Episode 28: Google review rich results, GSC Breadcrumbs and Microsoft Audiences

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What's in this episode?

Mark Williams-Cook will be talking about:

Google review rich results: Google's algorithm update is preventing 'self-serving' review stars from showing in SERPs

GSC Breadcrumbs: A new addition to Google Search Console

Microsoft Audiences: Microsoft trying to tempt publishers with new audience targeting options in open beta.

Show note links:

Google announcement on review rich snippets:

Episode 18 of Search with Candour, talking about schema abuse:

Microsoft announcement of new targeting options:


MC: Welcome to Episode 28 of the Search with Candour podcast! Recorded on Friday 22nd September 2019. My name is Mark Williams-Cook and this week I'm going to talk to you about Google's algorithm change to showing review schema and how that's going to affect the SERPs, a new edition they snuck into a Google Search Console and Microsoft's announcement this week of their new audience targeting features.

A week ago today, from when this podcast is going to go out, so back on Monday the 16th of September, Google announced they were going to change how they were showing review rich results in the SERPs and this caused quite a bit of discussion mainly because there was quite, some misunderstandings about exactly how this was going to manifest them, what was allowed and what wasn't allowed anymore, so Google's made some efforts to clarify that.

So their post now says, ‘search results that are enhanced by review rich results can be extremely helpful when searching for products or services’, so this is referring to when you do a search in Google, for instance for a product, you've probably seen you get the little yellow five stars and an average rating appear and it'll tell you how many reviews they are and that's directly in the search result. Google goes on to say to make them more helpful and meaningful we're now introducing algorithmic updates to reviews in rich results. This addresses some of the invalid or misleading implementations webmasters have flagged to us. that's a very low key way of Google responding to numerous complaints about the, all the different creative ways that SEOs and webmasters have been misusing their schema.

We actually talked about, I think it was episode 18, we covered schema abuse I called it at the time, and I looked at one example where I think it was a medical center had marked up their page as a recipe so that they could show, so they could show stars on their search result there and we've seen all different kinds of ways people are misusing schema, so as soon as Google released video schema for instance, people start marking up things that weren’t videos as video schema to get these little snippet results. So Google goes on to say ‘focus on schema types that lend themselves to reviews, while technically you can attach review markup to any schema type for many types displaying star reviews does not add that much value for the user. With this change, we're limiting the pool of schema types that can potentially trigger rich results in search’ - note there, if you are sort of new to schema, it says potentially trigger results so just because you add a schema structured data markup to your site doesn't guarantee you're gonna, you're gonna get a rich result.

So they've actually listed, they say specifically will only display reviews on those types and their respective subtypes and they've listed them all here which is; book course, creative work season, creative work series; so that's like things like, literally, TV shows or podcasts, an episode, event game, how to, local business, media object, movie, music playlist, music recording, organization, products, recipe, software application. So quite a big list there and they all make sense, all those things make sense to show star reviews for. The big change here is that they've, they've done up the next section saying ‘self-serving reviews aren't allowed for local business and organization. Reviews that can be perceived as self-serving aren't in the best interest of users - makes sense - we call reviews self-serving, when a review about entity A is placed on the website of entity A, either directly in their markup or via an embedded third-party widgets, that's why with this change we're not going to display review rich results anymore for schema types, local business and organization and the subtypes in cases when the entity being reviewed controls the reviews themselves.’

So to be, to be clear that means basically, any reviews you have on your sites about your own business whether it's reviews you have collected yourself,through your own system or it's an embedded widget such as Trustpilot, if you have the schema on your site to show the average rating for instance, that will no longer be removed, no longer be shown so it'll be removed from the search result and we've already seen that happen now there's a few people I know that had this and I've seen them already a few days later, they've lost that star rating in the, in the search result.

So if you've seen that and you've just noticed ‘oh hey I'm sure we had stars before’ - it's nothing you've done wrong, it's actually how Google is updating what they're displaying here. Google's quite helpfully actually gone on to give some more clarification here, so I'll read this to you, so update on September 18th, ‘To explain more in the past and entity like a business or an organization could add review markup about themselves to their home page or another page and often cause a review snippet to show for that page. That markup could have been added directly by the entity or embedded through the use of a third-party widget. We consider this self-serving because the entity itself has chosen to add the markup to its own pages about its own business or organization. Self-serving reviews are no longer displayed for businesses and organizations’ - which is the local business and organization schema types - ‘For example, we will no longer display rich review snippets for how many people have reviewed a business, if those reviews are considered self-serving.’

They've got a little FAQ here as well, which is quite helpful! So, ‘what if I'm using a third-party widget to display reviews about my business?’ and they’ve answered: ‘Google Search won't display review snippets for those pages. Embedding a third-party widget is seen as controlling the process of linking reviews.’

