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The Past, Present and Future of Google’s Local Review Schema

Local Review Schema Updates

 

 When it comes to schema guidelines as to how local businesses can markup the reviews they receive, Google has made a number of updates in recent times.

Google has not only introduced new rules but has also discouraged using a few practices that were once common. With the new update, local businesses will not be able to add markup to reviews once received from third-party sites.

That doesn’t mean you cannot include third-party reviews on your website. You can feature third-party reviews on your website but YOU CANNOT MARK THEM UP WITH SCHEMA. You can only have schema markup for reviews that have been directly produced by your site.

So, How did this Whole Thing Work Before the Update?

Before this recent update, these were the guidelines for review markup.

  • Review markup, to be eligible for reviews and ratings-rich snippets, must follow the general guidelines for structured data.
  • An aggregate evaluation of an item by people should be marked up as an AggregateRating.
  • Ensure that the reviews and ratings you mark up are readily available to users from the marked up page.
  • Single reviewer name must be valid. For ratings that doesn’t use a 5-point scale, Google will automatically convert your ratings to the 5-star system used in rich snippets.
  • Snippets must not be provided or written by the business unless it is genuine, unpaid editorial reviews.
  • Reviews must express both negative and positive sentiments of the customers and cannot be template sentences or automated metrics.

In addition to these guidelines, Google allowed third-party reviews and ratings before the update. If your business had good reviews on Yelp, Angie’s List or Google+, you could mark them up. But, you had to show proof that these sites actually were real. Ezy Pzy! By using widgets, many businesses were able to display third party reviews on the sidebar. However, even before the update, Google strongly discouraged placing sentences like “rated 4.5 on 5 by 200 customers”, just for the sake of aggregate marking.

What is a Schema Markup?

Now, let us go back to our roots. Anyone who has worked with local SEO will be able to tell you how important a schema markup is. Also, scheme markup is one of the most powerful but least used form of optimizing your website. So, what exactly is a schema markup?

Schema.org was developed by a collaborative team from Google, Yahoo and Bing. To put in simple terms, schema markup is a set of code markers that shows what your website is all about, to major search engines. Also, schema markup helps your site to rank for all content types. There are over 400 business types to choose from in schema markup.

Before we move on to some examples of schema markup for local business, here’s how you use schema markup on your website.

  • Go to Google’s Structured Data Markup Helper. Choose the type of data that you plan to markup from the list.
  • Copy & paste the URL of the content type that you want to markup. Click “Start Tagging”. You will see your web page in the left pane and data items in the right pane.
  • Select the type of elements to be mark up and choose a type (like author, name, image etc). The tool will automatically add the selected content to the “Data items” in the right pane.
  • Once you are done, click on “Create HTML”. In the following page, you will see the HTML with relevant microdata inserted in the content spots that you have selected.
  • Go to your source code or CMS and add the highlighted snippets in relevant spots. You can also download the HTML file that is automatically generated and copy/paste into your source code or CMS.
  • Do not forget to use the Structured Data Testing Tool to preview what your page will look like after you have added the markup.

Here are some popular types of schema markup that immensely help local businesses.

Breadcrumbs Markup

This type of schema markup creates rich snippets for your website.

SearchEngineJournal
SearchEngineJournal

If you create a schema markup for, say, electronics > fitness > bands, the code will look similar to this –

  <ol vocab="http://schema.org/" typeof="BreadcrumbList">

<li property="itemListElement" typeof="ListItem">

<a property="item" typeof="WebPage"

href="https://example.com/electronics">

<span property="name">Electronics</span></a>

<meta property="position" content="1">

</li>



<li property="itemListElement" typeof="ListItem">

<a property="item" typeof="WebPage"

href="https://example.com/electronics/fitness">

<span property="name">Fitness</span></a>

<meta property="position" content="2">

</li>



<li property="itemListElement" typeof="ListItem">

<a property="item" typeof="WebPage"

href="https://example.com/electronics/fitness/bands">

<span property="name">Bands</span></a>

<meta property="position" content="3">

</li>

</ol>

Event Schema Markup

Event Schema Markup is used for local events.

events schema markupIf you were to create the schema markup using JSON-LD, this is how it will look.

 <script type="application/ld+json">{
"@context": "http://schema.org",
"@type": "MusicEvent",
"name": "Fiddler on the Roof",
"startDate": "2016-09-27T19:45:00-07:00",}
<other parameters here>
</script>

Schema Ratings and Reviews Markup

This type of schema markup is used by local businesses to create a star-rating rich snippet in the search engines.

ratings markup schema

Schema Local Business Markup

PostAddress schema markup and LocalBusiness schema markup help local businesses enhance their listings. This markup can be used on websites with brick-and-mortar locations. The schema can be used to indicate your opening hours, payment types, physical address and more. There are also industry-specific schema (like TravelAgency, AutomotiveBusiness etc) that you can use depending on your business type.

local business schema markup

An example schema markup code using microdata will be as follows

<div itemscope itemtype="http://schema.org/LocalBusiness">
<h1><span itemprop="name">Business name</span></h1>
<span itemprop="description"> Your business description goes here</span>
 <div itemprop="address" itemscope itemtype="http://schema.org/PostalAddress">
<span itemprop="streetAddress">3332 Highway 78</span>
<span itemprop="addressLocality">Address Line 2</span>
<span itemprop="addressRegion">State</span>
</div>
Phone: <span itemprop="telephone">XXX-XXX-XXXX</span>
</div>

Here is the Gist of New Guidelines Introduced by Google on August 27, 2016 – The Present!

