For a while now, local businesses have been able to push average star ratings from reviews about their businesses to their organic SERP results using review schema markup on their websites, but that is all set to change.
Google have announced via their webmasters blog that they will will no longer display these star ratings as Review Rich Results from the schema types LocalBusiness and Organization in cases where the subject of the reviews and the website on which they appear are the same.
Citing the perception of “reviews of a business on the business’ own site” as ‘self-serving’, Google’s intention is to reduce what it calls “invalid or misleading implementations” of review schema markup.
As part of this change, they’re purportedly trying to make Review Rich Results “more helpful and meaningful” by reserving them for a select group of schema types and sub-types (which you can view on the original post).
Woah, woah… schema what now?
If you’re completely new to schema markup (or structured markup), a lot of what follows isn’t going to make a lot of sense. Go read Martha van Berkel’s excellent piece on schema markup for local businesses and we’ll meet you back here in a moment.
Back with us? Great.
When will this change happen?
It’s only just been announced and we’ve not started to see the changes yet, but based on how quickly announced updates get rolled out, I’d estimate we’ll start to see it affect SERPs as early as next week.
Should I remove business reviews from my site?
No, this action from Google simply ignores schema markup attached to reviews for the business on the business website; it’s not an action against reviews per se.
It’s still great practice to collect and display reviews on your website, as it’s a form of social proof that builds trust in your business. All that changes here is that the average star rating that might have sat next to your link in organic SERPs will disappear.
While that in itself is a pain, when you consider that this will theoretically happen for every local business, it’s just a removal of a competitive advantage. The people who really need to take action to communicate the change are the local SEOs whose eagle-eyed, self-Googling clients may well have already spotted that their SERPs are suddenly less star-studded than before.
Will my third-party reviews widget still push star ratings to SERPs?
According to Google, no. While the reviews themselves might live on a different, authoritative and trusted domain (e.g. TripAdvisor, Trustpilot, etc.), Google’s statements strongly suggests that this markup will be ignored, too; a statement recently confirmed by Google’s John Mueller:
I double-checked to make sure 🙂 — that’s incorrect. Regardless of how the reviews are embedded on your site (widget or not), if it’s for your own LocalBusiness/Organization, they would be considered self-serving and not be shown.
— 🍌 John 🍌 (@JohnMu) September 17, 2019
Regardless of where the reviews live and where the widgets are from, if the entity being reviewed is the same entity that the website is about, review schema markup for LocalBusiness and Organization will be ignored.
Will this affect my rankings or cause a penalty?
We have it on very good authority that using review schema markup on LocalBusiness and Organization schema types will not negatively affect rankings or cause penalties. This change will simply cause the Review Rich Result (star rating) to no longer appear in search results.
What about Product schema?
That’s a very good question! The community’s still waiting for a response from Google on this one, but I would like to think that exactly the same principle applies, otherwise it’s a little unfair.
If you’re a ceramicist, to use an example from Claire Carlile, technically you could still aggregate individual product reviews for each product, use review schema markup on the Product schema type and see the average star rating pushed to SERPs featuring your product pages.
While this would be okay by Google’s new guidelines, it would present the same ethical dilemma, because the person responsible for choosing the widget or aggregating the reviews is the same person making and selling the product, making it a “self-serving” use of review schema markup.
And at that point, there’s no stopping us! Are Amazon products appearing with star ratings in SERPs not “self-serving” (in that they’re presented to convince a searcher to visit and buy)?
If I’ve directed a movie, built the website for it, and tagged up aggregated reviews with review schema markup on the Movie schema type, is that not also “self-serving”?
The answer to the question of review schema markup on the Products schema type will give us a good idea of where this goes next. I can see Google’s reasoning behind the current move, but I think they need to be careful not to open a can of worms: SEOs are very good at finding ways around restrictive updates like this.