‘Do I need to remove self-serving reviews from local business or organization?; No you don't need to remove them, Google search just won't display review snippets for these pages anymore.

‘Will I get a manual action for having self-serving reviews on my site?’ Google says you won't get a manual action for this however, they do recommend making sure that your structured data follows the guidelines. From experience from reports from other people I've seen, when people are caught abusing schemer and purposely misusing it, what tends to happen is their site, it just has the ability to show Rich Snippets removed, rather than the sites are whole getting a penalty. I think that's probably because quite a lot of people mess it up by accident so it wouldn't, it would probably cause more trouble than it's worth for Google to start applying actual ranking penalties to those sites.

‘Does this update affect Google my business listing?’ - which is the listing when you normally Google your brand name and you get in the right in the panel. No Google my business is not affected as its update only relates to organic search.

‘Will sites that gather reviews about other organizations be affected?’ No that's unchanged. Sites that gather reviews can show up review snippets, so they're saying there, for the actual sites like Trustpilot for instance, if they've reviewed a company, your stars that appear on the Trustpilot site can appear in the search result, but they can't appear if you embed the Trustpilot widget on your site for your own page listing. This update applies to both the review and aggregate rating markup.

Lastly, it's quite interesting here, it says, ‘How do I report if a self-serving review is still appearing in search results?’ and Google answered, ‘We're considering creating a special form for this if needed. We’re slowly rolling out this change so you may still see some cases of review stars where they shouldn't be.’

We've seen something similar with Google's efforts, or lack of, to improve Google my business listings in Google Maps, they actually made a Google my business redressal form which we covered before, that you can submit specific cases of, if someone has a fake or misleading listing, they're saying they’re somewhere where they aren't or they've changed their name to add keywords in, etc. you can you can report through there, with mixed results.

What I think is particularly interesting about this is that one of the reasons Google became successful, as I say as a search engine, is because they took the power away from webmasters in terms of what, how they should rank site, so obviously before Google, a lot of search engines relied very heavily on the keywords on a page and the content on a page and when webmasters got wind of this, they abused it because they wanted to rank better, so they were stuffing hundreds of words into their copy, into their meta keywords and that was messing up the search results.

When Google came along with a link graph PageRank based method, they were taking that ranking power away from webmasters and kind of democratizing it in a way which was depending on other entities, other websites to link and kind of, vote for that site. With scheme,r we've seen almost like a 180 in this, so Google obviously has its intentions to become this instant answers engine and they found to be able to do that effectively their heuristic method of trying to work out what everything is and how it's connected, just doesn't scale with the accuracy that they need. So they're relying on people using things like, signing up and using things like schema to help them label that data and understand how it fits and by doing that, they're actually investing a lot of trust into people providing them this data, which is why we're seeing it being misused time and time again, for the short term gain of getting that extra snippet or getting that ranking where you shouldn't have it.

This is a really quick, small update I really wanted to just get it in the podcast, in this show very quickly. I noticed last week in Google Search Console and sure enough on the actually the Google webmasters Twitter, they said, ‘Great news, we have a new report on Search Console. As of today, if you have breadcrumb structured data in your site you'll see a new report under enhancements to check if you have errors and get to work.’ So the old Google Search Console was permanently sunset, I think it was a week or last week or the week before, which essentially means we can't access the old interface which many professional SEOs were doing up until the last possible minute because there were still tools and reports that existed in the old interface that have not been migrated over to the new interface yet. And actually I've seen there's still the old interface, is still there somewhere; I was adding and removing some users from our various search console accounts yesterday and I got stuck in the old interface, somehow I managed up in the, in the old interface for adding and removing users and it wouldn't let me kind of jump back over the fence into the new front end.

So this, this new front end is here to stay. They haven't been particularly forthcoming with details about when and even if we're going to get all of the old tools and reports ported over and some of the data that we see in the new Search Console is a little bit more fluffy and vague than the old Search Console data which is watering down again what we can actually do with it. But however, they've gifted us this, this new report in Google search console so, breadcrumbs are when you do a Google search, so rather than just listing the URL sometimes you'll see you have like a structured what category or section of the website you're in, directly in the search result and that's powered by the breadcrumbs structured data.

So you've now got a report in Search Console, if you go in there, to basically show you if they're valid or if you are having errors and that could be really useful because you can obviously have tens, hundreds of thousands, millions of these. There are breadcrumbs in different places on your site and it can be very difficult through, even though third-party tools that exist that monitor search results, to try and find if any of them are erroring or not working correctly. So that's in Search Console, you can find it under enhancements again, they’ll be a link in the show notes to the tweet so you can see it for yourself.

