Google has once again killed the SEO salesperson’s trick du jour.
For roughly the past two years, some SEO companies have added reviews markup to their clients’ websites in order to cause Google to display stars next to the websites’ results in the search engine results pages. In many ways, it amounted to a loophole that allowed websites to manipulate Google’s users into noticing and presumably clicking on the results more frequently than they otherwise would.
We have not pushed or recommended the practice because we recognized it as a loophole that Google would likely close. This is because allowing all websites to display 5-star ratings for themselves dilutes the impact of all ratings in Google’s search engine results pages, and effectively renders legitimate third-party reviews meaningless in a sea of noise from companies reviewing themselves.
Like most short-term exploits, we observed the hoards of SEO sharks happily taking attorneys’ money to “make the stars appear on Google.” We abstained, though we allowed our members to add the schema code to their websites to make this happen if they insisted.
Well, the closing of the loophole has happened, though it took longer than we had anticipated. The update affects all organic search results, and does not affect Google My Business (the map listings).
On September 16, 2019, Google announced the change:
While, technically, you can attach review markup to any schema type, for many types displaying star reviews does not add much value for the user. With this change, we’re limiting the pool of schema types that can potentially trigger review rich results in search. – Google
More specifically, Google announced that it is disallowing “self-serving” reviews:
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.
In other words, the markup that you may have paid your SEO person to add to your website to get the stars to appear is now useless.
Google also will no longer display reviews based on 3rd party widgets either. That means that if you have a widget from a third-party website embedded in your site for the purpose of displaying reviews in Google’s listings, it’s now moot.
If my firm has self-serving reviews markup on its website, what should I do?
According to Google, there is no need to remove the useless reviews and markup; Google will just ignore it. Google will not be issuing manual actions (penalties) to companies that have it.
However, Google does recommend making sure that your structured data matches Google’s guidelines. Reading between the lines a bit here, there could be an algorithmic consequence for websites that “use structured data to deceive or mislead users,” as well as for failing to “avoid tricks intended to improve search engine rankings.”