Testimonials as Reviews – A View from the Field

Last week after publication of the new Google Rich Snippets for Local FAQ and follow up comments by Carter Maslan, there was a great deal of discussion about what was best practice vis a vis testimonials on a SMB web site.

Clearly, when you focus on the client, having this type of content can be a good practice and as David Mihm pointed out there are a number of reasons that semantic markup of the testimonial information on an SMB website makes sense going forward, Carter’s ambiguous comments not withstanding.

All that being said, the question of how Google is actually handling testimonial information in Places is still of interest. Are they or are they not including it in the Places Pages as reviews?

The answer is yes, in a limited way.

The Data

I have been looking for examples of Google’s use of owner website pages as reviews since October of 2010. Some of these examples were discovered by research but many are user contributed (I apologize for the lack of credit but I just lost track of them all). I am sure that there are more examples of Google including testimonials on the Places Page and I would encourage you to send them along. It will add to the very limited view we now have of Google’s use of this content in practice.

I am presenting the data in two groups of results, hotels and SMBs, as I think that Google is handling the two cases differently.

Google is broadly including positive content from hotel websites as reviews on their Places Page. Using the newly updated Local Search Tool Kit, I examined the results for the 7 Pack for hotels in Buffalo, New Orleans and New York. Over 40% of the hotel’s Places Pages contained testimonials from their own websites as reviews. However most of the results were not true testimonials but rather positive marketing language that Google had scraped and included. The one exception is the Embassy Suites Chicago Downtown (shown to me by Steven King of SimPartners). Interestingly the reviews shown for them on their Places Page are TripAdvisor reviews presented on their website via the TA review widget.

My conclusion: Google trusts large hotel websites and it appears that a large number of them now contribute their own content to the Places Review area. Google however is still having trouble parsing them for appropriate review content.

Hotel Content Page URLReferenced by Places Reviews Places Page
Buffalo Marriott Niagara /bufam-residence-inn-buffalo-amherst/ Places Page
Adam’s Mark Hotels – Buffalo /about/amenities.html Places Page
Hampton Inn & Suites Buffalo Downtown /index.jhtml?ctyhocn=BUFDTHX Places Page
Windsor Court Hotel  – New Orleans /windsor-court-hotel.visit-new-orleans.com/ Places Page
Omni Royal Orleans /NewOrleansRoyalOrleans.aspx Places Page
InterContinental New York Barclay Hotel /new_york/new_york/7775.html Places Page
The New York Palace Hotel /index.html%3FpropertyID%3D97502 Places Page
The Standard, New York Hotel /new-york-city/-hotel-new-york-city//new_york_city/the_standard_new_york Places Page
New York’s Hotel Pennsylvania /popular-new-york-attractions.html/all-hotel-offers.html Places Page
Embassy Suites Chicago Downtown /taste_of_chicago/index.cfm Places Page

It is much, much harder to find examples of SMB testimonial pages that Google has included in Places Pages. I would take that as a signal of the lower trust that Google has in this market compared to hotels as well as poorer optimization.

That being said, the content showing on the Places page was much more accurate with most of the examples actually including testimonials. The exception below is LA Fitness that, like many of the hotels above, is not actually showing review content. In the case of Crest Wood Painting while Google shows their testimonials as reviews, they are nothing more than his Google and Yahoo reviews repurposed onto the review page on his site.

Generally speaking, the ones below have a page name of testimonial or review. Whether Google needs that signal to more easily parse and include the page is unclear.

Business Name Content Page URLReferenced by Places Reviews Places Page
Cleveland Comfort Solutions /reviews/ Places Page
LA Fitness /gym/lincoln-south-west/ Places Page
Crestwood Painting /reviews.html Places Page
 

Some History

In late 2009, Google started using sentiment analysis to improve review summaries in Places. Shortly thereafter, in early in 2010, Google started analyzing scraped blog and general news content and where appropriate including this free form content into Places as reviews.

In late September of 2010 Google announced their support of Rich Snippets for Local.  At the time the Rich Snippet for Local FAQ indicated that testimonials would in fact be included as review content on a businesses Places Page. At some point, Google obviously came to the realization that a broad movement in this direction would lead (or did lead) to a flood of review spam and revised their FAQ.

Regardless, Google does seem to be indicating that when there is high enough trust they would still include testimonials as reviews (“The FAQ below was intended to convey that we try to classify reviews wherever they’re found on the Web…”).

It appears, that it is both Google’s willingness to, on occasion,  accept a businesses testimonials as trust worthy and their ability to parse sentiment that has led to own website testimonials showing in some Places Pages.

While Google is accepting and including semantically marked up reviews from large directories sites and a few lesser sites, it does not appear that Google has yet applied their understanding and use of semantically notated review content to SMB websites. When they will is unclear. Note that none of the above examples that I found are using Rich Snippet mark up.

