We’ve been sitting on this question for a couple of weeks: where should you add testimonials on your site and how should you add them?
In this week’s Office Hours, we talked continued a conversation from previous weeks about establishing EAT (Expertise, Authority, and Trustworthiness) on your website. One way to do that is adding testimonials to your site. What pages should receive these testimonials?
Along with this comes another question: can these testimonials earn review star ratings in the search results? You know: where you search for something in Google and see some star ratings beneath the page in the SERPs.
Can you get these review stars on your search result listings? If so, what does it take?
In short, you need to encode your page with an Aggregate Ratings review schema markup. Here’s a couple of the pages we talked about in this week’s meeting:
- The Structured Data Testing Tool (https://search.google.com/structured-data/testing-tool/u/0/) is currently hosted on Google but will eventually move to Schema.org, once Google graveyards it.
- The Search Gallery shows you the kinds of Schema that Google considers important.
- Review Markup Guidelines are the rules you need to follow for Google to consider using your star-ratings in the SERPs.
But don’t forget: even if you never earn the star ratings in the SERPs, displaying positive testimonials can help build your website’s credibility and increase your conversion rates– which is well worth the effort.
Welcome to office hours. Today is the last Wednesday of 2020. Hooray! It is December 30th, and even though it is the week between Christmas and New year, we are still talking SEO because we love it. We had two questions submitted a couple of weeks ago, but we didn’t get to them, but they are both very similar. So, I wanted to kind of combine them together and talk about them in one big session. So l will try to summarize the questions and Trisha, you, and Stephanie if you want to elaborate on the questions again before we kind of get into it. But the idea is related to something we talked about a few weeks ago, which is the idea that we want to establish our authority and credibility on our website and want people to see that we are the expert we say we are. And one way to do that is to put testimonials on your site. The display may review that people have submitted on your site that people can see that they give you the credibility that’s there and then how to do that, especially when it comes to what we call schema markup, which is the kind of an invisible HTML code that google can interpret and sometimes when google sees the schema markup they might change the way the search result is displayed in our advantage. So, those were kind of the questions that were submitted. How to do that, why to do this, when to do it, should you do it? Does that kind of capture the questions you two had?
Lady1: Yeah, and I think that’s kind of included, but there’s also a question regarding if you have a specific review related to a specific service you should put the review on that service page
David: So what I like about this SEO task is that even if we don’t get any SEO benefits from it directly, it’s going to help right, so? That’s what great about this as a task. There might be some SEO benefits from us, especially if we had a schema so that google can interpret the reviews and show our search results better. However, even if it doesn’t, it still helps establish us with credibility because we can see we are the experts we say. So, if this doesn’t give us some sort of SEO boost, it’s probably worth our time to do. Okay, so I am going to share my screen. I kind of prepared a couple of slides here. Are you seeing my entire screen or just the window?
Lady2: The window.
David: Alright, good. So, I will focus on this conversation from the technical schema perspective because that’s the hard part. The easy part is getting reviews and getting people to give us a tip. That being said, yeah, you’re right. Sometimes it’s hard to get people to give you a review.
Lady1: I think a lot of it is harder for businesses to ask for reviews.
David: That’s it exactly. We talked about this in the past. You just have to ask for it, make it part of your process. Sometimes I like to send the reviews straight to third-party tools like Google My Business, or the service (inaudible) or Facebook, and that’s great. But putting them on our site can be really helpful, but if we want to have an SEO benefit from it, we want to make sure we encode it using structured data. This is a google structured data testing tool. I am bringing this up here today even though this tool is about to be graveyarded. They are getting rid of it and replacing it with the rich result tool, which is far inferior, but schema.org will host a version of this tool eventually. I think their aim is to have it done by February and what I like about this tool is that we can actually type in some code and test the code to see what it looks like, and this code tells us what the problem is. For instance, if you wanted to write some schema, we can just put the code here, run the tasks, and tell us what the problem is. It’s a really great way to troubleshoot the problem. But the other important part of this tool is to explore the search gallery, and this is all the different forms of schema that we can add to our website that google looks at. There’s a lot of things encoded in schema. Theoretically, everything on a site could be encoded in schema. Still, there are certain things that google considers and certain things that Google ignores. This is the stuff google considers. Some of these we’ve talked about the article schema, which is the way for Google to understand what part of your page is in an article and certain information about that article. If you use the Yoast SEO plugin, you automatically have this added to your blog post. Other things that people don’t use all the time are books. If you are selling books, breadcrumb markup is another one almost anybody can add. If you can see on the screen, this one is an example of life with cats. It has a greater than sign TV, greater than sign News. What breadcrumb will do in the search result is to change your URL to something a little bit more user-friendly like this. This does a couple of things, number one, this makes your website stands out from everyone who just has a URL in the search results. It also establishes that if you’ve done your breadcrumbs right that living with cats has a section grade on News, and people can see what’s on your website, this is advantageous.
