Schema is an SEO tactic that tells the search engines what your data means, not just what it says. As digital marketing techniques are always evolving, evidenced by Google’s announcement of RankBrain late 2015, we expect to see updates like these. Google recently updated its guidelines for local business reviews which clarify when you can and should use structured data (schema) markup.
“It’s important to note that including schema (or any other structured markup format) in your code is not a quick and dirty SEO “hack” – instead, think of schema as a best practice to make it easier for search engines to find and display your content.” – Wordstream
Guidelines for Local Reviews Schema
- 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.
Here are 3 key takeaways from the updated schema guidelines.1 Schema marked-up reviews should generated from a business’s website and not from third-party sources, such as Yelp.
Takeaway: A website with schema that uses local review markup can be affected by this update. It’s important to note, that it is still perfectly okay to obtain third party reviews, just avoid marking them up.2 One of the points that stood out to me was regarding reviews for businesses with multiple locations. We have many clients that fall into this category and it’s important to note that review markup can only be submitted for an individual location and not all business locations across the board.
Takeaway: Businesses with multiple storefronts should focus on ratings by individual location and not as an aggregate whole. If a business has 150 reviews that average 4.0 stars, it should not be displayed as an aggregate, but individually by location. The business is at risk of a penalty if it displays them aggregately.3 Reviews cannot be vetted by business owners to only include positive ones.
Takeaway: Businesses should continue to be placing an emphasis on gaining positive online reviews. Focus on asking for reviews from customers, vendors, and partners who have had a positive experience. These will subdue negative reviews.