• Cindy Krum

    Great article Chris – that certainly was an *interesting* session :P

  • http://www.touchpointdigital.net/ David Deering

    Hmmm, definitely a little confusing, this whole review/aggregate review/rating thing. I agree with you, Chris–I wish Google was much clearer as to what is acceptable and unacceptable when it comes to the review schemas.

    But I’m not sure if I understand Pierre’s statement when he said: The first point is that if a user sees a review rich snippet, they will expect a page that’s a review. In the scenario you described, you suggested webmasters add the reviews on the homepage, which is usually not seen as a review page. I’ve yet to see a business homepage that a user would expect to function as a review page.

    Reviews and rating markups are usually nested within another schema, such as a product or organization schema. And each page of a site could in fact be marked up with its own unique schema of which the review markup could be a part of.

    As far as marking up syndicated reviews, I’m not sure if I agree. True, the reviews may not be original content that are posted only on the website. But my counterpoint to that is, which reviews are more trusted–the ones posted on Yelp or the ones a webmaster posted himself? It could be relatively easy for webmasters to game the system, at least initially, by creating fake reviews/ratings and posting them on their site. I would be more inclined to trust the reviews if they had a link to the original source.

    Google states in their guidelines that if the aggregate rating schema is used, the individual reviews must be posted on the same page. But for syndicated ratings, one possible solution would be to use the data-vocabulary rating markup shown here: https://support.google.com/webmasters/answer/146645?hl=en and linking it to the orginal source, such as:

    [span itemprop="rating" itemscope itemtype="http://data-vocabulary.org/Rating"]
    We/our whatever was rated [span itemprop="average"]9[/span]
    out of [span itemprop="best"]10[/span]
    [/span]based on [span itemprop="count"]25[/span] user reviews, which can be seen on our [a href="http://www.yelp.com/...."]Yelp page.[/a].

    Or perhaps another option is to post the review and mark it up and include a link to the original, if it’s practical to do so on the web page.

    I think I’d trust that more than reviews and ratings that were posted but have no links to verify that the reviewer exists or that a review was actually written.

    But perhaps I’m wrong. I just wish Google would be clearer as to what is acceptable and unacceptable when it comes to the review and rating markups, otherwise I’m afraid that many honest webmasters with good intentions will get themselves in hot water and be clueless as to why.

  • Chris Silver Smith

    Thanks, Cindy! The immediate feedback was startling, but I think it’s good to have the corrections and clarifications to insure folks don’t stray into getting into trouble.

  • Chris Silver Smith

    David, in the current guidelines, Google says that you can mark up “your content”, but I think they mean more specifically they don’t want borrowed, stolen or quoted content, really. The prob with reviews is that I think webmasters have previously assumed that the content was about them, so it was “yours” in that sense, and it was legally quoted. But, syndicated reviews is definitely out.

    Also, their guidelines state that the focus of the overall page is very important:

    “Is your marked-up content representative of the main content of the page? With rich snippets, Google’s goal is to provide users with a quick
    way to decide if a page in search results meets their needs. If your
    page is almost entirely about cats, but includes a small section
    containing marked-up information about a Star Wars flash mob event, we
    won’t show a rich snippet preview of that event in response to a query
    about cats (or Star Wars either, for that matter).”

    …so, that’s why they wouldn’t want the Reviews used on a site’s homepage or other pages not specifically related to review information.

  • Christine Churchill

    Thanks for the follow up article answering the questions that arose during the now infamous session. I have worked with you enough to know you would never intentionally utilize spam so I was confident the issues brought up by Pierre, were a
    misunderstanding of Google’s instructions. Great article Chris!

  • Pranit Banthia

    Very informative article, though I am still little confused. On the service page (with content about single service), is it OK to have reviews directly from customers who used that service? Is it OK to use reviews markup in schema for that page?

  • Al Carmona

    Very timely article. Just finished adding structured data to all of our product pages. We display user-generated reviews on each specific product page. It’s best to not confuse people and just call a spade a spade. Honesty is the best (long-term) policy because G will eventually penalize those that seem intent on gaming the system.

  • Tad Miller

    Feed back from Google is absolutely welcome. The way that feedback was delivered could have been handled a lot better…

  • Chris Silver Smith

    I’d ask that people be a little careful about calling the use of Aggregate Reviews markup “gaming the system”. Let’s be clear — the primary motivation for introducing the markup onto websites is to elicit Rich Snippets — and, for real, true reviews and real true products, there’s nothing inherently dishonest about that. Being motivated to get the benefit of the listing treatment isn’t evil — even Google’s documentation calls it a “bonus” they are providing to webmasters! The confusion comes in because people see the ratings stars appearing for listings in product searches, and they wish to enable that same treatment for their site’s pages — with the guidelines not being straightforward in communicating that the markup should be used only for individual products, a number of people have mistakenly implemented this for pages where Google does not want them to. This is a case where implementing the markup incorrectly is not at all evidence of malicious intent.

  • Chris Silver Smith

    I could’ve wished for a little more diplomacy and sensitivity, but I believe that Pierre wanted to rapidly deliver a strong caution to the large room of attendees that some of the guidance I’d provided was directly against their policy. I’d rather have that message delivered than to have my recommendations result in people’s work getting penalized! Pierre expressed to me personally that he generally considered me to be an ethical practitioner — and, there wasn’t a lot of time left in the session at that point to deliver the info with a lot of context. Personally, I’m very glad to hear information delivered directly from Google’s representatives, and even if the delivery may be blunt at times, it’s much better than no feedback at all. So, on the balance, I’m appreciative.

  • http://www.send2press.com/ Christopher Simmons

    Simply … wow. Good stuff.

  • http://www.touchpointdigital.net/ David Deering

    Thanks, Chris. I do hear what you’re saying and apparently it is against their guidelines to mark up reviews and ratings from third-party sites based on what I’ve heard from others who have received correspondence from Google about this. I just wish their posted guidelines were very clear about that, so hopefully they will edit that information soon.

    I do believe, though, that this is one structured data markup that will quickly become abused by less than honest webmasters. Creating fake reviews for a business and marking them up is honestly very easy to do if someone wants to. So I am hoping that a system gets put into place to better ensure that the reviews are legitimate.

    Either way, thanks for sharing the information and I commend you for your humility through it all.

  • Tony N. Wright

    I grew up with a CPA for a father. I watched him battle the IRS on interpretation of tax laws for years. Now my profession is becoming the same thing – except there is no court in which to interpret what “is” spam and what “is not”. Google’s TOS is starting to look an awful lot like tax code – except they don’t HAVE to tell us the rules. They just expect us to follow them.

  • Chris Silver Smith

    I know Google tries to be succinct, and that they don’t want to get into specifying everything *not* to do. The structured data has a few areas like this, however, that could use a bit more clarification. Some of these types of implementations are things that could be expected to come up with some frequency, so some examples of what to-do and what not-to-do would’ve kept many sites from implementing things incorrectly.