Senior SEO Consultant

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Google has recently announced a number of changes to their reviews guidelines, and whilst there was some initial confusion around exactly what is and isn’t best practice, a lot of it is now cleared up.

We’ve known for a while that Google hasn’t been happy with how websites have “gamed” the review stars to influence users and stand out in SERPs to attract more clicks (not that CTR affects ranking, but obviously more traffic is good). It’s a tactic we’ve all done as SEOs as it has yielded results over the years and this is why structured data penalties have become more commonplace for misuses such as:

  1. Using inappropriate structured data
  2. Using structured data doesn’t match on-page content
  3. Violating Google’s Guidelines for a specific data type
  4. Violating Google’s Structured Data General Guidelines
  5. Taking shortcuts and liberties (aka manipulative behavior)

A common one I’ve encountered is the practice of placing organization-level rating markup across your entire site, which Google considered inaccurate or misleading as the ratings weren’t for the specific content of the page they were on.

So what’s changed?

Google is basically becoming stricter in when they display review stars within SERPs (rich snippets), and the schema types/reviews implementations that it essentially respects, or deems as being “self-serving”.

In particular, the use of a rating widget (e.g. Trustpilot, Feefo, miscellaneous hardcoded) to show reviews of your organization or business on a site that is run by your organization or business will no longer be respected and deemed “self-serving”.

Pages using LocalBusiness or any other type of Organization structured data are ineligible for star review feature if the entity being reviewed controls the reviews about itself.

Google will now only respect reviews and show the rich snippets for the below schema types:

LocalBusiness Schema Clarification

You’ll have noticed that LocalBusiness is included in both the inclusion and exclusion lists. Google’s John Mueller has provided additional guidance and clarification via Twitter:

It’s specific to reviews about your business, we tweaked the text in the blog post to make it a bit clearer: “Self-serving reviews aren’t allowed for LocalBusiness and Organization” (reviews for, say, products you sell are fine).

But what if the reviews are for a trades-person? Such as a plumber, or electrician?

If it’s a review for the own business, on its own site, then that seems self-serving to me.

So how would a tradesperson, or even SEO consultant get around this and still have stars shown in SERPs?

From my understanding, we would need to create product type pages and have reviews specific to the product and not the organization specifically, or utilize  Offer, but this again needs to be done within Product.

As well as trades and services alike, another industry that slides into a “grey area” when it comes to schema markup is travel. By definition Product schema should only be used:

  • a product page that describes a single product
  • a shopping aggregator page that lists a single product, along with information about different sellers offering that product

There is also the notion that Product should only be used for tangible items, and not an intangible such as holiday or vacation package. However, if it can be booked and has a price associated with it, you can look to use the Offer item.

Do Rich Snippets Actually Matter?

The answer to this is not a straight forward yes or no. We know that having review stars as a rich snippet doesn’t help improve your rankings:

Rich snippet themselves don’t give you ranking boosts. So it wouldn’t kind of make sense to demote a site in rankings if they are doing something wrong with rich snippets.

John Mueller

But we know that having them appear can influence your click-through rate, which again doesn’t impact your rankings, but obviously the goal of any SEO campaign is to drive traffic and conversions/leads, so whilst it doesn’t impact the rankings it does improve campaign performance.

 

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