If you actively publish review content, or content that provides recommendation, take a look at the below recommendations, which will help you avoid being penalised by potential Reviews Updates in the future:
- Review content should be well informed, written by experts or enthusiasts, who have used or experienced a product, service or thing (e.g. piece of media).
- Reviews or recommendations should be published with visual examples showing the expert using or experiencing a product, service or thing.
- Think and convey what the experience of the thing reviewed would be like for the user reading the content.
- Reviews should promote benefits but also drawbacks, if any, to allow readers to make an informed decision.
- Well developed reviews or recommendations should link out to other useful resources that should be considered.
- Additionally, linking out to multiple sellers or providers is recommended.
There are a few reasons why this is important. First, reviews can have a significant impact on our lives. They can help us make decisions about things like where to eat, what movies to watch, and which products to buy. Second, reviews can be used to misinformation. For example, an intentionally misinformed review could be used to promote and sell a product that is actually harmful or to mislead people about a service.
Websites that publish a high volume of content daily, covering various topics such as product reviews, service evaluations, destination guides, and media updates, were highly affected by April’s update and we saw a number of these domains lose visibility, including: womenshealthmag.com, menshealth.com, businessinsider.com and cosmopolitan.com:
Let’s take a look at the ranking URL for the ‘things to do in north wales’ query:
- First, we immediately are drawn to the fact that this list is curated by tourist ratings. At no point however are we instructed on how the list was built, for example, a source of the tourist ratings used to build the list or a comparison of scoring between attractions.
- Stock imagery is used throughout with no media showing first-hand visitor experience of the attractions promoted.
- The article fails to promote authenticity, similar to the lack of first-hand imagery there’s a lack of tone and messaging that indicates the author providing opinion on the attractions surfaced.
Key learnings to take forward
But like the previous examples for cosmopolitan.com, topical relevancy also seems to play a role here, with the first page of results featuring a number of authoritative movie websites, such as Rotten Tomato, IMDb, and Collider. Complex and Esquire both surface on Page 1 of results and both have stronger on-page relevancy with entertainment and pop culture as well as dedicated taxonomies. A key takeaway here is the requirement for expert keyword research and subsequent mapping and targeting. Publishing product, service or media reviews that are far removed from your brand and expertise isn’t a good use of resources.
A product reviews website
The April 2023 reviews update was a significant change to Google’s algorithm for ranking review content. One of the key changes was that the update now considers content that provides recommendations on a particular subject, not just product review content. This means that reviews of services, media, and other topics are now heavily scrutinised. As we’ve seen, review content that lacks first-hand, visual evidence of a product or service does not rank as highly as it once did. Pages that have been hastily put together, with the aim of building relevancy with search engines have also been demoted.
The move to a systematic approach also means a re-positioning as a core ranking system and this seems like a natural progression. Rather than relying on periodic ranking updates reviews will now be monitored on a constant basis and results frequently updated to promote reviews of high quality.
Also showring are drops for both websites for movie themed keywords, something explicitly called out in the announcement from Google:
|best safety boots||1,300||2||7||-5|
|rowing machines uk||880||1||6||-5|
|best men’s shorts||880||3||5||-2|
Google provides a whole host of other points to consider on this page.
Have you been impacted?
The travel industry is a vast and dynamic sector that provides a wealth of informative and inspirational content to help prospective travellers choose their next destination. However, Planetware, a well-known publisher of travel guides authored by, as they suggest, seasoned travel experts, recently encountered a noticeable decline in visibility after the April update, dropping by -41%.
Gear Lab is a reviews website, specialising in “delivering honest, objective, reviews” for outdoor clothing and equipment. The website saw a notable visibility improvement post rollout of April’s reviews update:
Below is the specific wording on what the reviews system would actively monitor and evaluate moving forward; making it clear that reviews left by visitors or customers are exempt:
Why the change was necessary
If you have a website that contains review content, it’s important to assess the impact of the April update. You can do this by checking your website’s ranking in Google’s search results for relevant keywords. If you’re unsure whether your content meets the expectation, please do not hesitate to contact us for assistance. We are always happy to help.
