Do Reviews Help with Ecommerce SEO?

Reviews are one of the big factors that bring sales to your ecommerce store, but do they have an SEO impact on the site?

Video transcript:

David: Well, I would like to start with the review, if that’s okay. With the reviews on websites. So, I’m going to share my screen. So, you had asked about adding reviews on ecommerce websites. Oh, I don’t want to share that screen. Okay, so we’re going to start over. So, you’d asked about adding reviews on your websites, and you asked this last week, and you should buy a lottery ticket because your timing is impeccable.

Dave: No, I shouldn’t buy a lottery ticket because since my timing was so good on this, it’s the one time in 50 million times it’s going to be perfect. I just blew my winning lottery ticket on you guys!

David: You wasted it on Google. Because literally five minutes ago, Google released their latest research ranking update. This is the list from Google. Of all the search ranking updates in date order. Notice July 27th, like literally 15 minutes ago. Google started releasing the product reviews update. This rollout will take two to three weeks, it says. So, it’s very important to start talking about this, being that Google is rolling out right now, as we speak, a new ranking algorithm based on this. So, the article they link to is how to write high-quality product reviews in their search documentation. That’s totally worth reading. But this article spans two audiences. One is people who have an ecommerce website and want to put reviews on their website. But two, there’s a whole category of websites where the website exists to review products and then use affiliate links to promote the sale of that product.

Dave: Oh, okay.

David: Okay.

Dave: Gotcha.

David: That’s what this article is mostly written to, the second of that group.

Dave: Yeah.

David: At the bottom, product reviews can be a great resource for shoppers when deciding which product to purchase. When writing reviews, focus on the quality and the originality of your reviews, not the length, following as many of the above best practices as you are able. This will deliver the most valuable to shoppers. Okay, so, if you were to read these guidelines, some of them don’t really apply to a regular ecommerce store. They’re clearly writing for the audience of websites that have just all reviews. But we’re still supposed to consider them only ecommerce stores.

Dave: I have a thought on that then.

David: Yeah?

Dave: Well, what might make sense to me is, so normally, for all of our ecommerce sites, we encourage those customers that obviously, they’ve got to collect emails and give them 10% off coupons or whatever, right? To get people on the email list. But as part of that, what would make sense to me is maybe a once every year, once every six months, and have a couple of tips on how to write good reviews for products that you’ve purchased.

David: That’s really interesting. Let’s delve into some of these because that might have something to say about this. Here are the guidelines. This is a blog post Google Search Center wrote about their intent to focus on this year. And so, that’s basically what we’re seeing today, the implications in this blog post. But to what you just said, if we go into Google Search Central documentation on Review Snippet for schema. This is interestingly not referenced in any of this document. But if you read the documentation on schema, there is a big red warning. If your site violates one or more of the following guidelines, Google may take a manual action against your site. Once you have remedied the problem, you can submit it for reconsideration. That’s exactly what happens to you if you do bad link building. You will receive a manual action, and you will have to file a reconsideration if you get the manual action. In other words, doing spam in reviews. I’m not accusing you of doing spam in reviews, but what if Google perceives spam in reviews? You could be manually acted upon, meaning they will artificially suppress your website in the search results until you fix the problem and submit a reconsideration. Those are the stakes. We have to make sure we follow the guidelines because if we are perceived as breaking these guidelines, we could be banned from Google.

Dave: Could you put that link in chat?

David: Yes.

Dave: Because for one client, we’re going to be enabling customer reviews. And we have them on other sites, and everything is fine. We don’t do SEO, but I think I need to know these guidelines because there is another question that I’m going to ask related to this.

David: So, this plot thickens. So, there are technical guidelines, right? Which are the technicalities. So, let me back this up. It’s one thing to do reviews on your website. It’s another thing to encode those reviews with schema. Such that you earn the star rating in the Google search results. So, the potential manual action occurs in the schema, but not necessarily just having the reviews on the website.

Dave: Okay.

David: So, that’ll be really interesting to see if Google’s going to crack down in this review update on only websites that use schema or are spamming schema or everybody who does reviews. Because it implies everybody does reviews, but this… Actions or schema. So, this is especially important when it’s talking about reviewing non-products. So, that’s not what you wanted to know about. You wanted to talk about ecommerce reviews.

Dave: Right.

