As some SEO experts already had foreseen after the June 2019 Core Update, Google integrated a new evaluation of reviews in their new algorithm. Hereby many review rich results, also called rich snippets for reviews, disappeared from the search engine result pages (SERP).
In Google´s view “it can be extremely helpful when searching for products or services” when a search engine can enhance results among which also count “review rich results”.
Structured Data As The Base Of Review Rich Results
Users easily identify aggregated reviews by scores and stars that are being displayed alongside the search result. Google was even one of the driving forces behind the evolution of a markup language. This project made it possible to identify specific topics of a webpage.
“Reviews” is yet only one element among a long list of themes respectively items. Search engines consider those items as being helpful for a better semantic understanding of a web page.
Structured data, which webmasters add to the source code of a web page can help to easily display information for users. On the other hand, they can help to improve and extend the search engine´s knowledge about the specific content and context of a page.
But Google now obviously intends to correct a, from their point of view, not useful process.
Benefits Of Review Rich Results For Webmasters
It is no secret that since the introduction of structured data webmasters started to implement their knowledge about this new way of content building. They used it for “social proof” and last but not least for positive effects relating to their Google rankings.
As a result website owners could implement structured mark-up code. Hereby webmasters create review pages and display singular and aggregated results of reviews on their own websites.
The first great benefit for site owners was, that Google often was going to display those structured data (stars, scores). Google put these data alongside the search results as long as the technical implementation of the structured data worked fine.
Furthermore, there was a second benefit the site owners enjoyed was that they had full control over the implemented code and how they displayed reviews.
This seems to have an end now. Google makes it quite clear what they will change and what they won´t accept in the future.
June 2019 Core Update And Review Rich Results
To make review rich results more helpful and meaningful, “we are now introducing algorithmic updates to reviews in rich results. This also addresses some of the invalid or misleading implementations webmasters have flagged to us.”
No doubt and no speculation is necessary. Domain owners definitely know by now that the current changes in the SERPs related to reviews neither are accidental nor will they disappear shortly.
We can already watch the changes. Barry Schwartz analyzed results from several data resources and concluded: “How much of a drop? Depending on which tool provider you look at, anywhere from a 3 to 5 point drop in the number of times a review rich result would show.”
Accepted Schema Types
The limitation Google defines for its future usage of reviews is first a restriction of accepted data types. In other words: Google will use information in SERPs only in the form of structured data for a predefined list of types and subtypes.
The official Google list for unlimited review usage currently contains the following items:
This might sound great and many companies may even be surprised about the previously unused opportunities and options this list provides for their content production. With its algorithmic update, however, Google is directly targeting two additional types of the schema taxonomy.
Google doesn´t intend to completely dismiss all information about these types. And yes, you still may want to use these types to better characterize the content of your website or individual pages.
But using the subtype “review” in connection with or technically spoken below any of those two types on your website will not help you anymore as long as the review is about your own company. Google attacks “self-serving reviews” which are no longer “allowed(!) for LocalBusiness and Organization”. This is a clear and unmistakable warning in my opinion.
“Reviews that can be perceived as “self-serving” aren’t in the best interest of users. We call reviews “self-serving” when a review about entity A is placed on the website of entity A – either directly in their markup or via an embedded 3rd party widget. That’s why, with this change, we’re not going to display review rich results anymore for the schema types LocalBusiness and Organization (and their subtypes) in cases when the entity being reviewed controls the reviews themselves.”
New Wave Of Manual Actions Or Diplomatic Approach?
Google plays down its warning some lines later. They assure that the administrators of the websites don´t have to delete existing implementations of structured data code to avoid penalties. Overall webmasters don´t have to fear bad consequences. But it sounds as Google typically sounds: they send us a second message that makes us feel not too comfortable with what they just said:
“Will I get a manual action for having self-serving reviews on my site? You won’t get a manual action just for this. However, we recommend making sure that your structured data matches our guidelines.”
Time will tell if webmasters will again have to stand long-lasting discussions about a new wave of manual actions from Google that penalize those domains that continue to contain respective review related code on their pages.
A relaxed attitude from Google on this topic would help to develop a fair coexistence of the world´s famous search engine monopolist together with all those companies that are trying to optimize their web performance.