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Updated Google Schema Review Guidelines for Local Businesses

Google with release of their critic review snippet extension has also significantly updated their rules for Local Business‘s use of review rich snippets on their website. The new rules are significantly different than the rules that were in place previously.

google review rich snippets

Here are the new Google rich snippet review guidelines verbatim:

Local business reviews

    • Snippets must not be written or provided by the business or content provider unless they are genuine, independent, and unpaid editorial reviews.
    • Reviews must allow for customers to express both positive and negative sentiments. They may not be vetted by the business or restricted by the content provider based on the positive/negative sentiment of the review before submission to Google.
    • Reviews cannot be template sentences built from data or automated metrics. For example, the following is not acceptable: “Based on X number of responses, on average people experienced X with this business.”
    • Reviews for multiple-location businesses such as retail chains or franchises can only be submitted for the specific business location for which they were written. In other words, reviews for multiple-location businesses cannot be syndicated or applied to all business locations of the same company.
    • Aggregators or content providers must have no commercial agreements paid or otherwise with businesses to provide reviews.
    • Do not include reviews that are duplicate or similar reviews across many businesses or from different sources.
    • Only include reviews that have been directly produced by your site, not reviews from third- party sites or syndicated reviews.

 

Rich Snippet & Review Changes

Several big changes but one that should stand out is the prohibition against marking up reviews from third party sites. I assume that to mean that you can no longer mark up reviews from Google or Yelp. It is not clear how Google can or will enforce this but they have a long history in local of introducing a new rule and then delaying 3-4 months prior to enforcement.

There is also a new requirement that you must allow customers to post negative AND positive reviews. We have long supported this option. GetFiveStars doesn’t require you to show all of your feedback but we think it makes all kinds of sense to do so.

Many business locations using our system now do so and have found that on average their star rating falls by less than 1/2 of a star. And having a range of reviews leads to increased conversions because it help build trust.

3 star reviews

But those are not the only changes that should cause you to examine your current use of rich snippets for reviews. Reviews should be “directly produced by your site” which means that if you haven’t implemented a review solution, you need to start thinking about one.

About The Author

Mike Blumenthal is a co-founder of GatherUp and helps oversee our research, industry insight and agency offering. Mike has long been regarded as the foremost expert on local search and Google Maps, earning the nickname “Professor Maps”. Mike also co-founded Local University, which provides small business and agency training in sustainable local search marketing. His motto: All Local All the Time.  He writes at his blog and does a twice a week LocalU podcast about Local marketing. 

47 Replies to “Updated Google Schema Review Guidelines for Local Businesses”

  1. Thanks for clarifying this turn of events, Mike. I was just expressing my confusion of the updates over on the Local Search forum and was pointed here. Nice to know that only a few months after starting to mark up Google reviews on some client sites, it’s once again not allowed!!!

    Not sure why they would rather us use only “site produced” reviews as opposed to 3rd party Google, Yelp, etc. reviews, seems to me those would be much more trustworthy. How would they verify that a site is allowing “all” submitted reviews to show? If you don’t moderate reviews your site will be filled with spam.

    1. 1- Google isn’t saying that you have to allow every tom dick and SEO to write reviews. You could, as GetFiveStars (and other platforms) allows, only ask YOUR customers for reviews.
      2- we don’t yet yet know how Google will verify or enforce that both negative AND positive reviews are showing.

      Since they know the content of theirs and other 3rd party reviews it seems that knowledge will be used to ascertain whether the content is original.

      That being said we are planning a certification process that verifies that the business is showing all legit feedback that they have received.

  2. How does the “Reviews must allow for customers to express both positive and negative sentiments. They may not be vetted by the business or restricted by the content provider based on the positive/negative sentiment of the review before submission to Google.” rule apply to review funnels?
    Do I understand correctly, and does it mean that Google is going to punish the businesses that use review funnels (to prevent negative feedback and send it directly to business owner instead)?

    1. @Michael these rules are specifically focusing on whether you can use Schema for displaying reviews. Since these reviews must be original and not syndicated or from third parties the guideline you speak of refers only to reviews on your site that you have gathered and that you want to mark up.

