Is this the end of organic star ratings in the SERPs? As of September 2019, businesses are no longer able to add their own Schema.org Review markup to their pages. Read on to find to find out what this Google update means for your business, and what you can do about it.

What are Review Rich Snippets? 

Review Rich Snippets use Schema.org markup to display review/rating information in organic search results and Google Knowledge Panels. Businesses had the choice of using third-party review collection (such as Feefo or Trustpilot), or collecting reviews themselves and adding the requisite markup to their pages. 

Cheese grater pro - An example of Rich Snippet stars

An example of Rich Snippet stars in the organic search results

Read more: The impact of Social Proof on conversion rate

Does Google have to display rich results?

No, rich results appear at Google’s discretion. Even if you markup your pages in the correct way, Google is not obliged to display the rich result in the SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages). You can maximise the likelihood of your rich results appearing by strictly adhering to Google’s guidelines, as well as validating your markup with their Rich Results Testing Tool.

Google Updates Review Rich Results (September 2019)

On September 16, 2019, Google announced an update to their Review Rich Results feature. Google explained that moving forward, service-level reviews considered to be ‘self-serving’ would no longer be eligible for rich snippets, whether these reviews were collected through a 3rd-party service like Trustpilot or by the businesses themselves. 

“Pages using LocalBusiness or any other type of Organization structured data are ineligible for star review feature if the entity being reviewed controls the reviews about itself. For example, a review about entity A is placed on the website of entity A, either directly in their structured data or through an embedded third-party widget.”

Source: Google Review Guidelines

Theoretically, this update should mean that websites will no longer be able to display any service-level ratings about themselves in their organic results. Product-level reviews are currently unaffected.

Impact of this update on SERPs

The impact on search results was noticeable almost immediately. Using SERP feature tracking tools like RankRanger or SEMRush Sensor, we can see that the percentage of search results containing review stars (review rich snippets) dropped drastically. 

Percentage of search results containing review stars decreased significantly

Source: RankRanger

This change is definitely one that will benefit users. The persuasive power of those coloured stars and their accompanying rating has been proven time and time again, and unfortunately, this was a feature that was rather prone to manipulation. Businesses could massage figures or cherry-pick reviews, or in some case, make them up entirely. 

Now that entities are prohibited from displaying self-serving star ratings, organic SERPs should be a little more honest. Though it’s worth noting that this change only applies to organic results; people can still display self-serving stars on their Paid Search (PPC) Ads.

A more cynical observer might suggest that this change will drive businesses to spend more on PPC, meaning that businesses with the most capital to invest in their digital marketing will be the ones that can display stars on their results in the SERPs. 

However, aside from PPC, is there anything else SEOs can do?

Product Reviews and Rich Snippets

Product Reviews are still valid and eligible to be used for Review Rich Snippets after the September 2019 update. In fact, with the changes to service-level reviews, product reviews are now al the more crucial. To make full use of them, ensure you are collecting reviews for every possible product on the site.

After adding markup for your product reviews, make sure you verify your product review markup using Google’s Structured Data Testing Tool or their Rich Results Testing Tool. Once your markup has been added and verified, you need Google to recrawl every page of your site that contains a product. You can request this by using the Fetch As Google / URL Inspection feature of Google Search Console. It can take a few days to see these changes reflected in actual search results. 

If you’d like any help collecting reviews, implementing Schema.org structured data on your website, or anything other Digital Marketing optimisations, get in touch with Optiminder today to find out how we can help grow your business.