Keeping Up with Google – the New Rules for Customer Reviews
It’s no secret that in today’s consumer market, credibility and authenticity are everything. Perhaps that’s why 88% of the population regularly reads reviews for consumer products before purchasing. Plain and simple, people want to hear it from the horse’s mouth – they want to hear from buyers and not suppliers. We’ve all been through the routine before – we see that 55-inch plasma TV and we want to know if it’s every bit as good as advertised. Of course the producer is going to tell you it has a picture so real that you’ll think you’re at the big game or that the sound is so clear that you feel as if your favorite newscaster is in the room with you. But as soon as we read a review saying “this is a waste of money, don’t buy!” we automatically shut it down. This is why customer reviews are so important to franchises, agencies, and national brands. Even more important is keeping up with the latest developments in this facet of the social buying experience.
While reviews are certainly a factor in whether or not you can make a sale, they also play an important role in local SEO. With reviews accounting for over 10% of overall ranking factors, it’s easy to see why so many franchise brands are investing in review aggregators, like BrightLocal and GetFiveStars. But using these aggregators is rendered useless, if not damaging, if you’re not going about it the correct way. That’s why it’s so important to keep up with the latest of Google’s guidelines for marking up these reviews as means of improving visibility and driving sales.
Below is a list of Google’s new guidelines regarding online reviews:
- 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.”
- 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.
- Aggregators or content providers must have no commercial agreements paid or otherwise with businesses to provide reviews.
- Do not include reviews that are duplicate or similar reviews across many businesses or from different sources.
- Only include reviews that have been directly produced by your site, not reviews from third-party sites or syndicated reviews.
There are three highly important takeaways from this. Number one, when you include third-party syndicated reviews (ones not directly produced by your site), you cannot mark those up with schema. For the uninitiated, schema is an SEO tactic that tells the search engines what your data means, not just what it says, thus making it easier for search engines to find and display your content. So, when using the “review” schema tag to mark up your testimonials, make sure that the reviews are coming from your site, and not an aggregator.
The second major change that sticks out to me is that local franchise owners cannot filter out reviews to only include the positive ones. While this may be frightful for some business owners, this update is certainly a step in the right direction, as it will allow customers to engage with brands more authentically and build customer trust. No one is going to believe that your business is perfect 100% of the time, so don’t bother trying to come off that way. If you’re really worried about having too many negative reviews, a good idea might be to start asking for reviews from customers, vendors, and partners that you know have had a positive experience with your product.
The final major update worth noting is that reviews for multiple-location franchises can only be submitted for the specific location for which they are written. So, make sure you aren’t aggregating the reviews from all the locations and applying them individually to every storefront. Although this may pose some challenges, in the long run it can help franchise owners better identify which locations are struggling with their reviews and make the necessary changes to turn the tide of customer satisfaction.
With all these major changes in place, it’s important to note that it may take several months for them to be strictly enforced by Google. However, it still remains to be seen how Google will penalize brands who fail to adhere to their new set of rules. After all, these new guidelines almost directly contradict the previous review markup guidelines. It’s definitely better to play it on the safe side – getting flagged by the world’s most popular search engine would certainly have devastating effects on your business.
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