Lady1: Is that also a part of the Yoast plugin?
David: No. Yoast comes with the ability to do this, but you have to build it into a theme. You have to change your theme to put Yoast breadcrumb code in there appropriately, so there are a few modifications to do that. It looks really easy because, at best practice, everyone knows how to go through google’s search gallery of schema and say, do any of these apply to my website events, faqs that’s an interesting one, how-to might be interesting, local business a lot of us should have thought about that one there, the logo is the one that Yoast has automatically for you, and it basically helps effect your knowledge graph which we talked about previously. The one we are talking about today is called the review snippet. You can see why this is such a coveted snippet or schema to add to your site because what this might do for you is allow you to have a star rating in the search results organically. So, if you are competing in the search result with a bunch of other websites, but your website is the only one with four or five-star reviews, your listing is going to stand out amongst all your competitors, and even if you are not in the number one position all those eyes are going straight to you. You could potentially get more traffic even if you’re not ranking in number one. Now there’s a rumor that Google will give you a ranking benefit for including schema even if it doesn’t display it. But I don’t like to play games like that, the point is, if you can do this just do it, why wouldn’t you? But for something like the review snippets, this gives you the advantage of the display on stars.
Lady2: Is pulling in to clarify the google reviews, not the ones on your website that you might place there manually?
David: No, this is on your website only
Lady2: Oh really, website, not Google?
David: Yes, not Google. It’s not pulling in Google reviews. You are adding code to your page to tell Google people have reviewed me at such a star level, and if google considers that credible, they will add that stars from your own website.
Lady2: Reviews from google are legitimate in that you can’t delete them, but if it’s on your website, you can only post good reviews, right?
David: Yeah, you are getting there exactly. Am going to skip to the bottom.
Lady1: Does this mean that if, for instance, I have only my third-party reviews and I don’t have a review system on my website, would I need to have a review system where people leave their reviews directly on my website?
Lady 2: It can be manual testimony that you just insert into an article
David: And that’s why I am skipping to the end of this document. The guidelines, so this is the key. Reading these guidelines and other things on google, one of the things Google has been doing lately is if they believe you are gaining their star rating system by doing this on your own side, google will send you a (nastygram: not sure of the spelling). Now the nastygram says we are not going to show the ratings because we don’t believe you. So the implication of that is, you did all the work, and google is not showing them okay. Doesn’t mean people who come to your website don’t see the reviews, just means Google will not add it to the search results. So, there are very specific guidelines. Make sure you have an aggregate rating. That’s what Google uses to decide to show in your search results. Aggregate rating is the way to use schema to link schema.org/AggregateRating. That’s the HTML you are adding to your site to get that. But you’re rating something, and that is the real trick here. There are only certain kinds of things that google allows you to review to qualify for an aggregate rating, so refer specifically to a product, a service, by nesting the reviews within the markup of another schema type such as a book, recipe. You can review a book, and you can review a recipe, but you can’t just review personal views because the reviews have to apply to something. We will talk about the things it has to apply to in a second. Make sure your markup is available to users from the mark-uped page. It should be immediately obvious to the users that the page has review content. So, you can’t just put the code on your site. You need to show that this person rated you five stars. This person rated you four stars. The aggregate rating is 4.5 stars, and this will be all visible to the people okay. Some of these things are technical.
Lady2: It seems that readily available to users meaning that they can review as well?
