[Estimated read time: 7 minutes]
One of the biggest takeaways from SearchFest in Portland earlier this year was the rapidly rising importance of semantic search and structured data — in particular Schema.org. And while implementing Schema used to require a lot of changes to your site’s markup, the JSON-LD format has created a great alternative to adding microdata to a page with minimal code.
What was even more exciting was the idea that you could use Google Tag Manager to insert JSON-LD into a page, allowing you to add Schema markup to your site without having to touch the site’s code directly (in other words, no back and forth with the IT department).
So if we wanted to grab that page URL and pass it dynamically to the JSON-LD snippet, we might have tried something like this:
But that doesn’t work. Bummer.
Meaning that if you wanted to use GTM to add the the BlogPosting Schema type to each of your blog posts, you would have to create a different tag and trigger (based on the URL) for each post. Not exactly scalable.
Dynamically generating JSON-LD
We can see this error in the Google Structured Data Testing Tool:
The purpose of this example is simply to demonstrate how the script works (dynamically swapping out the URL for the Organization Schema type wouldn’t actually make much sense). So let’s see how it could be used in the real world.
Dynamically generating Schema.org tags for blog posts
Start with a valid Schema template
First, build out a complete JSON/LD Schema snippet for a single post based on the schema.org/BlogPosting specification.
Identify the necessary dynamic variables
There are a number of variables that will be the same between articles; for example, the publisher information. Likewise, the main image for each article has a specific size generated by WordPress that will always be the same between posts, so we can keep the height and width variables constant.
In our case, we’ve identified 7 variables that change between posts that we’ll want to populate dynamically:
Create the variables within Google Tag Manager
- Main Entity ID: The page URL.
- Headline: We’ll keep this simple and use the page title.
- Date Published and Modified: Our blog is on WordPress, so we already have meta tags for “article:published_time” and “article:modified_time”. The modified_time isn’t always included (unless the post is modified after publishing), but the Schema specification recommends including it, so we should set dateModified to the published date if it there isn’t already a modified date. In some circumstances, we may need to re-format the date — fortunately, in this case, it’s already in the ISO 860 format, so we’re good.
- Author Name: In some cases we’re going to need to extract content from the page. Our blog lists the author and published date in the byline. We’ll need to extract the name, but leave out the time stamp, trailing pipe, and spaces.
- Article Image: Our blog has Yoast installed, which has specified image tags for Twitter and Open Graph. Note: I’m using the meta twitter:image instead of the og:image tag value due to a small bug that existed with the open graph image on our blog when I wrote this.
- Article Description: We’ll use the meta description.
Here is our insertion script, again, that we’ll use in our tag, this time with the properties swapped out for the variables we’ll need to create:
I’m leaving out dateModified right now — we’ll cover than in a minute.
Extracting meta values
Fortunately, Tag Manager makes extracting values from DOM elements really easy — especially because, as is the case with meta properties, the exact value we need will be in one of the element’s attributes. To extract the page title, we can get the value of the tag. We don’t need to specify an attribute name for this one:
For meta properties, we can extract the value from the content attribute:
Tag Manager also has some useful built-in variables that we can leverage — in this case, the Page URL:
Processing page elements
In case there’s a problem with this selector, I’ve also put in a fallback (just our company name), to make sure that if our selector fails a value is returned.
Tag Manager has a great feature that allows you to stage and test tags before you deploy them.
Once we have our variables in place, we can enter the Preview mode and head to one of our blog posts:
Here we can check the values of all of our variables to make sure that the correct values are coming through.
Finally, we set up our tag, and configure it to fire where we want. In this case, we’re just going to fire these tags on blog posts:
And here’s the final version of our tag.
For our dateModified parameter, we added a few lines of code that check whether our modified variable is set, and if it’s not, sets the “dateModified” JSON-LD variable to the published date. You can find the raw code here.
Now we can save the tag, deploy the current version, and then use the Google Structured Data Testing Tool to validate our work:
This is just a first version of this code, which is serving to test the idea that we can use Google Tag Manager to dynamically insert JSON-LD/Schema.org tags. However after just a few days we checked in with Google Search Console and it confirmed the BlogPosting Schema was successfully found on all of our blog posts with no errors, so I think this is a viable method for implementing structured data.
Structured data is becoming an increasingly important part of an SEO’s job, and with techniques like this we can dramatically improve our ability to implement structured data efficiently, and with minimal technical overhead.
I’m interested in hearing the community’s experience with using Tag Manager with JSON-LD, and I’d love to hear if people have success using this method!