David: But you’ve noticed that sometimes local businesses ask for people to review them on their website. And that is even more strict here because you can’t edit the reviews you receive for your local business or organization. Anyway, so this is brand new, hot off the press. There are guidelines to what makes a good review. And I think we have to be careful about incentivizing people for reviews. In light of that, would that be perceived as stacking the deck? I’m of the opinion that it’s valuable for businesses to “stack the deck” with positive reviews because there are crazies out there who will be very rational and give you bad reviews. And it’s not fair. And you can’t respond to that. But if you preemptively go and get good reviews, someone says, “Hey, Dave, thanks for all your hard work. I really appreciate you.” And you ask, “Thank you. Could you give me a review?” Yes, they do. That’s sincere of them. They don’t have to do it. They’re speaking for themselves. I’m going to encourage that in case somebody who is irrational gets frustrated with me and decides to give me a bad review. I’ve stacked the deck with someone who’s already said they really think highly of me. That’s just good preemptive action. It’s different if I go and say, “Hey, everybody I know, here’s a hundred-dollar gift card to Amazon if you give me a good review.” I would love to hear Tricia’s thoughts on this because she does a whole presentation on the FCC rules about financially incentivizing clients for reviews, which is, I guess, the FCC.

Dave: Well, that would be interesting.

David: FTC. Sorry.

Dave: FTC. Well, that would be interesting because we have a couple of sites where we incentivize people to give a review, but not a good review. And so, what that means is, if you leave us a review, just a review, any review, you get a coupon for 10% off.

David: Right.

Dave: One-time use.

David: Right.

Dave: And that I think that seems to me, from an integrity perspective, that’s okay, because we aren’t telling them to give us a good review. We just want a review. We want to know.

David: Right. Yeah. I guess what I’m saying is, as you consider reviews, here’s some documentation that you might look at yourself to consider in the strategy that you’re going to build.

Dave: Okay.

David: Two of these things are right off the hot presses. One of them, the review schema, is old. But kind of hidden if you’re not paying attention. Yeah.

Dave: Okay, So, then the next, the next question is, say you have a product that has 20 reviews, and 10 of them are five-star, and nine of them are four, and one of them is three or whatever, right. Does that make any difference to Google? And search. That you have those reviews there…

David: Ask me that again. I’m sorry.

Dave: So. Maybe it’s easier if I…

David: Well, I’m sorry. I got distracted. That’s it was me, not you.

Dave: Okay, So, let me show you something. It’s easier to show.

David: Okay, let me empower that ability. Go for it.

Dave: Okay. Okay. So, here is a particular site. Now, this is their flagship product, and there are 70 customer reviews.

David: Okay.

Dave: This is me. My wife really does use it. That’s awesome. Right? So, we have these. So, does this help with SEO?

David: Is it encoded with schema?

Dave: It’s supposed to be.

David: Okay, copy this page – the URL for the page.

Dave: Okay.

David: Go to Paste the URL. Try again.

Dave: I guess I have to do a new test.

David: Yeah.

Dave: Hmm.

David: Okay. So, what we’re looking at here is the validator, which used to be Google’s Structured Data Validator. Google has graveyarded this and allowed schema to bring this into their website. I hate that Google graveyarded it because it’s so good, but thankfully we can still get it here. If you open up a new tab and just Google rich results test. And then try this tool. This is Google’s current favorite tool. I find it very useless. So, let’s see if… Okay, so there’s a bigger problem going on here. That you’ll have to address, but once that problem is solved, as far as whatever is holding these tools away from actually crawling the page. It could be slow page. These tools will tell you if there is review schema on the page and if it qualifies to show because there are several kinds of schema. The schema guideline doc I sent you is Google’s official documentation on review schema that they’re going to recommend you use the aggregate review schema. There are several different forms of review schema. And in my experience, especially on WordPress websites where there are a million plugins that generate schema, not all of them generate the proper schema.

Dave: Yeah.

David: The link I shared with you in chat outlines the technical requirements you need to use to have the proper version of schema for your reviews. All right, so let’s scroll down. Let’s see. Products, reviews. So, click on reviews snippets. So, what you might have here… This is a limitation of the rich results test. It doesn’t look like you have the aggregated reviews snippet. You have individual review snippets. It’s the aggregated reviews that review a product that Google uses to insert stars in the search results. So, you might have individual reviews. Which you do, and they are encoded with schema. Which they are. But you’re not going to get the SEO benefit of showing up with stars in the search results without the aggregated review schema, which combines all their views into one value, so it knows what star to show for that product.

Dave: Okay. That’s very interesting. So, I’m going to have to look because right now, we’re using rank math for our plugin. There’s got to be a way to do that.

David: I would present the people at rank math would know the difference between review schema and aggregated review schema. But like I said, when I’ve looked at this before, I had a hard time finding a WordPress plugin that was generating proper aggregated review schema. There are a couple of things that could be. The aggregate review needs to have something that’s being reviewed. You can’t just have an aggregate review on your page. The aggregate review as a schema needs to apply to something. In this case, it’s a product. And so, go back a page to the test results. See your breadcrumb on the upper left of this page? Click on test results for a second. And scroll down a little bit. Okay. Look at products. Open that one up. So, this is technically what should be reviewed. Click on the warnings. Brand is optional. Okay. So, the warnings are okay to have warnings in your schema. That just means you’re not using it to its full. But you’re seeing the warnings it’s throwing are optional pieces of data. There you go. You do have an aggregate rating schema.