Microsoft has announced some interesting new audience targeting options, on the 18th of September, on their blog. So we again, we previously spoke about some different audience sharing you could do within Microsoft properties before with LinkedIn and it's really interesting looking at the route that Microsoft is taking. While their search engine Bing certainly doesn't have the market dominance Google has, it does seem that they're using, that they're putting the pieces together with all their different services, all their different platforms and the Microsoft graph and all their products to try and build something that is useful for businesses and maybe can fill a slightly different space and give some reach that Google doesn't have.

So the Microsoft post says, ‘Search advertising used to be solely focused on keyword queries but these days that isn't enough to reach people who are ready to buy’ - so already they're positioning, they're positioning themselves to look at this intent based model and that's something as well that we've seen Google takes slower steps towards because they don't want to rock the boat too much and you know Google Ads is still 90% of their revenue, it’s keyword based but a lot of the new smart bidding stuff that Google's doing talks a lot more about previous behavior, intent device and that myriad, that mosaic of data that informs us as to what people might actually want and there's been several people talking about actually when we get to a stage where we're bidding on intent rather than keywords. So Microsoft I think is trying to set up their stall here as early as possible.

Microsoft advertising can take your step further towards reaching the right people, in the right way. ‘Our tools allow you the ability to customise the experience by using your own company data to connect it with keywords, demographics and the power of the Microsoft graph; a rich data set that is constantly evolving to deliver audience targeting that finds your absolute best possible customers.’ So written in a very Microsoft Way, what we've just been saying which is that they're trying to bridge this gap between just keywords and the data they've got between platforms on intent. The post goes on to say ‘In everything we do at Microsoft advertising, we put people first. We have principles we adhere to regarding ethics in how we handle this data as well as ethics in terms of development and usage of technology such as AI. Today we are announcing new audience targeting solutions in open beta, that combine your secure customer data with new Microsoft technology to pinpoint your ideal customers when they're ready to buy.’ To the open beta is you know, the star, star it's not quite finished yet but it's out there for everyone to test.

The two main audiences types that they're now allowing targeting for are product audiences, they're calling them, and similar audiences. So if we start with product audiences, the kind of strap line they have for this is, ‘Boost your shopping campaigns performance with better conversion rates and lower cost per acquisition CPA. Product audiences help connect customers to your products by creating remarketing lists for specific products in your shopping campaigns, unique product IDs track what a customer interacts with, while an ad display matches that Product ID, helping you reach more customers who have clear purchase intent. Customers using the product audiences feature in our pilot study, saw up to double the conversion rates and a 40% lower cost per acquisition.’ And then they go on to talk about similar audiences and the two second pitch for similar audiences is ‘Increase conversion rates by finding prospects who are just like your best customers’ - so this is similar to the kind of features we already see on places like Facebook - ‘so similar audiences automatically finds new customers who have similar interests to your existing remarketing lists. these look-alike prospects are a great fit for your business, increasing your conversion rates and ROI. In early pilot studies customers saw 70% higher conversion rates from similar audiences when compared to non targeted users for the same ads.’

Most people that run PPC campaigns will run a Bing ads campaign alongside Google ads while the majority of the traffic will come from Google ads because they have the market share, for a long time Bing ads has allowed you to just directly import search campaigns from Google ads into Bing. That's been quite an effective way, I think, to get the to keep hold of some of this paid search marketing share because if you lower the cost of entry, you can you can make it quite attractive for advertisers. So if you're getting one tenth or one twentieth of the traffic from Bing, that you're getting from Google it may not be worth your time to go in and spend ages setting up an account on Bing because it would just take you too long to get that return. Because they've made it possible so you can just import your campaign that you know is working from Google Ads, you can get up to speed in minutes rather than hours - so that's a very low-cost way to get everything running on Bing and it allows you to test things as well on Google and make sure they're working. So this might be a way that Microsoft can actually look at expanding how much people are spending on Bing ads by using these audience features.

The results that they're showing in their pilot study are possibly optimistic which they're obviously going to try and do to get people to come on the platform and try and use them. 70% higher conversion rates etc. is a huge claim to make, so I’d be really interested to see if this does pan out how Microsoft is selling it.

That's everything for this episode of Search with Candour! You can find all the show notes at and if you are in Norwich, please give a thought to attending our SearchNorwich meetup! The next one is going to be the 7th of November, we've got two very special guests; one is flying in from a land far, far away to come and do a talk just for you about different SEO tools on the market and how you can use them and we've also managed to hook one of the most experienced SEOs I certainly know that's worked in some very, very competitive sectors, with some of the biggest online companies going. So two people, really gonna be good to hear from. They're gonna be talking in Norwich, at search Norwich and on the 7th of November and you can find out more about that

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