Making your business stand out online can be tough what with all the competition out there – it’s therefore vital that your search listings stand out in search results. Rich results, created by schema markup has always been one of the best and most popular ways to do this as it allows for prices, dates, star ratings and more to show underneath your meta title. These features can work wonders for your organic performance, as over 80% of local business consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations.
However, on Sept 16th 2019, Google implemented changes to their reviews rich results policies and procedures, affecting how it shows review rich results and rating stars. The overall aim of this change is to improve the rich results for search users as well as addressing abusive implementation (e.g. ‘self-serving’ reviews) that have occurred over the years.
All website developers should strive to understand these new changes to ensure that their knowledge is up to date and relevant.
What Are Reviews Rich Results?
Reviews rich results are those results which show at the top of the Google Search Results. They are based on the reviews and ratings of a product, service, or production that have been produced by
a well reputed and established website. There are many different types of products and services for which a review can be left, including books, events, guides, local businesses and establishments, software and applications, recipes, and other similar features.
Reviews rich results tend to look similar to the image shown on the right.
The Google Update
The changes that Google have released, at their very simplest, are designed to limit the number of reviews rich search results that can be made; notably, self-serving reviews are no longer allowed.
The schema that are now allowed are:
- Creative work session
- Creative work series
- How to
- Local business
- Media object
- Music playlist
- Music recording
- Software application
Google’s primary goal with the new regulations were based on preventing businesses from self-promoting their own material, content, services, and the like – hence, creating ‘self-serving’ reviews. For example, reviews about business A that have also been posted on business A’s website will no longer feature as a reviews rich result; only reviews which have been made by unbiased third party individuals will be considered.
A more detailed case could be a search result featuring the review markup showing something like 5000+ reviews, when realistically they actually have 100. These extra reviews have been generated by the business themselves, and therefore do not count.
This update therefore is to protect the integrity of the content and ensure that the results are of the most relevance and use to the searcher as possible; biased self-reviews, unsurprisingly, do not meet this requirement.
This algorithmic update was met with confusion amongst the SEO community, and so the team at Google Webmasters updated their blog to clarify the regulations more clearly. They stated that, essentially, you can’t review your own local business and then host it on your own website. See the Twitter discussion here.
But Why Do We Care?
You might be wondering why you might need to be worried about these new changes. While they don’t necessarily need to be all that consequential, it should be considered as they could impact a page’s ability to show its own star rating. This means that everyone should always work to ensure that they have reviewed and analysed the new changes to ensure that their markup meets the regulations in order to avoid their rich results being dropped.
In addition, for people who make use of these reviews rich results when making a search, the new changes could also be beneficial. The changes are heavily based on the idea of making it easier for people to use the system without having to worry about reviews from biased sources. This means that search users can feel confident in the quality of the reviews that they are finding for the products or services that they are searching for, thus receiving a better user experience from Google.
How should you respond to rich results review display limitations
Even though this update is only a small change, it may have an indirect impact on a site’s ranking as these reviews can affect organic performance. Therefore, if your website uses review rich results, you should strive to understand the new changes.
Elimination of self-serving reviews
The changes to self-serving reviews are now in place for entities that are a local business, organization, or anything in between. The same will be the case for third party reviews—such as a TripAdvisor review—that are embedded into a business’ website. Already, there have been a large number of cases of sites losing their review rich results, as reported by numerous tools including Mozcast (35.8% rich results, down from 39.2%) and SemRush (47.6%, down from 52%) – statistics dated two days after Google’s announcement.
It should be noted that there will not be any penalties for businesses who still display these self-serving reviews; rather, the case will simply be that the snippet won’t appear in the Google Search results.
Mandatory “name” property in featured snippets
In addition to this, Google have also announced changes that have been made to the ways in which you name your reviews. In order for a review to be eligible for showing as a reviews rich result, they will now need to feature the name of the product or service in their markup—and failing to do so will mean that the review won’t be possible for being a reviews rich result.
If you’re deeply involved with SEO, you’ll know that review rich results are not a ranking factor, so it won’t your site’s position. But, adding this markup took websites a long way as it can affect the number of sales and users, information that search engines use when selecting the best results for the search user. So this small change will likely have a significant impact amongst the SEO community and search results, as we’re already started to see. It is therefore vital that you get to grips with the latest regulations to ensure that your organic performance isn’t affected a great deal.