Dave: Okay.

David: Okay. So, that might qualify for stars. Now we get into… Yep. You have the schema there to potentially qualify for stars in the search results, but that’s no guarantee Google will show stars in search results.

Dave:  Okay.

David: So, go to test results. At the very top, go to preview results. There you go.

David: It’s saying it has all the data to show that. Great. You’ve done everything you can do code-wise to show the stars. Now it’s up to Google to decide whether they want to show it.

Dave: Interesting. Okay.

David: So, that’s the best you can do. Now, they may get into issues like CBD products are kind of flagged products on Google because they’re caught between local laws and federal laws in the United States. So, Google kind of holds CBD products at a much higher and stricter stance. It may never show reviews for it just by the nature of the product. But that’s just how it works. So yeah, there you go.

Dave: Yeah. It doesn’t seem to show it.

David: Right. So, the incognito window, to be honest, isn’t as incognito and objective as everybody likes to think.

Dave: Yeah.

David: The ad preview tool might be the better way to go from Google ads if you have an ads account. But from the rich results tool, you can see you’ve done everything you can do. It might be the nature of the product. It might be the overall thorough of the website. There are other kinds of factors, such as the brand name and prominence, like who knows how Google decides who gets the review schemers or not? But you’ve done everything you can.

Dave: Okay.

David: So, is there an SEO benefit to it? If it gets stars, your search results stand out amongst others. Oh, you know what? Try an incognito window search without the brand. Just try CBD cream, no good stuff. Well, now we’re going to get to everybody’s CBD cream, right? Let’s see if Google even shows that… Yeah. See, the incognito is kind of a joke. Oh, there we go. Someone’s got it.

Dave: Some do, some don’t.

David: Right. So, anyway, you’ve done what you can.

Dave: Okay. Cool. So, now this relates to my next question. So, I’m going to ask you this. Okay, so the way this was originally designed, ratings and reviews, when they’re implemented, will be there. So, they are hidden. But is that the best thing to do? Is that okay from a search perspective?

David: Sorry. I muted myself because of my cough. That’s a really good question. There is a religious debate.

Dave: Well then, that’s good because it means there’s no wrong answer. Right?

David: The schema of guidelines specifically said review information needs to be displayed on the page if you want the schema – if you want the schema to be valid stars. So, it’s displayed on the page. Just it’s hidden. The devil’s in the details, however. How is this hidden? If you turned off JavaScript, would this be hidden or available? In other words, is it JavaScript that allows you to see the content? Or if you didn’t have JavaScript… And the reason I asked that is because it goes to all content on any page. Depending on how you implement these kinds of accordion things, sometimes Google can read the content underneath them. Sometimes Google can’t. Because Google can’t interact with JavaScript on a page. So, okay, click to open. And so, there are ways to do this so that Google can read the content on the page. But there are ways to do it that Google can’t read the content. So, how you implement this accordion is key to not just the reviews and ratings that you’re going to display, but can Google even see the words that you’ve added for SEO benefit? Even if you didn’t intend to add them for SEO benefit, can Google even read it? So, web designers love to add accordions because they hate words on pages. But I always recommend having words on the page. Because number one, I don’t want to go back and forth with developers fighting on how it’s implemented and then find out they implemented it wrong, and we have to undo it and redo it. But two, I think users want to see words on the page. They might not want to see a whole wall of text. Granted. But words are not incompatible with good web design. There’s something reassuring to know that there’s a lot of information about this product on this page. And if we hide it, the designers are the ones that most want to do that. So, depending on how we hide it, we could be actually hiding it from Google. That’s an obviously bad idea. And it’s bad for reviews as well because if the guidelines say you have to display the reviews on your page, and Google can’t see the reviews, but it sees the schema, you’re in violation.

Dave: So, what’s a good way to know for sure?

David: Using a peer CSS implementation is the best way to do it from a technical perspective. You can… How do I troubleshoot this? I will look at the source code.

Dave: Yeah. That’s what I was going to do. So, if I search for frequently…

David: Yeah.

Dave: Yeah. So, what I’m a little bit concerned about more would be if they do FAQs because that would be valuable. But if I searched for ratings and reviews…

David: Well, there are no reviews yet.

Dave: Yeah.

David: There’s no content on this page.

Dave: Well, but the good thing is that it shows the content that’s there in the source, even though when you open the page, it’s hidden. So, I’m assuming then Google will be able to see this.

David: Right. It’s promising.

Dave: Yeah. It’s promising. That’s a really nice way to say, like 90% yes. And I’m still hedging what I’m committing to publicly.

David: I’ve worked with a lot of developers in my day. I’ve hedged my bets many times.

Dave: That’s so funny. I have to remember that.

David: Yeah, now again, there’s not a lot of content to evaluate, right? You could almost just put some content in here. Not filler content. It’s the live site, but something. Just write a paragraph and just see what it looks like from the source code.

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