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Review Snippets in Google: what about the current situation?

27 December 2011 BY

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This is a guest post by  Jan-Willem Bobbink, who is an SEO consultant at Internet Advantage in the Netherlands.

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.

Case 1: active weblog

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%.

Case 2: thin affiliate site

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.

No conditions for inclusion of review snippets

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!

AUTHORED BY:
h

This post was written by an author who is not a regular contributor to State of Digital. See all the other regular State of Digital authors here. Opinions expressed in the article are those of the contributor and not necessarily those of State of Digital.
  • http://blog.paulgailey.com/dr-seuss-seo-star-wars Paul Gailey

    I share your concern for the snippet double edged sword which I am fearful will be abused in a short space of time.

    I think sites that link to verifiable reviews from 3rd parties stand to gain from this. That is to say when Acme inc. contains rich snippet info of reviews that in themselves link to verifiable reviews on Reviewers Inc. (or longer term G. Profiled users?) then the searcher can have more confidence in the Serp. I also postulated about this openly, some sites already offer this.

    The irony is that PPC review snippets are arguably more valid than natural search ones will soon be.

  • http://www.internetadvantage.nl/ Jan-Willem Bobbink

    Concerning the review snippets, integration with third parties is a good solution. In the circumscribed situation I focused on review snippets. You can do those tricks with all the available snippet formats. Faking video or recipe snippets is even more imposing. I suspect Google will start filtering on short term. Untill that moment, webmasters can implicate whatever they need to attract more visitors from the organic results.

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  • http://twitter.com/edwords Eduard Blacquière

    I’m exactly seeing the same things happening.
    And I definitely share your concern.

    About the numbers you’re showing, are all the relevant variables (search volume, ranking, etc.) unchanged (or weighted out somehow)?

  • http://www.twitter.com/jbobbink Jan-Willem

    Eduard, relevant variables overall stayed almost unaltered. Based on the CTR percentages of http://www.seoinphiladelphia.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/ctr-data-ian-howells-sept-2011.pdf I’ve corrected the number of visitors.

    I’m quite surprised that after two weeks gone by, Google hasn’t taken any actions to restrain the amount of abuse of (especially review) snippets.

  • Pingback: Review snippets en Google: ¿cuál es la situación actual? - Internet Advantage()

  • http://www.dotblue.nl Steven van Vessum

    I’m seeing similar occurrences in the SERPs. The ratings stand out and stimulate Google users to click on that specific result. At first I thought it was an advanced implementation of Rich Snippets, but it turned out to be “just” the GD star rating plugin. I’m curious how this will develop. Two things are clear:
    1. People will (try to) abuse this
    2. Google’s continuing it’s road to ‘social’ search more and more.

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