In September, Google announced they would be limiting review stars in SERPs to specific schemas and would stop showing reviews they considered to be “self-serving.” It wasn’t clear at the time when this change would occur, or if it had already happened.
MozCast tracking set measured a drop the morning of September 16 (in sync with the announcement) followed by a continued drop the next day …
The purple bar shows the new “normal” in our data set (so far). This represents a two-day relative drop of nearly 14% (13.8%). It definitely appears that Google dropped review snippets from page-1 SERPs across the roughly 48-hour period around their announcement (note that measurements are only taken once per day, so it’s difficult to pinpoint changes beyond 24-hour periods).
Review drops by category
Breaking this two-day drop out into 20 industry categories that correspond to Google Ads, the results were intense. Notice that each industry experienced some loss of review snippets. This is not a circumstance with “winners” and “losers” similar to an algorithm update. Google’s updates only reduced review snippets. Here’s the breakdown…
Percent drops in blue are <10%, purple are 10%-25% and red represents 25%+ drops. Finance and Real Estate were hit the most, both losing almost half of their SERPs with review snippets (-46%) – ouch. Note that our 10K daily data set broken down 20 ways only has 500 SERPs per category, so the sample size is low, but even at the scale of 500 SERPs, some of these changes are clearly significant.
Average reviews per SERP
Looking solely at the page-1 SERPs that have review snippets, were there any changes in the average number of snippets per SERP? The short answer is nope…
On September 18, after the dust had settled on the drop, SERPs with review snippets had an average of 2.26 snippets, roughly the same as prior to the drop. Many queries were unaffected.
If your site has been affected, what does this mean for you now?
(Q)Could you be penalized if you leave your review schema active on your website?
(A) No. Continuing to use review schema should have no negative impact. There will be no penalty.
(Q) Are first-party reviews “dead”?
(A) No. Displaying reviews on your website are still very beneficial in terms of:
– Instilling trust in visitors at multiple phases of the consumer journey
– Creating unique content for store location landing pages
– Helping you monitor your reputation, learn from and resolve customers’ cited
(Q) Is Google right to consider first-party reviews “self-serving”?
(A) Review spam and review gating are serious problems. Google is absolutely correct that efforts must be made to curb abusive consumer sentiment tactics. At the same time, Google’s increasing control of business reputation is a cause for concern, particularly when their own review corpus is inundated with spam, even for YMYL local business categories. In judging which practices are self-serving, Google may want to look closer to home to see whether their growing middle-man role between consumers and businesses is entirely altruistic. Any CTR loss attendant on Google’s new policy could rightly be seen as less traffic for brand-controlled websites and more for Google.