This is this year’s 8th installment of our Deep Dive Into Local series. For the week ending Friday, February 29th, Mary Bowling and Mike Blumenthal shared their thoughts about the previous week in local. The complete video, including links and commentary on critical happenings of the previous week is posted in the Local U forums (paywall). In the second half of that video, they take a deeper strategic and tactical dive into one interesting area that caught their attention during the week.
In this discussion, we explore Google’s many and frequent changes cause issues for agencies and how they might try to minimize the impact of those changes on their business and clients.
Mike: And then with that, I think we want to transition to the Deep Dive. And what we wanna discuss today is the review stars, the rich snippet stars that left the organic results and then came back to the organic results. Last week Google, you know, two weeks ago announced that they would be sort of decluttering and then subsequent to that the review stars disappeared. And then there was a big uproar in the industry and then John Mueller said it was a bug and they set it to reappear. I wrote an article just about that called Review Stars, Zen and Local Search that I thought would provide a good basis for the Deep Dive.
There’s two issues that happen here. Firstly, Google is a tough business partner, right? Their product is developed in real time, they push out upgrades in real time, the world tests those upgrades so bugs do happen frequently. Also changes happen frequently and this can be very disruptive for people in marketing. And so I put together five guidelines on how to minimize the impact of this on your business.
One was that every local SEO should be, and there’s a good article on Search Engine Land on this last week, but I think the point bears repeating that when you’re taking on a new client you want to be sure that they’re aware, and that you say it early and often, that Google changes things very, very frequently. And that you can’t count on any one thing staying the same for very long.
You also, when issues like this crop up, you know major changes in ranking or even with this, you should be ready to be out in front of the issue and alert both your largest customers and your staff internally so that they can answer the inevitable questions professionally, because there’s gonna be questions coming.
Mike: And you know these changes are coming so what you want to do is put this sort of alert system in place. And then I think as local SEO agents you want to be prepared for change. That you’re leveraging multiple avenues for success so if one of those goes to hell in a hand basket really quickly, your whole program isn’t kaput, right? And then you also wanna be at the front edge of this, keeping an eye out for potential alternative replacement strategies that you can bring in at a very short notice. And then finally, I think as a business you wanna stay on the right side of the best practices and ethics so that if things do really, really go kaplunk on you, that you’re not the one responsible. I’m just curious, your feeling on that.
Mary: Yeah. Who is this strange guy that keeps walking into your videos every week?
Mike: He is my Monday lunch date.
Mary: Looks like Bigfoot.
Mike: Looks like Karl Marx.
Mary: But yeah, I think that everyone should take a look at Mike’s article. One of the things that I think it’s really important that he talks about is just being prepared for this change. Because everything is always going to change and you need to not react to these things that happen at Google too quickly, that you really need to sit back and let things play out. I know that’s one of the things I try to do with all my clients is to prepare them for that upfront, to say, “You’re gonna see weird things happening. Do not think you need to react to them immediately.” We need to sit back, we need to see what’s going on, we need to see how things play out before we decide how we react to them.
And then another thing I’d like to add is that, you know, John Mueller got on WebMaster Tools and said this was a bug. Maybe part of it was a bug, but I still think that it was, I still think that Google wanted to reduce the number of stars in the SERPs.
Mike: This is an ongoing thing for Google for the last two years of reducing clutter in the search results.
Mike: And periodically recalibrating review centers.
Mary: And it’s very typical of Google when they make a sweeping change to get it wrong at first, and have to back up on what they’re doing until they get to a reasonable place with the algorithm.
Mike: I thought, too, that this also offered an opportunity to examine your practices around any given thing. In this case, rich snippets, I see a lot of abuse out there and I think that abuse opens you up to more likely losing them. There’s abuse in several forms. One is that people are putting rich snippets around third-party reviews and while that used to be explicitly against the rules, it no longer is. Google loves fresh content, so I think doing that is a mistake. Also, a lot of people use the aggregate review stars to get stars, even when they’re not showing reviews on their page or on their site.
Mike: And I think again this is the kind of abuse that Google tagged with the recipe reviews when they manually gave all those things. So I think you wanna be sure that you don’t, if you’re gonna use the aggregates be sure that they are actually user friendly, user focused and point to real content.
Mary: Yeah, well we have the dilemma that the things that Google tells you not to do are still working.
Mike: Yes, that’s true.
Mary: And it’s awfully hard to convince people to make change before Google takes the benefit of doing things wrong away from you. I mean just look at an exact match domain names.
Mike: See, the other point about it is that just because you have review snippets on your site, doesn’t mean that Google is going to pick them up. One of the things we saw in this was that some of the sites, like Barbara Oliver’s site that had been heavily SEOd on that page, continued to show the snippets throughout the whole disaster of them being gone. Which implies to me that one, you’re right, it was a dialing-in issue. And that two, it is an issue that if you’re gonna use testimonials and rich snippets as a tactic, you wanna be sure that you’re optimizing those pages, that they’re readily visible to clients and they’re valuable to clients. I think it was three or four weeks ago we talked about this, but in Barbara’s case, 10% of her total site visits are to her testimonials page and 3% of those, or 4% of those, of all visits, new visits — or 3% of the visits are new visits and they’re to that page. So when they show up in the SERPs, they can be useful but you have to assume that if the page is worth doing with rich snippets, it’s worth doing right. Which means you have to build internal links to it and external links and then you will get benefit from it. So don’t assume that just because you’ve done it that Google’s gonna show it.
Anything to add to my pontification?
Mike: Alright. Well, we will see you soon in Williamsburg. We hope that you folks in the forum will join us. Those of you who read this on the LocalU blog will have to read the summaries of our Williamsburg event. Thanks for joining us again.