Video Deep Dive: Google Critic Reviews, Ranking and New Rich Snippet Review Guidelines
Mike Blumenthal


This is the 30th installment this year of our Deep Dive Into Local series. For the week ending Monday, This is the 30th installment this year of our Deep Dive Into Local series. For the week ending Monday, August 8th, 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 Mary and Mike discuss Google’s new critic reviews & Top 10 Lists showing in the Local SERPS, their use as a ranking signal and Google’s newest rich snippet review guidelines.

Mike: With that, I wanna switch into the Deep Dive where we’re going to be talking about Google’s Critic Reviews & Top 10 Lists. Late last week, they announced the inclusion of expert opinions and top 10 lists in the local search results. I wrote about it at my blog. It’s interesting to me because it expands the concept of reviews beyond consumer crowdsourced reviews, to more rarefied, critical reviews, and also top 10 lists from trusted sites.

If you remember, a number of months back Barbara Starr, did an article on structured data and the SERPs at Search Engine Land where she discussed Google’s entity ranking algorithm patent. And in that patent Google noted, quite clearly, that the system of entity ranking may combine professional critic reviews and user reviews of restaurants — giving more weight to the professional reviews and less weight to user reviews. I think that time has come. I think there’s a lot of … Google perceives a lot of value in a Zagat review or a Serious Eats review and is giving them their due.

Simultaneously, of course, in an “it’s all about me” moment, Jeremy Stoppelman of Yelp tweeted how unfair it was because now Yelp results were further down the page and they were [offering] such good content and meaningful results. Clearly, Google is looking for alternative sources for data. There is no reason that Yelp can’t get into the top 10 lists, or they already are, but couldn’t get into the critic review business as well.

It’s interesting at a number of levels to me, though. One is that they are clearly giving a benefit to certain pre-selected sites that they’re testing this with — Thrillist, Gotham, Serious Eats, there’s a couple top 10 list, top 10 best or whatever. There’s a couple sites that they’re giving this preference to. Anybody can sign up to join, but it’s right now on an exclusive basis, although they will expand.

They’ve also sent out a number of new guidelines around this new critic review. They’ve expanded the concept of critic review. Originally, it was from just movies and books, and it’s now been expanded to local businesses, which is interesting. And I think will spawn a number of local business critical review sites.

Mary: Mike, do you … when I think of critic reviews, you know, I think of restaurants and, as you say, books and movies. But what other types of businesses get critic reviews on a consistent basis?

Mike: Right. Well, at this point, I don’t think that there are a lot, but I think hotels get some, you know, vacation spots get some. I can envision boutique-type stores rising to the level of critical review. You know, a shopping site saying to you this local…this business [is good]. I don’t know that every business would necessarily get a critic review, but I do see it as possible that local news sites could get into this segment beyond restaurants. That’s all. I don’t know. I’m hypothesizing here, I don’t really know. But I could see some value in boutiques and tourist destinations, that kind of thing. I don’t know if it will happen. Right now, it’s primarily around, like you said, restaurants.

Simultaneously, with this release of this in the SERPS, they … they released a new Local Business Review Guidelines. Rich snippet guidelines have always been sort of general and didn’t include local businesses. For example, there was a period where you weren’t supposed to include third-party reviews with rich snippets, then it was okay when they removed it. But now, they’ve come out with an explicit set of Local Business Review Guidelines, which I think are interesting:

“Snippets must not be written or provided by the business unless they are genuine, independent, and unpaid editorial reviews.” I’m not sure quite what that refers to. But “Reviews must allow customers to express both positive and negative sentiments. They may not be vetted by the business or restricted by the content provider.”

So for example, GetFiveStars this is something we’ve had a feature in the works to move towards sort of where a business will still be allowed to filter their reviews if they want to. But if they want to become certified as a rich snippet review then they’re gonna have to agree to publish the negative reviews. So we have that feature coming, for example.

“Do not include reviews that are duplicates or similar reviews across many businesses from many different sources,” i.e., you can’t take one testimonial and apply it to a bunch of locations. And then finally, the final rich snippet [guideline] that I thought was interesting was only in … this one again, came and went and now it’s back again: “Only include reviews that have been directly produced by your site, not reviews from third-party sites or syndicated reviews.” In other words, Google doesn’t want local sites showing Google or Yelp reviews in rich snippets anymore.

You asked the question earlier, “How is Google going to enforce this?” Some of it, I think that they will. They do have an index. They will be able to identify a review as duplicate. In other words, they know that this review is at Google or Yelp and they see it on your site. They can identify that. So there are some algorithmic ways. I think initially, they may not enforce it. They may see how much abuse there is. They may track the abuse and then build an enforcement mechanism at a later point. I think that’s typically what they do. But it’s a good question.

Mary: So do you see this as being aimed at possibly some gray hat-type review platforms? Do you see it being aimed at big brands more than little brands? What do you see this trying to clean up?

Mike: Right. So I see it across the board. Right? There are review sites like GetFiveStars that allows an owner to filter reviews as a way of getting them comfortable with their review scene. And we also allow an owner to not filter reviews. So some of our clients choose not to filter reviews and they push all reviews out. We encourage that, right, but we leave it to the business to choose.

And then there are review sites, for example — legitimate review sites — that syndicate Google and Yelp reviews as a rich snippet landing page content, and that behavior is gonna change. So I think that Google is looking for original content. Makes sense, right? Looking to make sure that the reviews meet the FTC requirements of showing both positive and negative. Makes sense. I mean they’re looking to provide some ethical and tactical guidance to clean up the world of reviews.

So it isn’t just gray hat, I think it’s everybody. I think reviews are easy to get excited about and easy to not maintain a high standard on. And I think Google is stepping into that breach on some level. Whether they’ll succeed or not is another question.

Mary: Yeah. Easy to make rules, a lot harder to enforce them.

Mike: Yes, really you should know that, Mary. Particularly when you apply the rule to me! It’s like who me, I follow a rule? Ha!

All right, so any other questions about the rich snippets guidelines?

Mary: No. Just, you know, kind of a mention that I see them being abused on local sites all the time. And, you know, the best way for Google to enforce those rules is to take away the reward, and they’re not doing that yet.

Mike: We do see it taken away periodically on some member sites. I don’t know how broad based that is.

With that, I just wanna make two mentions. One, you mentioned White Spark’s upgraded to their citation finder. Darren will be a speaker at Local U this fall in New Orleans, October 21st. He’s gonna be doing a session on citation building for enterprises, which should be interesting. And then these Local Business Review Guidelines will be discussed by David Deering who is also gonna be at the Local U Advanced, October 21st in New Orleans. So keep your eyes out for that.

With that I’ll say goodbye, thank you, and we’ll see you next week.

Mary: Thank you. Bye, Mike.

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