One of the things that sets Google apart from other search engines is the amount of information they give to searchers. Google has encouraged website owners to use schema markups and other tools to let the search engine no pertinent information that customers want to know. These “Rich Results” can be extremely helpful. However, whenever you give website owners the chance to affect what’s seen on Google directly, some bad actors will take advantage of the system. Google has begun to crack down on rich results abuse by reviewing commonly misused schema parameters. 

Rich results are things such as the star reviews you see next to certain search results. The information for these results often come from the website itself in the form of schema markups, and that has led to some abuse. As the saying goes, “This is why we can’t have nice things.” Google announced a shift in the way it will use schema data for rich results in search in the future.

In a post announcing the new direction, Google wrote, “To make them more helpful and meaningful, we are now introducing algorithmic updates to reviews in rich results. This also addresses some of the invalid or misleading implementations webmasters have flagged to us.”

The most frequently misused online features are related to reviews. Businesses want their products and services to have high scores and good reviews. However, when people manipulate the system to improve their results, it undermines the entire system. For that reason, Google is limiting the pool of schema types that can potentially trigger review rich results in search. Specifically, there is a list of 17 categories (and their related subcategories) that will trigger a rich review.

Though local businesses and organizations are still able to use rich review schema, Google is taking a firmer hand against self-serving practices. Google says they will no longer display review rich results for the schema types LocalBusiness and Organization (and their subtypes) in cases when the entity being reviewed controls the reviews themselves.

This change may affect more businesses than people realize. Even legitimate reviews are suspect if the company can remove reviews they don’t like. Many websites use reviews in a way that Google would deem inappropriate. 

As the company explained in the announcement, “Reviews that can be perceived as “self-serving” aren’t in the best interest of users. 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 3rd party widget.”

Websites that want to feature reviews in rich results will also need to tie the review to a specific item. With this update, the “name” property is now required. Businesses will need to specify the name of the item that’s being reviewed. Website owners and developers who have questions about the way this works can look at all these updates as documented in Google developer documentation.

For more news about updates and changes to Google, read this article on the new guidelines the company released for its search quality raters