David: Yes, we are going to get there. If the review snippets are for a local business or organization, which probably most of us will use, you have this additional guideline. Pages using the local business or any other organization-structured data are ineligible for star review features 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.
Lady1: So it’s kind of never (inaudible), or they won’t allow you to do that.
David: Well, but let’s keep reading, ratings must be sourced directly from users, don’t rely on human users or editors to create, curate, or compile ratings. Sites must collect rating information from users and not from other sites. So considering this guideline as it relates to the local business or organization, what that means is, if you are going to display them on your own site, you need to have certain things. Number one, the ratings of each of the items that come the aggregate needs to be visible. Two, anybody needs to be able to fill out a review. You need some sort of intake form on the page that shows you are inviting people or anybody who wants to review you. Three, you can’t be curating them, so that means you have to display all those that come in good or bad. Now some third-party services and tools can do this for you. I’ve worked with a developer before. I think we used an advanced custom field in WordPress and built out a system that did this. It had a very simple form, for your what’s your name, what’s your email address, give us a starred review, tell us what you like about us. We just had it displaying all the reviews, and so google can literally count there are five reviews. The aggregate rating says there are five reviews. You can see the averages. It’s all encoded appropriately. If you have the intake form there, you show that you are able and not curating.
Here’s where we get a little bit sneaky, how does google know whether you are curating them or not. You are taking them in, but they don’t know if you are aggregating them. They can’t possibly know that. So, we could do this in a nefarious way, where we only display the good ones. I think we are familiar with the idea that none of us trust something 100% five stars. We want to see some failures, or maybe we want to see some four stars because we just know people are critical. Maybe we want to see a three-star. After all, we know things aren’t always going the right way. So, what if the ones we displayed are three or better. Now you would be curating to do that, and by curating, you would be breaking these rules. But then comes the question, how would Google know that?
Lady2: I just would think you were pulling your reviews from Google to your sites like through a plugin or something?
David: You could, but you wouldn’t get the star rating showing up on your site because this says you must collect ratings directly from users and not from other sites.
Lady2: Yeah, that’s the point am really just dumbfounded by
Lady1: I know it’s like you were thinking that Google will trust their own reviews more than they’ll trust (inaudible)
David: They don’t want to look like they are favoring somebody.
Lady2: That’s interesting. That’s a question of how would they know? So, do you suggest using a plugin or just putting up a simple form like you were saying you did for a client?
David: I did this action couple of years back. So, the information isn’t fresh. We looked through WordPress (inaudible) for some review-taking plugins, and then we installed them and tested them. Most of them failed because they weren’t giving an aggregate review, or the thing they were reviewing was a product when the website was not selling the product. And that will get us into trouble because we are reviewing a product that we are not selling. Again, the review has to be reviewing something; it’s not an aggregate rating of reviews. It’s an aggregate rating of reviews of something. So, what we ended up having to do in the best way we could think is to use advanced custom fields because the developer I worked with is vast in advanced custom fields. He built this intake system. And the intake system took in every submission of forms from the review page. I am not going to go ahead to say what exactly it did. If you gave us one or two stars, we said thank you please, we would contact you shortly to run over your problems, and we did not display those one or two stars on the website. Then if it were three, we said thank you, then we can opt-in whether we want to show it or not. If it was four or five, we said thank you, we displayed it, and we said, hey would you like to review us on this other website too. And so what that system did was we did curate. Technically, we were curating despite what google said we should be doing, but there’s no way Google could have known that. I am not doing this for any purpose; I feel comfortable.
Lady2: Don’t make this public.
David: I am telling you about what we did a few years ago. I don’t do this any longer, but that’s how we did this. So, what can be reviewed is a Book, a Course, an Event, a How-to, a Local business, a Movie, a Product, a Recipe, a Software App, and then some other things. So, if one of these things would benefit your business, then you could consider including reviews. For Amazon, they offer all kinds of products, and so they could put this review system on their site. They do have a review system on their site and guess what they are qualified for a star rating in their search results. This goes to your question Trisha, you’re asking whether to put it on one page or every page of the service. Notice, service is not something that Google considers review-worthy. It’s not listed here for the local businesses, so you could do a page. For instance, if you had a business that was one business, you probably would do something like this on a home page because that is where you would be reviewing that business. If you had a business with many locations, let’s say you have a pest control business in a large city. It has several different locations. You might set up one of these to review each of the locations as a different local business. So, that’s what it goes to. If you are using reviews in this capacity, we have to review something, one of these things.
