Carter Maslan Responds To Rich Snippet FAQ Language Change

I sent the following email to Carter Maslan, Product Management Director, Local Search at Google for clarification:

You have been quoted as saying at Kelsey: “Merchants should be publishing their own reviews and that Google would find them.”

Today I reread the new Rich Snippet FAQ and it says (which is a change from October):

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?

Google’s goal is to provide a comprehensive, unbiased, and credible view of businesses. Reviews should come from an independent source to remain trustworthy. Posting testimonials or using review markup on a business site will generally not improve how its listing appears on Google. As with any form of unuseful content, reviews markup intended to game search results will only undermine the listing’s credibility and may negatively affect its ranking. See our Webmaster Guidelines.

I realize that these are not incompatible statements IF on an SMB website, the owner puts testimonials without hReview mark up.

Is that what you are currently suggesting as a best practice? Will Google on occasion still include them as a review in Places?

Carter’s Response:

Hi Mike -

An authentic testimonial is really nothing more than a glowingly positive user review that the business owner has hand-chosen to feature because it’s speaks so highly of the business. There’s nothing wrong with that – especially if there are avenues to corroborate the authenticity of the author and review (e.g. “reviewer” attribute referencing the hcard of a real person that might have originally posted comments on a blog or review site). The FAQ below was intended to convey that we try to classify reviews wherever they’re found on the Web but that we also aim to protect users from spam.

The use of hReview or other structured HTML formats on any site is just an aid in understanding the page more precisely. Ranking tries to steer clear of suspicious testimonials regardless of whether they’re marked-up or not on an SMB’s own site. Bottom line – it’s not that we always score testimonials on business home pages as spammy but rather that white-hat SEOs might not invest special effort to markup testimonials at this point.

Please consider leaving a comment as your input will help me (& everyone else) better understand and learn about local.
Carter Maslan Responds To Rich Snippet FAQ Language Change by

12 thoughts on “Carter Maslan Responds To Rich Snippet FAQ Language Change”

  1. “White-hat SEOs might not invest special effort to markup testimonials at this point.”

    Again, this is just Google’s perspective. They’re not the only player on the field, ESPECIALLY in mobile. I would imagine there are oodles of mobile developers out there without Google’s corpus of reviews that would love any assistance webmasters could provide in marking up reviews.

    “Special effort” is all of about 20 minutes with a decent CMS like WordPress.


  2. “white-hat SEOs might not invest special effort to markup testimonials at this point”

    So, apparently there are no white-hat SEOs who can read?

    That statement is so myopic as to be laughable. We’ve been using hReview, validating it with Google’s tool and repurposing all kinds of content to get REAL, AUTHENTIC testimonials as reviews.

    There’s nothing black-hat about it. Carter says “Google will find those reviews” and we say “let’s use the approved format to make it easier”. It’s really annoying, frustrating, etc., that the technically proficient get painted as something other than White hat.

    On another note:

    “especially if there are avenues to corroborate the authenticity of the author and review (e.g. “reviewer” attribute referencing the hcard of a real person that might have originally posted comments on a blog or review site)”

    Tell it to Yelp, InsiderPages, CitySearch, RateMDs, etc., etc.

    Why is a non-verifiable, technically rendered review on one of those sites inherently more valuable? We know for a fact that one can spam the heck out of insider pages et al.

    And there ain’t no hCard!

    It’s just dumb. And frustrating.

    I say again Go Bing! (or Blekko, or whatever)

    And I do totally agree with @David Mihm from yesterday. We’re going to keep doing it regardless. I’m sure we’ll find a way to make the data useful somewhere, even if we just build a giant hReview scraper aggregator in the sky.

  3. “White-hat SEOs might not invest special effort to markup testimonials at this point.”

    … and black-hat SEOs will just hire spammer to write 800 reviews in the Google listing and won’t give a damn about hReviews and stuff. Correct me if I’m wrong but Google said that they will pull formatted reviews from trusted sites.

  4. “White-hat SEOs might not invest special effort to markup testimonials at this point.” — I find this statement somewhat confounding (and some other things I better no post here). I’m as White Hat as one can be, and I try to follow Google’s best practices, and in this case I did what I reasoned they wanted… I added proper, tested (via Rich Snippets testing Tool) hReview code onto Review pages. Now I read this type of ‘advice’? Disappointing to say the least. Thanks for seeking feedback though Mike; it all helps (sort of). ;-)

  5. Google places is changing and evolving at quite clip these days and for the most part it’s all uncharted territory. So I don’t think it’s
    unreasonable to expect a hiccup here or a glitch there. I also went to the trouble to put all my testimonials in hCard format. Not a big deal for me really.

  6. I appreciate that Carter followed up with you on this, but must agree with Andy: this feels ‘disappointing’. From earlier news, it seemed like Google was taking a leap forward with hReviews. Now they’ve pulled their toes back out of the water. Why, I wonder.

  7. What does he mean by “hcard of a real person that might have originally posted comments on a blog or review site.”

    Is he saying that if you are going to post reviews, you should use markup to point to the hcard of the actual person (how many not techies have hcards on the web) or does he mean you should link to the posters profile on whatever site the review was copied from?

  8. @Richard

    It is not totally clear what he meant but if I had to guess they are looking for reviewer authority and trust worthiness. They are wanting to associate a given reviewer with their social graph.

    You are right that no one uses hCard for this in the real world. That being said Twitter Oauth or FB Connect might just do the trick.

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