The changes were first reported by Mike Blumenthal as follows –

mike blumenthal twitter

  • Snippets must not be written or provided by the business or content provider unless they are genuine, independent, and unpaid editorial reviews.
  • Reviews must allow for customers to express both positive and negative sentiments. They may not be vetted by the business or restricted by the content provider based on the positive/negative sentiment of the review before submission to Google.
  • Reviews cannot be template sentences built from data or automated metrics. For example, the following is not acceptable: “Based on X number of responses, on average people experienced X with this business.”
  • 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, reviews for multiple-location businesses cannot be syndicated or applied to all business locations of the same company.
  • Aggregators or content providers must have no commercial agreements paid or otherwise with businesses to provide reviews.
  • Do not include reviews that are duplicate or similar reviews across many businesses or from different sources.
  • Only include reviews that have been directly produced by your site, not reviews from third-party sites or syndicated reviews.

What has actually changed?

  • Local Business that have multiple locations cannot display an aggregate number of ratings and reviews. The numbers of reviews and ratings must be posted by individual location.

If you have 5 locations across the country, with an average of 4.5 stars, you cannot display this as an aggregate for your business. You need to markup your rating aggregate by individual business locations. Ideally, each business location must have its own schema markup and you shouldn’t aggregate the reviews.

So, if you have been using schema markup like –

<span itemtype="http://schema.org/AggregateRating" itemprop="aggregateRating" class="average">4.89</span> out of <span class="best">5</span> 
<span itemprop="ratingValue">4.89</span> </span> based on <span class="votes">2589</span> ratings. <span itemprop="ratingCount" class="count">2589</span> user reviews. </div> <div id="roto-customer-reviews">

….you might want to change it to something like –

<span itemscope itemprop="review" itemtype="http://schema.org/Review"> 
<span itemprop="reviewRating" itemscope itemtype="http://schema.org/Rating"> 
 <meta itemprop="worstRating" content="1"> <meta itemprop="ratingValue" content="5"> 
<meta itemprop="bestRating" content="5"> </span> 
 <span itemprop="itemReviewed" itemscope itemtype="http://schema.org/Thing"> <meta itemprop="name" content="xyz"> 
 <meta itemprop="url" content="http://www.xyz.com/reviews/"> </span>
 <meta itemprop="reviewBody" content="user review goes here."> <meta itemprop="author" content="user name"> </span>
  • No third-party sources in schema markup

You might be penalized if you use third-party reviews (from Facebook, Yelp etc) in your local business markup. It is clearly mentioned in guidelines that Google wants reviews that have been directly produced by your site. However, that doesn’t mean you cannot feature third-party reviews on your website.You just cannot use schema markup language for this and you will be penalized if you do.

You will have to pay extra attention if you are using software to host your reviews. While you can continue using these softwares, you must specifically stop using them to take reviews if you are going to add schema markup.

Can you see how the schema markup for a Yelp review? If you have been doing markup like this, its high time you change it.

<script type="application/ld+json"> 

{  
 "@context": "http://schema.org/",  
 "@type": "Review",  
 "name": "Yelp Review", 
 "datePublished": "2016-09-03",  
 "itemReviewed": {    
 "@type": "Thing",    
 "name": "XYZ Company"  
 },  
 "author": {   
 "@type": "Person",    
 "name": "user name",    
 "description": "user review"  
 },
 "reviewRating": {    
 "@type": "Rating",    
 "ratingValue": "5",    
 "bestRating": "5",    
 "worstRating": "1"  
 },  
 "publisher": {    
 "@type": "Organization",    
 "name": "yelp.com"  
 } 
} 
</script>

 

  • You must include both positive and negative reviews.

With the new local schema update, business owners can no longer crop reviews to positive! Businesses must feature both positive and negative reviews.

Now that the local markup update is here to stay, what should you do next?

  • Create a Strategy to Handle Negative Reviews

Now it is clear that you have to feature both positive and negative reviews in your markup. You have to come up with different ways to deal with unhappy customers. Here are some tips to help you with managing bad reviews.

  • Check your Schema Markup

Use the Structured Data Testing Tool to make sure your schema markup is working after you make changes to your code. If you are new to schema markup, play around with Structured Data Markup Helper before you get hold of the nuances of Markup

  • Come up with New Ways to get Reviews

Reviews are not to be taken lightly if you are running a local business. Figure out new ways to acquire more reviews – be active on social media channels and give your customers a variety of channels to offer feedback. Send follow-up emails to customers a few days after they have made a purchase. Let your customers know that their feedback is appreciated. Something as simple as a “Review Us” page on your website can get you more reviews. 

The Future of Local Schema Markup

Search engines are becoming faster and seamless. In some years, users will no longer have to click on the website to view the information that they require. All information that users want will be listed on Google’s search in future – think about parameters like the number of products available, popular videos on the topic that the user is searching for, popular articles and maybe even something about your star employees.

But, if you are keeping up with all the changes in local SEO and if you have optimized your business for local SEO, you will have no reason to worry.

If you have recently updated your local reviews schema or if you can see into the future of local schema markup, share it with us in the comments.

Aarthi Narayanan

Aarthi Narayanan works as a Content Marketer at Synup. When not dreaming about ruling Westeros, Aarthi spends her time quilling and travelling. She has unshakeable faith on the power of words, the internet and Eric Cartman.
You can follow her on twitter: @aartNar