  3. *Aggregators or content providers must have no commercial agreements paid or otherwise with businesses to provide reviews.

    It sounds to me like this is a direct shot across the bow to Yelp, FeeFo, GetFiveStars and other 3rd party companies that make a living either selling ads to people on their review site or selling the service of collecting customer reviews for pay. I don’t suppose you received any clarification regarding this point of contention?

    It reduces the benefit of those services if we can’t have that data marked up as a review.

    1. @scott I am not exactly sure at who this rule is directed. We (GetFiveStars) are neither an aggregator nor a contest provider. Not do we provide reviews.

      We offer a tool that allows a business to solicit feedback and reviews from their customer base.

      If I had to guess it is a prohibition against writing reviews for hire.

      But I have yet to get any clarification.

  4. “They [reviews] may not be vetted by the business or restricted by the content provider based on the positive/negative sentiment of the review before submission to Google.”

    Mike, isn’t this what your product does?

  5. Hi Mike, really interesting stuff; just so to clarify:

    1. It’s still OK to implement a 3rd part review services such as Trustpilot, but you shouldn’t mark them up
    2. If the aggregated reviews on your site apply to multiple locations and you display them as applying to the business as a whole you’re in danger of being penalised (E.g. 500 reviews at an average of 4.2 stars over 50 locations)

    On point 1 isn’t their added trust in the reviews being hosted by a 3rd party?

    On point 2 this is going to make the management of reviews for smaller businesses with multiple locations extremely time sensitive, if you have to apply individual ratings to each of the branches rather than aggregating them as a business.

      1. No more the review snippets shown in the Google results for AVVO lawyer profiles, these also show stars even though there are no reviews on the AVVO profile page for the specific Lawyer. Avvo has got their own rating, which has got nothing to do with there being reviews on the page.

        Just try to google “site:avvo.com jens lawyer” and choose a result with stars, and then see if that business has any reviews, more than often they do not, the SERP snippets is pulled from the AVVO rating given to all Lawyer no matter if they have reviews or not.

  6. If you have a Yelp review on your site wrapped in Schema, do you think this update will hurt organic rankings (like a penalty) or just not show the stars in the SERPs?

    1. @Dan it is clearly against theses guidelines. So far all we have seen is the loss of stars for any given page when review snippets are misused. I can’t speak to future Google penalizes or plans.

  7. Hello Mike,

    Thank you for the information. So its alright to take the reviews from google and list them on your site and have the correct markup for a review?

    1. @tim from my reading of the rules it is ok to take Google reviews and to list them on your site just NOT to mark them up with Schema.

  8. @Brian
    Our product has a lot of settings… one of those is to allow all of the gathered content to be published. We will be refining the feature going forward but some of our customers are currently using the “show all” option

    @Dan
    Yes there is trust in the 3rd party hosted review and apparently Google doesn’t want to count it twice.

    I think all multi location businesses should be asking for location based feedback regardless of their size.

  9. I am not clear about the last point. Does it mean that we can not show those reviews on our website which we have received on sites like Google Plus, Facebook or other third party sites? Awaiting your reply and thanks a lot for posting these new changes.

    1. Hi Sonia- You can show those reviews on your site, you just can’t mark them up with rich snippets. Remember that these guidelines are for the use of review rich snippets and not guidelines for how to display reviews or testimonials. Thanks for your comment and question!

  10. I’m with Andy Kuiper – it’s very confusing and far too open to interpretation in its current format. We could find ourselves having to undo things we have done in ignorance. I hate having to go back to a client with that scenario because it seems rather unfair to ask them to pay again to undo what you just did with the promise that it would make a positive difference…

    I think I will be waiting a few months until the other shoe drops.

    1. Jo- Thanks for weighing in. This is the usual frustration in the shifting winds at Google all the time. 🙂 I do understand where they are heading in some ways, and it’s consistent with other moves. They want original, unique, un-manipulated and hyperlocal reviews to receive mark-up only. That I can understand as they view reviews already generated in Google, Yelp and Facebook to have received mark-up already, failing a few of the items I listed above. We’ll keep Mike on it until the other shoe drops!

