Google is constantly changing the way it displays search results. In the last two months, the search engine has been implementing considerable changes to how it displays business listing information. The updates also include changes to how reviews and ratings are displayed.
Let’s take a look at what’s happening and what the changes mean for business locations.
Local search results now display “reviews from the web”
On the listings or Knowledge Panels of local business locations across different verticals (shops, restaurants, parks, etc.), Google is now displaying “reviews from the web” and bringing user ratings from up to three online review sites (such as Facebook, Zomato, TripAdvisor, OpenTable, etc.).
What isn’t exactly clear, however, is which three websites Google will be choosing when aggregating third-party reviews from the web.
Initially, Yelp was included in the list of review sites that Google was aggregating user ratings from. But Yelp data has since been excluded from reviews from the web, and information displayed on Knowledge Panels of business locations no longer include reviews and ratings information from Yelp.
“Reviews from the web” on the Knowledge Panel includes the amount of the business location’s reviews on the third-party review site from which Google pulls reviews and ratings data.
For example, when a user searches for 3 Greens Market on Google (mobile or desktop), the search results information and Knowledge Panel will display the business’ overall rating and amount of reviews on sites like OpenTable, Facebook, and TripAdvisor. (But not Yelp.)
Clicking on the listed review site will take the user directly to 3 Greens Market’s OpenTable, Facebook, or TripAdvisor page.
On mobile devices, “reviews from the web” are displayed just below the business address and hours section of search results.
Local search results also include critic reviews and “on these lists”
“Reviews from the web” came on the heels of Google adding critic reviews and “on these lists” to local search early this year.
Critic reviews and “on these lists” appear as part of search results for certain types of entities: local businesses, books, and movies. For local businesses, critic reviews and “on these lists” are also displayed as part of the Knowledge Panel.
For example, when a user searches for Portillo’s Hot Dogs, the Knowledge Panel will include professional reviews (written by qualified publishers) displayed under the “popular times” section. The user can also access and click on the actual news article that Portillo’s Hot Dogs was mentioned in.
These updates, which Google indicated were meant to help users find the best and most relevant results and information for their searches, were heavily criticized by a number of industry executives, including TripAdvisor CEO Stephen Kaufer.
In a tweet, Kaufer wrote, “If Google would just let users search the web instead of foisting their content upon us…”
These criticisms are likely based on the assumption that Google’s updates might make it difficult for information from third-party review sites (like Yelp and Google) to be displayed prominently in local search results and Knowledge Panels.
There are new guidelines for marking up reviews
Google encourages business owners and marketers to boost SEO performance by showcasing their online reviews in local search — particularly through the implementation of schema.org-based review markup. In Kissmetrics’ simpler terms, “schema markup is code (semantic vocabulary) that you put on your website to help the search engines return more informative results for users.”
Currently, Google has a couple of ways of displaying review markup in search results:
- Critic reviews: These pertain to reviews generated in an article by qualified publishers.
- Review snippets: These pertain to the highlights of a user-generated review. Often, the rich snippet of a review or rating includes the average star rating, and appears in search results and Knowledge Panels.
Recently, the search engine made changes to its guidelines and criteria for marking up reviews. Here are some highlights:
- A business can still aggregate reviews to its website, but it cannot mark up reviews from third-party review sites. So just because you added code to a five-star Yelp review and placed it on your website does not mean that this will appear in search results, complete with review snippets.
- The marked-up reviews displayed on a business’ website must be both positive and negative. Google will not showcase reviews that are filtered to only display positive customer feedback.
- If a business implements review markup, the review must be an unpaid, independent review posted directly to the website.
- Multi-location businesses hoping to mark up critic reviews should also note that “critic 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, critic reviews for multiple-location businesses cannot be syndicated or applied to all business locations of the same company.”
What You Can Do After the Update
Claim and verify your business listings
Google’s latest updates, particularly the addition of “reviews from the web,” mean that your business reviews and ratings on third-party sites like Yelp, Facebook, and TripAdvisor will continue to play a significant role in influencing the purchase behavior of local search users.
One goal you can set is to try to get more and better reviews, as well as to increase your star ratings average. More (and better) reviews and ratings of your business on Google as well as on other third-party review sites can lead to greater online “prominence” — one of the three primary factors influencing Google local search.
But you can’t do these without first taking control of your business listings and review site profiles.
By claiming and verifying your business listings on third-party review sites, you can gain access to management features, such as the ability to edit and update your business information, respond to reviews, and even (on some sites) systematically request for reviews and customer feedback.
Check out our guides on how to:
- Claim your business listing on Google using Google My Business
- Manage 10 or more locations using the Google My Business bulk verification process
- Claim your business listing on Yelp
- Enable the Reviews feature on your Facebook Page
- Make the most of Google’s Local Guide program
Respond to reviews
Responding to reviews helps drive engagement with search users and potential customers. Review responses also show that your business values customer feedback; they can even help improve your SEO performance, minimize the impact of low ratings and negative reviews, and encourage other users to add their own reviews (seeing that your business is responsive).
Make sure the review response is customer-focused and informative, and that it speaks directly to the customer. Be thoughtful with your response. Make sure you provide details and resolve any customer experience issues raised in the review.
Ask for reviews
Sometimes, the best way to generate more and better reviews is to simply ask your customers for their feedback. Keep in mind that negative reviews are still good for business (so don’t be afraid of your critics), because they help you improve the customer experience and show potential customers how you handle criticism.
Everything You Need to Know About the Google Knowledge Panel
According to Go Fish Digital, the Knowledge Panel was first created in 2012, and it comes up in two kinds of search results: for local searches and for brand searches.
The information currently being displayed on the local Knowledge Panel includes a business star rating for the business from Google reviews, pricing information, type of place, address, contact information, “reviews from the web,” “critic reviews,” and a description.
Also included is a “popular times” section, along with a list of related restaurants that “people also search for.”
In contrast to the local Knowledge Panel, the brand Knowledge Panel includes a description from Wikipedia, headquarters location, year founded and social media profiles. Similar to the local Knowledge Panel, the brand Knowledge Panel also shows the “people also search for” section.
For more information on Knowledge Panels, and how you can create one of your own for brand searches, check out Go Fish Digital’s guide.
We wondered whether or not Google reviews might be more important than reviews on other websites, and the recent updates make the question more relevant than ever.
However, based on the changes made by Google, the display of third-party reviews and ratings in the Knowledge Panel attaches new importance to reviews from sites like Zomato, OpenTable, Zagat, TripAdvisor, and Facebook (as of now).
How does the star rating and amount of reviews displayed on the knowledge panel from other review sites affect consumer choices now that they can more easily see the star ratings without clicking on the TripAdvisor or Facebook page? While the answer to this question is not certain, the role that reviews and customer feedback play in shaping purchase behavior continues to grow bigger every day.
(Image credit: Google Webmaster Central Blog)