These keywords below all contributed to the improvement when reviewing rankings before and after the update:
|warmest jackets mens||3,600||6||3||+3|
|best mountain bikes||1,900||5||1||+4|
Google’s new review system applies the same level of scrutiny to all review content, not just product reviews. This is a significant change, as it means that reviews of services experienced, media consumed, or destinations travelled to will now be evaluated for their quality and authenticity, amongst other topics.
Taking cosmopolitan.com as an example, and comparing the start of the rollout versus completion, here are example keywords that the domain lost visibility for:
|laser hair removal||74,000||2||5||-3|
|harry potter movies||74,000||6||11||-5|
|designer acrylic nails||27,100||4||9||-5|
|best movies comedy||14,800||5||13||-8|
|cheapest holiday destinations||9,900||1||18||-17|
How April 2023’s update was a real step-change
Let’s have a look at how April’s update impacted search results by looking at domains that won, and those that lost.
Was this a pre-emptive change ahead of the Search Generative Experience?
Looking at an example ranking URL, a ranked list of the 10 best mountain bikes of 2023, more intently, we can clearly see why the website was rewarded during April’s update:
- The page provides a link for users to read and learn about how GearLab reviews products; helping to build trust and authenticity:
- Within review content, GearLab also communicate how a product has evolved, if so, from a previous release. The image below also shows how benefits and drawbacks of each bike recommended are also included, based on their own research:
- The reviews provide evaluation from a user’s perspective:
- Products listed all link to individual pages that provide an in-depth review of the bike listed in the top-10. On these pages we find:
- Imagery of the product in use that reinforces the authenticity of the review, namely that the bike in question has been fully tested.
- Quantitative measurements about how the bike in question measures up in various categories of performance.
- Signposted updates to content made after publishing, to ensure all information remains relevant and up to date.
A travel guide website
Since launch, there have been six refreshes, the majority of which have continuously improved the algorithm, up until April 2023:
cosmopolitan.com and menshealth.com (see data table below) also lost visibility for keywords lacking a ‘best’ modifier, This is where Google deems that for a give keyword (e.g. ‘shave creams) searchers have an intent to purchase and wan to find transactional results rather than informational-led such as a review or recommendation ecommerce websites ride the change positively whilst content publishers drop.
The most significant update to date was launched on April 12th. Announced via Twitter, the algorithm would now cover “services and things” in addition to “products”. Webmasters were directed to a page where they could read and understand more about the changes. They immediately noticed that the descriptor “Products” had been dropped from the naming convention. In fact, the entire algorithm was repositioned under the new label of the “reviews system.”
Another reason I’ve thought about, as to why this update was made, is the continued development and highly likely introduction of AI to search results. Announced by Google back in May of this year, the Search Generative Experience (SGE) is an “AI powered snapshot of key information to consider, with links to dig deeper”.
Keywords the domain lost visibility for range in intent, from wide, high-volume exact destination queries to destination specific and things to do. Here are some examples:
|austria ski resorts||8,100||2||9||-7|
|things to do in north wales||6,600||3||9||-6|
|winter holiday destinations||1,900||4||12||-8|
|best beaches of bali||1,900||2||10||-8|
This experience sits at the top of organic search results and can be interacted with by choice, by searchers. Below is an example of the expanded generative AI for a search for ‘best home coffee machines’:
After dropping to the second page of search results for the ‘basketball movies’ keyword, we reviewed the landing page content and found areas where the page is falling short:
- Whilst a link to an author page is provided there’s no copy on this page or the main review page that highlights movie or media interest:
- The movie chosen as the greatest would benefit from further clarification on why it’s been chosen, providing evaluation from a users perspective. Is there enough context, or supporting evidence, provided to convey why the film is far ahead of the others in the list?
By applying the same level of scrutiny to all review content, Google is helping to ensure that users can trust the information they find. This is a positive step, as it will help people make better decisions and protect themselves from harm.
Located in the top right of the panel are links to guide-based content used to curate the information surfaced in the result. With Google at all times wanting to provide the best search experience possible, I’m sure the Product Reviews Update was also made with this highly anticipated change to search results in mind.