Note: Originally published in 2017, this post was updated in 2019 with additional information.
Showcasing great 5-star ratings and reviews in your website’s search results is a great way to stand out in organic search. This can be quickly achieved by installing Schema markup code on your site. But, it’s important to avoid unnecessary ranking penalties by following Google’s rules and recommendations regarding first-party and third-party reviews.
The Benefits of Star Ratings in Your Search Result
Positive customer reviews and high ratings are shown to build trust among prospective customers in all industries. While third-party sites like Yelp, Facebook and Google provide trusted avenues for writing and reading reviews, it’s also a good idea to showcase great comments and 5-star ratings on your website. This can be done by embedding reviews from those third-party platforms, or by collecting and publishing reviews directly on your site—and its that second option that could affect your search results.
You’ve probably noticed that some sites include star ratings in their Google result. This is especially popular for ecommerce results, like something from Amazon, and especially sites that list products like movies and DVDs.
However, the ratings strategy is increasingly being used by non-ecommerce brands, too. And for good reason—including star ratings on a search result can not only polish up your website’s very first impression, they can also help it stand out from the crowd. According to a 2016 Yext study, there is a 154% increase in clicks for a 2nd position organic search result when it features stars.
Here’s an example of star ratings helping a pressure washing company stand out in the Brentwood, TN market:
This is the power of review snippets. On Google, a review snippet is a type of rich snippet that displays stars and other information on the Search Engine Result Page (SERP). These are available for Products, “creative works” (movies, books, or music), and Local Businesses. The way to get a review snippet on your site’s search results is by installing AggregateRating Schema code.
Warning #1: First-Party vs. Third-Party Reviews
Google provides (somewhat) clear rules about what is and is not allowed to be used in your aggregate reviews schema. These rules were updated in 2017, and this very last bullet from that update was the key requirement:
“Only include critic reviews that have been directly produced by your site, not reviews from third- party sites or syndicated reviews.”
This means that any reviews you use to generate an “aggregate rating” for your review snippet needs to be a first-party review. In other words, you can’t use reviews from third-party sites (Yelp, Google, Facebook, etc.) and then mark those up on your site with schema code: the ratings must be original to your website!
The “first-party” reviews you’re allowed to use could include reviews left on a product purchased through an eCommerce site (like the reviews you see on Amazon) or a general review sent to your customer service team through the contact page.
Warning #2: Recovering from a Spammy Aggregate Review Markup Penalty
There are now real consequences for marking up third-party reviews. If Google detects any issues with your reviews—which does happen—then your site will receive what’s called a spammy markup penalty, which means:
Google has detected some of the markup on your pages may be using techniques that are outside our structured data guidelines, for example marking up content that is invisible to users, marking up irrelevant or misleading content, and/or other manipulative behavior.
As a result, Google has applied a manual action to the affected portions of your site, which may affect how your site is displayed in search results.
This will cause your ratings to be removed from your Google search results, and you could eventually see your site’s ratings tank.
If you have made the mistake of marking up reviews that you shouldn’t have, you should see a warning in Google’s Search Console. Here are the steps you should take to resolve the issue:
- In Search Console (aka “Webmaster Tools”), go to Search Traffic > Manual Actions.
- If you see any penalties, click through to read details on how to fix the markup issues.
- After fixing your code, submit a reconsideration request.
How to Install Schema Code for Review Snippets
To get stars in your search results, you will need to install the “AggregateRating” Schema code. This code will trigger Google’s bots to display your aggregated rating on your webpage’s search result.
Note: You should only include the Reviews Schema code for Local Businesses only one page of your site. However, you can install ratings for things like products, events, books, and “creative works” on multiple pages of your website (see the current list of Google’s accepted content types here).
- Generate first-party reviews for your site and publish them on your site. (A bit more on that below…)
- Install AggregateRating schema code on one page—probably a “Reviews” page or maybe an “About” page.
- Use Google’s Structured Data Testing Tool to see if the code was installed correctly.
- Monitor your search results to see if Google displays the review snippet for that page.
How to Generate First-Party Reviews
While third-party reviews can’t be used in this particular endeavor, there are a few options for generating the first-party reviews Google requires. One of the easiest review generation strategies is to install a reviews plugin on your site. This is especially straightforward if you’re using WordPress since there are lots of plugins to choose from.
Another option is to begin a review-generation program. This could be self-initiated using survey tools like Survey Monkey or Google Forms, however, it can be tricky to convince Google that the users are authentic if they didn’t need to login to your site before posting the review.
Yet another option is to partner with a review generation service provider. FourFront offers access to the Yext platform for our clients, which includes powerful local business information management services as well as a review solicitation tool. First-party reviews generated through our platform can be automatically added to your website—and will already have the appropriate Schema code included.