Google Maps Rich Snippets for Local FAQ: Testimonials to be Treated as Reviews

When Google announced support for Rich Snippets for Local 3 weeks ago, there were a number of unanswered questions. A number of these are now answered in the Rich Snippets for Local Search FAQ:

- Currently Google (FAQ #3) only recognizes microformats (hCard, hReview) for Rich Snippets for Local Search. Thus, until Google expands support for microdata and RDFa formats, you should stick with hCard and hReview formats.

-You (#4) should only provide the actual phone number for the location and should not include call tracking numbers.

-If you (#6) provide precise geo-coordinates Google will use them but if not then address alone is okay.

-Structured data (#9)should not be used as an alternative to verifying your Places listing but in conjunction with it.

The big surprise for me though was FAQ #10:

How will Google treat businesses posting testimonials with review mark up on their own site? Will these be treated as a review by the Place Page?

Testimonials will be treated as business reviews on the Place Page.

This means that site owners will be able to contribute testimonials from their site to their Places page. The implications of this are profound in terms of the impact that these testimonials will have on review count. The impact that they will have on tone of the reviews, sentiment analysis and rank are yet to be seen but if they are handled exactly as current reviews are, this too will be profound. Webmasters will be busy tonight! :)

Here is the complete list of links to the questions answered in the FAQ:

  1. Will annotating my site with structured markup negatively or positively impact my ranking in search results?
  2. Will Rich Snippets for Local Search be recognized for non-English sites?
  3. Does it matter if I use microdata, microformats, or RDFa to mark up my site or do Google’s crawlers treat them equally?
  4. Does it matter whether I include multiple telephone types?
  5. Should the <url> point to my home page or to the location specific page?
  6. Do I need to specify the <geo> lat long or is it okay to only use <adr>?
  7. What additional types of structured data does Google plan to recognize in the future?
  8. If I annotate my site with structured markup, where may results appear?
  9. Should business owners be using structured markup instead of Google Places?
  10. How will Google treat businesses posting testimonials with review mark up on their own site? Will these be treated as a review by the Place Page?
  11. Will Rich Snippets for Local Search be as trusted as Google Places data?
  12. If I annotate my site with structured markup, how fast may results appear on the Place Page?
  13. What is the optimal way of using structured markup. Should you have a separate “Reviews” page or should you incorporate them within the body of the site?
Please consider leaving a comment as your input will help me (& everyone else) better understand and learn about local.
Google Maps Rich Snippets for Local FAQ: Testimonials to be Treated as Reviews by

30 thoughts on “Google Maps Rich Snippets for Local FAQ: Testimonials to be Treated as Reviews”

  1. What does “REVIEW MARK UP” mean?

    How will Google treat businesses posting testimonials with review mark up on their own site?

  2. Review mark up means adding the review to an HTML page using the agreed upon standard microformat, hReview for indicating to a bot that the content is a review and associated with a particular business.

    Here is an hReview creator so you can see what the code looks like that you would need to embed on your webpage.

  3. Allowing testimonials simply exacerbates the fake review phenomena, IMHO. It makes it 5-15% easier. Google certainly wants content, (again my opinion).

    It will be interesting to see if volumes of testimonials bombard the places page, show in the 7pac as part of reviews, and then potentially ramp those places in voluminous reviews up the 7pac ladder.

    I hope that doesn’t occur.

  4. @Earlpearl

    Allowing testimonials could easily exacerbate the fake review issue…. it depends on how google handles them. They are as least as trustworthy as the great deal of sock puppet spam that we see… hopefully they will be labeled in such a way as to be obvious but it will be interesting to watch

  5. Most of the folks that will know how to do this (ie mark up site reviews in hCard, etc) won’t be the business owners. They’ll be webmasters and other local search gurus. Because they strive to show rank increase, many (gray hat) local SEOs have more incentive (and know how) to fake the reviews in such a manner.

    That’s why I think we’ll see a disproportionate flooding of fake reviews coming from place pages managed by local SEOs and not from the business owners themselves.

  6. From Google’s perspective, this is a good way to get a lot more content into the system. If this creates a lot of spam (and I think it will), Google could add additional filtering/ranking/labeling/prioritizing on the various types of review content it has indexed. This could turn out to be a very savvy way to fight spam.

    This is one way to fight sock puppet accounts.

  7. Hmm…have to agree here with you Mike, that such a new tack on Testimonials will increase spammy fraudulent reviews appearing in greater numbers…

    @yaros too makes a good point that for clients ie all of my own, the actual process of “making” such an hReview testimonial is beyond their computer skills…and yes, that will mean that folks like us SEO practitioners will be doing same…ie the need to climb serps for clients will make this “gray” any whitehat….imho!

    :(

    Jim

  8. @Yaros
    A testimonial is not a “fake review” unless it is a “fake testimonial”. I often encourage clients to surface testimonials on their websites. They are not as convincing as a review at Google but they do carry some weight. Now they can be moved over to Google. I do think a legitimate testimonial is more valuable than a faked review in the scheme of things. Exactly how google handles them though will dictate the actual value for ranking and credibility.