What about the how-to meaning? For example, I’ve been working on many membership sites, association sites, and I might write a post about a project review of a site. Could I post the review on that page?
David: So, the how-to is a specific kind of schema that is not necessarily related to reviews, and you can see how this looks. The how-to schema shows in the search results steps one, two, three, and whatever, and you open them up, and you can see the entire content of each step. The great side of this is that it’s great because you’ve taken an (inaudible) to the search results, you are going to stand out. The downside is that some people may never ever visit your site because you’ve given away the form to google. There’s no reason to visit your site if I got all five how-to steps here. There’s no way to know if people will find this valuable because you will be giving google all the stars, and it’s that how-to that’s been reviewed. So, it’s not. I have a how-to page or review this how-to. I have a how-to schema that then google can choose to display in the search results, and then it’s reviewed. So, this and Faq schemas are two schemas I do not use because you give away things to google. I want them to come to my site. I don’t want them to go there because Google has enough information to send me some traffic.
You said you don’t do the how-to, and then what?
David: Faq and how-to. Because it’s giving stuff to google that’s basically stealing content from me. It’s powering google to exploit my content on their site, and I don’t want them to do that. I want the traffic, and I want the chance to get customers, which will not do that. So, that what’s been reviewed.
David: Okay. I have a couple of clients who offer courses and work really hard to get reviews. Unfortunately, we haven’t been able to get google to register the stars. Even though all the stars are uncurated, it’s not relatively seen from the website how those are being cumulated.
They are being cumulated backend and honestly are not curated. Still, Google doesn’t feel confident enough to verify that these are all genuine reviews, so they are not doing it in the search results. So, they had to change the way they do review systems to do it.
Lady2: Ally, so you guys should look into how you could build a system that does offer reviews, right?
Ally: The problem is, the service we provide is regulated by the BACD, and there are really strict ethical guidelines regarding posting reviews and testimonials. We can’t use any reviews or testimonials for any active clients within the last calendar year, I think. It’s super, super strict. That is one of the reasons we have started encouraging or asking our employees and families to leave reviews. Still, we can’t pull those reviews onto our website. We can only tell them like, hey, if you are happy with us can you go and do this, but that’s it. We’ve tried to look for ways around it, but there really isn’t any ethical way for us to increase that aspect of what we do.
David: That’s a great point because…
Ally: And in this industry, it’s difficult for businesses to kind of get their feet because of that.
David: I worked with a law firm, and they had a similar issue where they don’t want to give away the names of their client by asking them to review publicly and mention the kind of cases like some people don’t want to talk about it right it was a terrible tragedy let alone. So what we’ve done is we’ve said, hey accounting firm, we work as a law firm. Can you review us as a business? Hey, cleaning service, hey partner of some sort, hey company does graphics for us (inaudible). Still, they’ve gone through all their partners, and they will legitimately review us because the partners can’t say you are a jerk. I hate working with you am not going to give you your review or tell everybody what a jerk you are at work. So they are legitimate reviews, but they have approached partners and things like that to pretty cool massive reviews because of some work and situation but thank God you said that Ally because in some industries with some kind of regulations you could get into big trouble, so you kind of have to double-check that.
Lady2: Yeah, I’ve noticed that. This one Doctor said that they would give me a discount on a service if I did a review, and I thought that’s like an (inaudible).
David: Can bother on the (inaudible) violation.
Lady2: Like they are paying me. Yeah, it was in the medicals.
Lady1: In medicals, they also have (inaudible) advertising because they have gone after businesses that gave maybe not monetary but something in exchange for reviews.
Ally: My Dad, although I question the ethics of this. One of the tech companies that do like toys and stuff I bought him something, and he registered there and what they do is that they send him money to buy the product and then leave a review of the product. They’re technically not paying him for the review, and they are not giving him. It’s such a twisty thing, and he’s like they are not asking him to give a five-star review. They are asking me to give an honest review. I was like yeah, and he was like, I understand why they’re doing it like they are doing it because they can’t just tell you here’s twenty bucks give us an up review.