The Takeaways

Do a testimonial page if it makes sense for the client website.

Will Google include your testimonial page in Places? At this point, we just don’t know how many or whose they will include. So don’t build the page solely for that reason. I have a client site (Barbara Oliver Jewelry) that has long had testimonials on it. She essentially includes every comment that comes to her offline. In the fall, we implemented hReview on the page and it has yet to be picked up by Google.

If you are a hotel then it behooves you to provide Google will legitimate reviews via a page on your site. Although having marketing happy talk show as reviews on your Places Page is not so bad, it would seem to me preferable to have real testimonials and reviews there. If I were a hotel I might even think about showing independently generated reviews on the site.

It appears from the SMB samples to make sense to name the page Reviews or Testimonials to give Google as many clues possible in finding your page.

I assume that Google judges the page on its trust, content and its prominence. If you are going to build a testimonial page be sure to pass it some strength via your site architecture.

What are you seeing?

What has your experience been?

Have you seen other SMB testimonial pages showing? Are you seeing other types of industries beside hotels regularly showing a testimonial page?

Please consider leaving a comment as your input will help me (& everyone else) better understand and learn about local.
Testimonials as Reviews - A View from the Field by

19 thoughts on “Testimonials as Reviews – A View from the Field”

  1. Mike,

    I agree with David, to paraphrase Jay-Z, There’s 99 Reasons and Google Ain’t One.

    Also, in the comments of your prior posts on this topic we saw some opportunity for “3rd party” citation building which I think are worth of testing, as in http://blumenthals.com/blog/2011/02/08/carter-maslan-responds-to-rich-snippet-faq-language-change/#comment-545265

    Top 3 reasons to keep adding testimonials to your own site(s)?
    – On-site Social proof – customers like to hear from other customers, better still if they stay on your site
    – Whether G recognizes them or not, other aggregators may
    – Good jumping off point for 3rd party reviews and / or on-site review collection
    – Bonus: Fresh Content

    Will

  2. @Will

    Certainly there are plenty of reasons to add testimonials …. the question revolves around whether using hReview is the best choice given Google’s slow uptake and utilization of hReview format… it doesn’t appear that they are a reason to use hReview. At this point it seems more likely to get a non-hReview content into Google…

  3. Mike, I think it comes down to whether at some point hreview will be used by search engines. I believe part of my job as SEO is to anticipate what may happen in the future and if the costs merit doing the activity now putting it in place so when these are in wider use… my client is covered. Adding hreviews is not an expensive addition to a site.

  4. @Terry

    I hear you… and I fall down on the side of implementing hReview… but all of these decisions particularly forward facing ones need to be reviewed and rereviewed based on ground evidence on a periodic basis.

  5. Thanks Mike. This really answers some of my questions. I have noticed that Google seems to be picking up parts of my customer reviews in search and maybe even prefers them over better or exact search term content. I have placed 6-8 on all web pages because of this. See an example below.

    On another related note..

    I am just a guy that puts his on website together. I’m looking for the best format or markup what ever its called to ad to my customer review list in hopes that Google will pick it up and add them to my places page. Looking at your list above I really didn’t see any set patterns of html for the review text.. Basic info would be much appreciated.

    ————

    Search term. “overland park painters

    Painting Contractor Kansas City House Painters Kansas City
    exterior painting contractor overland park exterior painters … Gary A. Overland Park, KS We wanted to thank JR painting company and his team of painters …

    ——————-
    Search term. “overland park house painting

    Painting Contractor Kansas City House Painters Kansas City …
    You may certainly use me as a reference. The wood rot repairs and new paint make the house look amazing! Its like a new house. Gary A. Overland Park, KS …

  6. JR

    As the article points out, Google has been scraping review content in almost any HTML format that it can figure out. There is no set format for this although it makes sense to delineate the reviews in such a way that Google can distinguish one from the other (for example a < ul > command )

    They have as noted above indicated that in the future they will be using what is called hReview or what they call Rich Snippets. We have yet to see any SMB sites included as review content using this format to date. Who knows what the future holds although there are a number of good reasons, Google notwithstanding, to use Rich Snippets.

    You can find plenty of information here and at Google webmaster site.

    It is not clear what I am to be looking for in the examples you provided.

  7. This is good stuff Mike… I too have hReview code on two client’s (small biz) Testimonial/Review pages, with an easy to use link back to their corresponding Places page for those customers who would like to write a review of their own. I too have used reviews from several citation sources (Places, Yelp, etc.) to populate the Review pages. The pages are coded correctly (passed Testing Tool), but no sign of the reviews on the Places page or in the SERP’s so far. Interested in your future findings.
    P.S. I see your fav is back :-)

  8. @Andy

    No one that I know of that used hReview has had their content included. Myself included.

