Google has just announced new rules for how local businesses should use review schema and rich snippets on their websites.
Unfortunately, while the new rules appear to have significant differences with those they replace, they are not at all clear. As a result, they have caused widespread confusion for website managers and SEO agencies alike.
There are three main changes that are causing confusion as to what reviews can be marked up with schema for Rich Snippets. Google now says that:
- You can only include reviews that have been directly produced by your site, and not reviews from third-party sites or syndicated reviews;
- That aggregators or content providers must have no commercial agreements (paid or otherwise) with businesses to provide reviews, and;
- Reviews for multiple-location businesses (such as retail chains or franchises) can only be submitted for the specific business location for which they were written. In other words, reviews for multiple-location businesses cannot be syndicated or applied to all business locations of the same company.
But which sites does Google count as an aggregator or content provider? Surely, not the independent review sites that Google has accredited and previously recommended site owners work with? And what do multi-location and franchise businesses need to do now to ensure that customers leave reviews to Google’s new requirements?
In comparison, the remainder of Google’s new guidelines appear obvious enough:
- Snippets must not be written or provided by the business or content provider unless they are genuine, independent, and unpaid editorial reviews.
- Reviews must allow for customers to express both positive and negative sentiments. They may not be vetted by the business or restricted by the content provider based on the positive/negative sentiment of the review before submission to Google.
- Reviews cannot be template sentences built from data or automated metrics. (For example, the following is not acceptable: “Based on X number of responses, on average people experienced X with this business.”
- Do not include reviews that are duplicate or similar reviews across many businesses or from different sources.
So, what does constitute an aggregator or content provider?
Around the web, people are asking if review-gathering tools such as Trust Pilot and Five Stars are paid content providers (because business owners pay for their services. Consensus seems to be that these are simply tools (not paid content providers) that businesses can utilise to solicit feedback and reviews from their customer base — but Google has yet to contribute an answer to this question.
Another question that’s being asked: Can we still publish reviews from the likes of Trip Advisor on our websites?
The confusion here seems to be in distinguishing between publishing third party reviews on websites as opposed to marking those reviews up with schema so they can be displayed in Google search results. And the answer is “yes” — you can collate and publish those reviews on your site but you cannot mark them up as rich snippets. Here it seems that Google’s intent is to avoid duplicating reviews.
And what does this mean if you have a multi-location business or franchises? You risk being penalised or not having ratings displayed if the aggregated reviews on your site actually apply to multiple locations but are shown as applying to the business as a whole. Unfortunately, you’re going to have to spend more time in making sure individual ratings are applied to each of your locations.
Why should you care?
Reviews can help build trust and increase the likelihood of your converting visitors into paying clients. That’s why they’ve become increasingly important for every business. However, consumers’ faith that the reviews they read are a true representation of business merit and customer satisfaction has been undermined by the prevalence of fake reviews and judiciously curated feedback.
Google is implementing these changes to mitigate abuse and create a better experience for those searching for your products or services. It’s just a pity that, in doing so, Google has not been entirely clear as to what is and is not allowed — and the company needs to take immediate steps to clarify the confusion.
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