    @Ted

    I agree with you on the content front. It can generate lots of content very quickly and accurately for Google. This content as I point out to Yaros is often of better quality (currently) than the sock puppet reviews.. I think we can all agree, true or not, fabricated or not, they will flow into Google as soon as the spigot opens. … as to how Google will handle them going forward will be something to watch..

  9. @Jim

    I think a real testimonial, while not as valuable as an independently placed or even a solicited review is more meaningful information than a fake review. A fake testimonial is of equal value to a fake review. The question is, will Google be able to tell the difference and how will they surface that information.

  10. Mike,
    So, if you had a testimonials page with reviews on it, where would the hcard data be? On each of the testimonials, pointing to your own address? That seems wrong. Or, simply once on the testimonials page, perhaps in the main body or footer? Please talk to me about this.

  11. @Miriam

    I am just starting to explore this with my designer and programmer so I don’t have an answer. It would make sense to only have the hCard info only once.

    In looking at Yelp page in the Google Rich Snippet Test that is how it is handled with the hCard information nested in the aggregate review summary at the top.

  12. Oh, that’s smart, Mike. I could see doing a summary like that. I’d love to hear what you and your designer finally hit upon. Guidance of this kind is often hard to find and I have a tough time understanding general advice. I like examples :)

  13. Although it does seem like this reviews stance will bring an onslaught of fake testimonials/fake reviews, I think we should have just a little more faith in our dearest friends at Google :)

    No doubt they recognize this. They are probably forming/have formed a complete algorithm to determine the “authority” or one review or reviewer. Maybe the review is linked back to a person’s Google Account if their name is provide, at which point they can determine the authority of the person.

    Whatever it may be, there will be an answer. Like link spam, it will probably start like the wild west but then be refined quickly and all those operating disingenuously will be penalized.

    Great stuff Mike! Especially the Yelp idea :)

  14. @Jake

    While in a broad sense, what you say is true – Google takes care of spam… in local Google has been very, very slow to respond proactively dealing with the many abuses that occur.

    Whether that is due to lack of resources or some other issue, they have not really stopped spam in general and have made no significant effort to deal with review spam in particular.

    It’s not that it will be like the Wild West, its that it is like the Wild West and has been since the inclusion of local results on the main search results pages.

    This new entree to Google will just be additional review spam not new review spam.

    The question for us that have been following Google Maps/Places closely is when are they going to get serious about review spam abatement?

  15. For the most part, I think this is a good change. There are many industries in which it’s very difficult to get customers to go on review sites to post feedback, but it’s also normal for customers to send a Thank You email to the business with a glowing testimonial. This puts certain businesses at a disadvantage when compared to industries with more web-savvy customers. So this kind of levels the playing field by letting those businesses post real testimonials on their own sites and have them picked up as reviews.
    On the other hand, I agree 100% – this will be used and abused by those who know how, and it will take Google a long time to respond to spam/manipulation.

  16. Is there likely to be a way to submit or feed testimonials to Places or do we simply have to wait and hope that google will index testimonials on clients’ sites? When is google going to start displaying testimonials?

  17. @Myles

    If the testimonials are at the business owner’s site there is no need to submit a feed…other than what you do to get your site scraped regularly. They have started showing hReview testimonials from preapproved review sites already. When they will show testimonials from owner sites is not clear…. it could be as soon as two weeks… but who knows.

  18. Has anyone yet found any examples of Google Places displaying a business’s self hReview testimonials from their website yet…? I have not seen this yet.

  19. @Matthew
    Sorry this was caught in the spam filter.

    Answer: Not yet but we are still pretty early in this process. We are seeing hReview formatted review sites that already had the content indexed showing up

  20. Did anyone figure out how the testimonials were pulled into the Places page that @Yaro sent? Or has anyone confirmed a Places page that has picked up hReview format? Are there any best practices about how to do the individual vs. aggregate reviews yet? Thanks for any feedback anyone has.

  21. “Did anyone figure out how the testimonials were pulled into the Places page that @Yaro sent? ”

    It looks like Yaro is correct. If you go to this page crestwoodpainting.com/reviews.html, then look at its page source and search for “when we moved to our new house in Kansas”, you see what I think is a rich snippet mark up (I’m not familiar, yet, with the format).

    If you then go here: maps.google.com/maps/place?cid=3497690220390394348, you’ll see that review pulled from the crestwoodpainting.com/reviews.html page.

    The rub is some (all?) of those reviews have been copied from recognized review sites (though I can’t find this particular review on any of the review sites they list at the top of the page).

    So — does this work, i.e., can you simply mark up a review on your site and have it show up on your Google Business place page? Putting the above possible special case aside, it seems too good to be true . . . at this point, I’m thinking it is too good to be true — Google would be begging to be spammed.

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