    I have two theories as to why hReview is not yet showing up:
    1) Google saw an avalanche of hReview and wanted to get their spam and trust filters in place or
    2)It just takes time for them to implement the many changes to their internal systems, that like scraping of general content took some time to get ramped up to include as review content, will take some time to get ramped up.

    Thanks for the heads up on the fav icon.

  9. Mike,

    I wonder if there would be a problem publishing the reviews as normal and then also publishing them as hReview with the hReview IDs non-printing.

    Will

  10. I have had hReview marked up testimonials on my firm’s site for over a year (whenever Google released their RichSnippet push I marked up my whole site accordingly.)

    I have yet to see any of the reviews make their way into Google Places. So I just focus on getting clients to leave reviews at my Google Place site.

    Personally, I think the personal domain is losing importance and that your Google Place profile is becoming the main entry point for general web traffic (at least for professional services, as opposed to products). So efforts should be focused on cultivating the Google Place page as an information center of sorts.

    But I like Andy’s idea of referencing the corresponding Google reviews for authority purposes on your own website. (I had only been placing non-Google reviews on my site, i.e. Avvo.) I recently saw a blog posit linking your website to your Google place profile “is a very powerful authority boost.” Not sure if this is true, but linking to Google Place reviews seems like an easy way to implement.

  11. @Richard
    To me the personal domain, along with your phone, are the center of a companies digital equity. MySpace (and by extension the likes of FB, Twitter, 4Square et al) will come and go. Thus predicating your long term marketing on pages other than your website is a precarious existence indeed.

    I do agree that your Places Page should be as attractive as Google allows. I also agree that Google is attempting to send more traffic to your Places Page and as they move forward in Mobile that will be even more true.

    To me though, Places and every other page that has info about you on the web should all focus on getting folks to your website. When Google (or FB, or Twitter, or whomever) changes policies or worse goes out of business, the digital equity you invested in their pages will go up in smoke one morning. You will be left with picking up the pieces rather than just having to rearrange them.

    I have trouble believing that ‘linking your website to your Google place profile “is a very powerful authority boost.”’ Until I see proof of that I will remain skeptical.

    Linking to your Places Page, for me, makes sense because it makes it easier for a client to find your Places Listing amongst the complexities and clutter that is Google. In this scenario, your web page is just facilitating the interaction with the Google Places Page.

    I also provide easily accessible links to the review pages of other common review sites (Yelp, Yahoo etc). This has the benefit of both making it easier for the client to find and telling Google where your reviews are so that they can be spidered and included on your Places Page.

  12. “but all of these decisions particularly forward facing ones need to be reviewed and rereviewed based on ground evidence on a periodic basis”

    Mike you are right but it def isn’t going to hurt you… if I waited for “ground evidence” I would have waited 5 or more years to implement hyphen as space. No evidence until Matt Cutts said… we treat – as space. I look at the risk to potential benefits… See little to no risk and major benefits to implementing machine readable code to a page. However, I would implement as part of other site updating activity.

  13. @Terry
    I am with you… you need to walk in a forward direction… client needs to understand that the situation is dynamic… you implement based on best practice now and the foreseeable future… the decisions, once made, can’t become dogma…

  14. I have had hReview marked up testimonials on my firm’s site for over a year (whenever Google released their RichSnippet push I marked up my whole site accordingly.)

  15. Mike, Very interesting thread. As in all things Google we won’t find out until it actually happens. We have been working with our customers for over two years building testimonial pages for them to collect reviews and testimonials. We even offer a service to collect the testimonials on their behalf. We have also marked up our customers’ testimonials but have not sent them show up in their places pages as of yet. I’d be interested to hear back from you and others who are interested, when you see Google start to grab the testimonials in a more serious way.

    Another benefit of publishing testimonials, especially via third party sites is that you get another SERP (or more) on the organic listing. Just an idea..

    David

  16. Hi Mike,

    I have read everyone of your Rich Snippet Blog Posts (All of which are very interesting) but they all seem to pertain to local Google Search Results. A few months ago I implemented Rich Snippets into my website and I was hoping to get them approved so they appear on the main search results (Not Just Local), much like overstock or williams sonoma, and I was wondering if there is anyway you could help me or send me contact information of someone who may be able to help me.

    You have a very interesting blog. It truly has a lot of information you can’t seem to find anywhere else. Thanks for all of your help in advance and I am looking forward to all of your future blog posts.

  17. Hi Mike- I know this thread is a little old, but by way of follow up I just noticed one of my client’s Place Page has just picked up micro-formatted reviews from her website.

    Pretty cool.

    thanks for the great tips on this…

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