Since two weeks, Google has thrown its whitelisting policy regarding the display of rich snippets overboard. By accident I found out that review snippets appeared next to some results in Google for a sideline project. A reason for me to see where the boundaries are and how this affects the traffic.
This concerns an active weblog, with a minimum of four published unique articles per week. On Monday, December 7th, I noticed to that there were pages in the Google search results, including review snippets. I was surprised because I’ve not made an inclusion request to Google to add the snippets in the search results for this site. Google added a review snippet, based on the numbers from the GD Star Rating plugin for WordPress. Read more about this in the article by Joost de Valk from last week. Since the presence of the snippets, is the number of unique visits increased by 14.7%.
This website is indexed since four months. The site consists of 20 text pages with optimized text that is focused on long tail keywords. On every page I have added the following HTML code, of course with different numbers on every page, to keep it realistic. The code is based upon the Microformats Review specification
As you can see, the visitors won’t see any change on the website. The results were surprising, within three days, all results in Google were complemented with the review snippets. To show the effect of having these snippets, I have included some statistics from the previous period. The statistics below are based on 211 (long tail) keywords at the time of addition, all were in the top 10. The positions are unchanged overall, at this moment only 5 keywords dropped out of the top 10.
Statistics per day 08-12 15-12 22-12
Unique visitors 128 165 175
Bounce Rate 57.39 65.08 68.71
Avg. Time on Site 1:04 1:01 1:05
Case 3: new website
To ensure that there is no requirement to having snippets in the Google SERPs, I registered an exact matching, longtail keyword, .nl domain name. Then I filled the website with 500 words of low quality content. The structure of the content met the standard requirements to rank in Google. I added the simple version of the review microformat to the source code. After placing a single link to this domain, the website was indexed within 24 hours. Including the review snippet. The site was placed at position 6 in the search results. It is the only site on that resultspage with review snippets. Based on the total search volume on that keyword, the percentage of traffic was disproportional for a position 6 result. I take into account that other factors such as optimizing the meta description influenced the click trough rate.
After summing up the above cases I can conclude that there are no required conditions that must be accomplished to have review snippets in Google. It is not based on content quality, it is not on the basis of authority, etc. This is in huge contrast to the whitelisting principle that Google had since the existence of snippets. Logically, the SERPs will be “swamped”, within considerable , by websites that add snippets without utilizing them the right way: informing the user about the quality of the websites in the search results.
The next question is, what is next step that Google will take? With the recent algorithm and index updates, the most notable was Panda, Google is in my opinion on the right path by focusing on the user experience. By quality assessment and adjusting the search results, the users get faster to the website where they want to be. Logically, Google needs to apply this principle in assessing whether a snippet real adds value to the user. In two of the above scenarios, this is clearly not the case. The current situation makes it easier for website owners to make use of snippets, but the visitor is clearly fooled.
I am curious how the rest of the community thinks about this. Personally I want Google to reinstate e whitelisting policy to avoid abuse of snippets. What is your position on this matter? I’m open for discussion in the comments or on twitter!