Google just threw a monkey wrench into the process that local businesses use to enhance search results: They’re doing away with customer star ratings. As a result of an algorithm change that Google announced on its Webmaster blog, local businesses may no longer use Schema Markup on their websites to push their average star ratings to their organic search engine results pages (SERPs).
But the algorithm change is not as dramatic or bad as you might have heard. And you do have options for responding.
What Google Announced
Here’s the context: As defined by Wikipedia, Schema.org is a collaborative community activity with a mission to “create, maintain and promote schemas for structured data on the Internet, on web pages, in email messages and beyond.” It allows webmasters to mark up website content with metadata about the website using microdata, RDFa or JSON-LD formats. Such markup can be recognized by search engine spiders and other parsers, and in this way grant access to the meaning of the sites (see Semantic Web).
Businesses have used Schema Markup as a way to let Google know how many stars a business has received from reviews via these rich snippets — and that improved the visibility of their organic rankings in Google’s search results. But they can’t do that anymore, as a result of the change Google announced.
In essence, Google is saying that it cannot effectively validate the integrity of those ratings supplied by sites. Google now considers those reviews to be self-serving and not representative of the true public sentiment, because companies may be gaming the system by only issuing first-party reviews that make them look good.
But What About Star Ratings on Third-Party Sites?
Star ratings for local businesses will no longer appear in their SERPs, but here’s an important caveat: Third-party sites such as TripAdvisor and Yelp will still display your star ratings, and those could still appear in search results. Google views those sites to be more credible because Google believes they have no vested interest in the businesses whose ratings appear on their sites.
Here is a graphic that depicts the impact:
What’s happening is similar to when Google came on the scene in the early 2000s. It began to degrade ranking signals such as meta keywords on websites. If Google can’t validate the data you provide, the chances of it being inaccurate is higher, especially data that isn’t visible on your website.
What You Should Do
The disappearance of your star ratings on SERPs is certainly frustrating if you rely on those ratings to improve your click-through rates. But this development does not mean you should stop posting reviews and star ratings on your site. Posting ratings on your website improves the user experience because they provide credibility about your business.
In addition, user experience signals on your site remain a search ranking signal. The time a person spends on your site influences the ranking algorithm. So when you provide detailed information such as ratings and reviews that keeps people on your site, your site stands a greater chance of ranking higher.
Google is constantly changing its algorithms and search results, and at Reputation.com we’re here to guide you through this. If you have questions or concerns, please contact us today.