events, adding other useful information.

Again, the goal is to show users the most recent and accurate information about events in a rapidly changing context, with the COVID-19 emergency worldwide leading to the cancellation, rescheduling or only online spreading of many conferences and appointments.

Google itself knows something about this, as it has postponed all the appointments with Webmaster Conferences scheduled in 15 countries on a global scale, and then added some new optional properties to developer documentation that apply to all regions and languages, intervening in particular on some markups of structured data.

Updating the status of the events for Google and the users

The property schema.org eventStatus sets the status of the event and at this stage is very useful to report if the initiative has been canceled, postponed or rescheduled, because it allows Google to show users the current and actual status, “instead of completely deleting the event from the event search experience”.

In practical terms,

  • If the event has been canceled we must set the eventStatus property in EventCancelled and keep the original date in the event startDates.
  • If the event has been postponed, but the new date is not yet known, we must leave the original date in startDate and move the eventStatus to EventPostponed.  The startDate property, explains Google, is needed to help identify the uniqueness of the event and therefore it is important not to change it until we know the new date.  At that point, we can modify eventStatus in EventRescheduled, update startDates and endDates with new information about the event.
  • If the event has been rescheduled for a later date, simply update startDates and endDates with new dates.  There is also the option to mark the eventStatus field as EventRescheduled and add the date originally provided in PreviousStartDate.
  • If the event is switched to online broadcast only we can optionally update the eventStatus field to indicate the change with EventMovedOnline.

Managing online events

Other more specific directions come for all those events that have inevitably become virtual, because the Mountain View team “is actively working to show this information to Google Search users”. If we have then organized an initiative of this type, we can communicate it to the search engine (and to the users) using two particular properties:
  • Set the location on the VirtualLocation type.
  • Set the property eventAttendanceMode in OnlineEventAttendanceMode.

Communicating the changes to Google

In conclusion, the article reminds us to “update Google” after performing these changes to the event markups: the means of communication is “to make your Sitemap automatically available via your server”, considered the best way to ensure that our new and updated contents are highlighted in the search engines as quickly as possible.

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