        1. Hi Don- I don’t see this changing anything. Google wants to show a wider opinion in their results with this, from other review sites. They don’t want their reviews being used with mark-up and ending up back in their own SERPs. The new post and feature out today is letting sites that are generating reviews know that mark-up can help get them included in these reviews from around the web. Thanks, Aaron

  11. this doesn’t apply to product reviews (e.g. Trustpilot), correct ?
    also any idea on how Google will enforce ? pages with third-party review sources marked up will get dinged in pageRank ?

    1. @Kathleen
      It is fine to iFrame them. In that case they reside on the original site, Google does not see them on your site and these rules do not impact you.

  12. Mike,
    Does surveying your customers with a questionnaire or rating page first, and then only forwarding the ‘happy’ customers to third party sites like Google to leave a review constitute vetting and go against the new guidelines? In other words, does vetting the customers you want to ‘encourage’ to write a review, mean that at the same time you are making it not as easy (or restricting) the ones you don’t want to?

    “Reviews must allow for customers to express both positive and negative sentiments. They may not be vetted by the business or restricted by the content provider based on the positive/negative sentiment of the review before submission to Google.”

  13. @David
    These guidelines ONLY apply to the process you use to gather reviews for your IYP or your personal website. So in the case of GetFiveStars, if you are using our widget and schema, you would want to publish all feedback good, bad or indifferent.

    Google has never said that you can’t only ask happy customers for reviews. That being said, TripAdvisor has said so and I assume at some point Google may follow their lead. But its not todahy.

  14. Do you think if a 3rd party system is used to solicit a review and then that review is only posted on the local business’s website via an API. Do you think that is ok to mark up in schema or do you think this falls outside of guidlelines?

  15. In reading the guidelines it looks like these updated rules apply specifically to Critic reviews (which most local businesses do not use) and not to Review snippets (which most local businesses do use). Is this correct?

  16. Mike,
    I think these guidelines may have changed again. The Developers Guidelines on the page you link above now no longer explicitly state:

    “Only include reviews that have been directly produced by your site, not reviews from third-party sites or syndicated reviews.”

    The guidelines now state: “Sites must collect ratings information directly from users and not from other sites.”

    I was prompted to investigate because I found that sites who use 3rd party review aggregation sites (such as trustpilot) are showing in SERPs without any issues. I wonder if the verbiage was loosened to indicate that the user reviews don’t necessarily have to come from your own site, but do still have to come from users (allowing use of a 3rd party to facilitate getting the reviews).

    1. @Mason
      Good question. I think that the owner needs to be abstracted from the process and there needs to be full disclosure of the situations when a review might be removed.

  17. It is so easy for someone to give a bad review and not even give the business a chance to fix a situation that they may not even be aware of. Obviously everyone wants good reviews put up to help bring in more customers but are some of these reviews filtered so only the good ones show up?

  18. Great Article! Reviews are just a small portion of the algo. All feedback is expected on a review platform as it gives an opportunity for the business owner to converse with the customer.

  19. Mike, so the implementation question remains: How to put the Individual Reviews on a Website and Get the Star Ratings?

    With my understanding about all this I would believe the following Process to be correct and look for your opinion for my assumptions:

    1. Get Customer Review Content.
    2. Put Customer Review Content with Review Schema on a Location / Service Area Services Page.
    3. Also add ALL Individual Reviews without Review Schema to a “Customer Reviews Webpage” and include the Aggregate Review Schema to this Webpage.

    Questions that arise with this:

    Is this close to a Best Practice for Gathering the Reviews for a Local Business, and then Aggregating them on one Webpage for the Website as a whole?

    Does the Aggregation Schema go on my ALL Reviews Webpage OR in the Footer as MicroData (Which I would Prefer so the Customers can see the Review Stats.) OR in the JSON Schema Markup?

    Where does Google want it to produce the Stars???
    – If you Aggregate each Location Webpage Reviews on the Location Webpage, do you still add a Website “Total” Aggregation” in the “ALL Reviews Webpage” or the Footer or the JSON Script? OR will Google add the multiple Aggregations up for you???

    I work with Service Provider Clients and this is important to get right… 🙂

    Thanks!
    Tim

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