Give a one-star review and see if they would ask him to do it again.
Ally: Yeah, and like you see on Amazon with the (inaudible) like oh I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review bla bla bla.
David: I got my first pair of counterfeit Gucci socks from China because they can’t send seeds anymore. What happened is somehow someone just purchased the same socks and sent them to my address. So they could then go to Amazon and get a review and then say this person purchased, fine they didn’t say I did it because they don’t really care. They just bought it as a gift as far they’re concerned.
So that’s why those seed packages, I get Gucci socks oft, not really Gucci socks, but I just wear the trash, but that’s exactly what’s going on. It came from China. I didn’t know if I should touch it. It’s not the right time in the world to get unsolicited packages from foreign countries.
Lady1: I think a lot of those are against Amazon guidelines, probably because Amazon wants you as well to have valid reviews.
David: So does Google, and that’s what we are talking about here, right? And it can be really easy to gain this system because how will google know. How did google know the person reviewing got the socks or not or Amazon in this case? The answer is no, I got socks when I didn’t really get it. The purchase seems legit, as far as they can tell. I believe that we should always tread cautiously when we approach Google. Even if you went through the trouble of setting up reviews on your page, that could have helped you when your customer comes there and sees you’ve got reviews. Even if Google says we don’t trust your reviews, we are not going to display it in the search results. If you do take the extra effort to build the system that they expect to see to get that wow, that’s a heck of a win, right? Getting these reviews, the stars there will be a wonderful win for any business, so that’s the thing. It’s going to help you, but it might be too much work to help you from the SEO perspective, but it still could be beneficial.
Lady 2: And I see organizations down there that’s good, like non-profits and stuff.
David: Well, technically, for-profit companies are organizations as well.
David: Organization schema is basically the schema that describes anything. Here’s the site on schema.org. It could be a School, an NGO, a Corporation, a Club. It can be any organization. In fact, if you are using the Yoast plugin, it automatically sets up your website as if you are a person or an organization, you’ll pick which one you are, and it’s giving you organization schema. It is saying, hey Google, this is an organization, or this is a person if that’s what’s going on. So since you’re set up as an organization, you could theoretically use review markup to review that organization.
Lady2: So you can?
David: (inaudible) or an as an organization, yeah.
Lady2: So we could do it as a local business or as an organization, and so you are going to show us how and could please put this link in the chat for us.
David: Yeah Yeah
Lady2: Also, the one for the Google search the first one you showed.
David: Yeah am having a hard time getting the chart, but I will get it for you. So yeah, the structured data testing tool, so here I will show you a couple of things. The how-to is going to be a lot harder to show because it is…but what we can do is that we can copy the code here.
Lady2: Oh, that’s the review snippet.
We can run this test. Here’s why I like this tool. This tool is being shut down. We know that.
Lady: When is it being shut down? Oh sorry.
David: Oh fine, that’s a very good question. Too bad I dismissed it.
David: They’ve been threatening to for a while, but…
Lady1: Hopefully, they’ll wait till schema gets it.
David: I think they will. Enough people were angry about this because the rich result test does not nearly give this detail.
Lady1: Yeah, this is nice.
David: Yeah, so here we go. We get all the elements on it displayed here. This is an organization, and this is a review, the name of the review, the content of the review, there’s an image just here with this, but you can click on each of these things. You’ll notice over on the left it shows you so you can actually go, and you can say telephone number 8675309, and there you go, so it changes it here right. So one way to do this is to find the code of this page. What we did is we pulled a review, but to show the star rating in Google, you can’t use review. You have to use the aggregate review. That is the aggregate rating, which is an aggregation of several reviews, so we can then pull this. That’s what we’re going to have to see.
