Google Review Summaries: What’s New & Different
January 19, 2021
Google Review Summaries have long annoyed and to some extent baffled business owners.1
But things appear to be changing.
What are Google Review Summaries?
Google Review Summaries, sometimes referred to as review snippets, are generally three abbreviated sentences that attempt to capture a snapshot of your business.
In desktop search, they are part of the business profile. In mobile search, they exist as a standard individual card further down the page.
Unfortunately, if your ratings are ~4.3 rating2 or less, Google seems to almost always show one negative sentiment in the mix with no easy way to understand why it is included or how it might be changed.
However, there are changes afoot that seem to indicate that Google is in the process of changing Google Review Summaries in both the Maps app and in the mobile search results.
What’s Different in the Google Map’s App Review Summary?
In the mobile Google Maps app, we are seeing a new Google Review Summary technique that shows review snippets summaries based on the most common Places Topics.3
The new display4 in the Google Maps mobile app for both Android and iPhone now shows Review Summaries based on the Place Topics. Topics with the highest frequency seem to drive the review snippet choice and link out to the corpus of reviews containing the phrase. The change is not yet visible on the desktop version of Google Maps. We have seen the new display in both the US and Canada.
Google Now Showing 3rd Party Review Summaries?
Another interesting change is the new 3rd party review summary cards that are now being shown on the mobile browser brand search results. Google is including these summary cards for 3rd party sites above the Google Review Summaries.
These review cards appear pretty far down the page below the images and busy hours. They require you to scroll past those cards in order to be seen.
Interestingly, these 3rd party review site cards are in addition to the reviews sites that appear in the Reviews from the web section in the top-level business profile. Thus, they are typically only visible in industries like automotive, dental, medical and restaurants5 where there are a large number of both general and vertical review sites.
It also appears that there is some minimum number of reviews for these pages to be highlighted and summarized. My guess is that there must be at least 10 reviews for summaries to show. The actual minimum number is still TBD.
This new review summary card effectively pushes the Google Review Summary further down the web results page. In highlighting these additional 3rd party sites where a business has reviews, Google is increasing their visibility and brand value. From a tactical point of view, you might want to gather enough reviews on these sites so that they are visible in your search results.
How Can You Take Advantage of These Changes to Improve Your Snippets?
When it comes to reputation management and customer experience, your first focus should be on improving your businesses so that you can achieve a 4.5 rating. This will likely make the negative snippet disappear.
In Google Maps, it would appear that having more reviews with Place Topics from highly rated areas of your business might also solve the problem.
As far as the results in the mobile browser, while it still uses the old style of sentiment analysis, getting more reviews on 3rd party sites will tend to push the Google Review Summary further down the page, minimizing its damage.
So while review snippets have long been annoying, there are signs that more options for affecting them will be available in the future. Hopefully, more transparency in how they are chosen will be obvious going forward as well.
1 – Annoying and baffling in the sense that they change veeeeery slowly and it is never clear why one negative snippet is chosen versus another. Because of that ambiguity, it is difficult to define a path to improvement for the business.
2 – The number of negative snippets shown in the Google Review Summary seems to strongly correlate with the rating. On 4.4 stars and above, you typically only see positive snippets. In the 3.9 to 4.3 range, you typically see one negative snippet, and often in the lower-rated businesses, you will see 2 or even 3 negative snippets. Thus, one way to not have negative snippets is to have a preponderance of good reviews and a 4.5 rating or higher.
3 – Place Topics, one of Google’s worst naming exercises, are business-specific attributes extracted from the review content using some form of sentiment analysis. Google notes in the documentation that they are “experimental” but they have been around since at least the spring of 2019.
4 – Who the elf knows how new? There are so many features coming and going that it is hard to keep track but let’s just say newish.
5- These 3rd Party review summaries appear to be dynamically generated when there are additional available review sites in addition to the ones that show above the fold. To find verticals in which they are visible, first find categories in which there are a lot of review sites, identify some busy businesses with a fair number of reviews and then do a brand search on it. Clearly Google is elevating additional review sites with rich snippets to page one of mobile search results. We have long known that Google sees third party reviews as a form of web reference that is of greater importance than a basic citation.
* For future reference, this is what the Maps reviews snippets will look like on the desktop and what they used to look like on mobile.