Already giving us one warning. Price field this is recommended okay. It’s recommended, not required. So what I’ve done before when I’ve had to do this manually is to go in and copy code from the page of nested aggregate rating there. Is that what we want? No, that’s not what we want. Anyway, you can pull the code from the page, and you can tweak around this until it’s accurate for your site, and in this case, we’re using JSON. So, in that case, we just need to put it displayed in the HTML but remember JSON is just code that computers can read. Still, humans can’t read them, and for us to qualify for the snippet, we have to see how many people rated and each of their ratings and be able to see that. You can’t just put this code on your site. For the star rating, even if you are honest and accurate and only showing the right ones, you still need to have a way to display it, so in that sense, you might have to use something like Microdata which is a totally different way of doing this, but that would allow us to have the actual elements of the HTML to be encoded with item scope, item type or review any product. Here’s the brand, the name of the product and image, the aggregate rating. The aggregate is 4.4 based on 89 reviews. So you see how we’ve done it, so if you were to show this on a page, this would render out in human-readable because it’s using schema, in this case, Microdata schema but Google bots can read this and see what the 89 means because we are telling it, it’s a rating count and so, in this case, oh so look at the preview and this is one of the cool things. So this is generating the preview, and it’s saying we can see that there would be four stars, and this might be a preview of what that might look about in a google search. So you can play around with this HTML, but you will have to add a couple of other things to this because this is an aggregate. You need to have all the different reviews listed individually within this, properly formatted. You’d need to have a form on the page that seems to be taking this in so that it looks like you are accepting reviews from everybody, but that’s where I start when I do schema, I will play with the HTML or the JSON here on this tool and then validate it. It tells me where the errors are so I can fix them.
Lady1: So you’ve got this that you are playing with, but you also need to have something on the site that accepts new ones, so anytime you get a new one you
have to go in and edit this, right?
David: Right. Yes, or whatever system that you build that’s taking it is generating this output. This properly-formatted output.
Lady1: Okay Okay
Lady2: Could you copy this into (inaudible) or what?
David: No, you could not use something like (inaudible).
Lady2: Oh, sorry… okay.
David: So, at one point, you can use Google tag manager to just put JSON and schema, but it no longer works, so it has to be hardcoded into your site. Now you see why not a lot of people do it. It’s pretty tough it’s possible, but before you do it, make sure you’re using one of the forms that are proper and just test. Keep testing, read the guidelines and just play all the reviews so that they can verify that there are many reviews as you say and do some math and calculate. It can validate this pretty well. Having a form on your site to take this is good. It might be a lot of work, but then again, it might be worth it. Again going back to the beginning, what I really like about this is that even if Google says we don’t trust your reviews, we are not going to give you the star ratings in your search results you’ve given people a bunch of reviews on your website when they go they say hey look at all these people who trust this service. So it helps from the conversion perspective, even if it doesn’t help from the SEO perspective. So maybe the first step is to build a system to take in and display reviews. The second step is to use the Microdata markup to encode it using the aggregate rating, so the very least you get is some reviews, so some people will land your pages and say, oh, this is a credible company.
Lady2: Would Gravity forms allow us to take in these reviews as well? Have you seen Gravity forms do it?
David: Actually, you know what I believe, I believe that was part of the system. You use Gravity forms to display it using advanced custom fields, so you might be able to do something like that. Again, this was a few years ago when (inaudible) and I did this together, but that’s what we had to do. It could be that there’s already an existing plugin for this somewhere because it’s been a few years since I have looked for one. Still, now you know things in the structured data testing tool, you can test to see if it’s right. I found many of those plugins were either reviewing a product or the schema wasn’t even valid.
Are you going to give us those URLs?
David: Yes, let me start sharing so I can find the chart.
Lady1: I have just put my thing in the chat. I have to go. Are you putting this in now?
David: Yes, I am.
Lady1: I’ll wait for just a second then. Okay, I’ve got to go. I’ll see you all in 2021!
David: Happy New year!
Lady1: Bye everyone!
David: Bye. I think there’s probably a good point for us all to end too. I think we’ve probably had more questions now that will open up a ton of more doors.
Lady2: Would you give us the link also to the first site you showed us with the search on the various schema data options that you were talking about, breadcrumbs, and other things.
David: I can do that as well.
Lady2: Search gallery okay great.
Lady2: Thank you, awesome.
David: Cool. Alright, everybody, have a wonderful new year, and I look forward to seeing you next year.
Ally: Bye everyone.
David: Take care bye-bye.