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What is Google’s Product Review Algorithm Update? (+ SEO Tips)

What is Google’s Product Review Algorithm Update? (+ SEO Tips)

Google recently dropped an announcement for the latest addition to its search engine algorithm collection.

The Google “Product Reviews” algorithm update has some big implications for a very specific segment of internet content – which is product review articles/blogs. And with the roll-out of this algorithm also comes more detailed guidance for marketers and businesses about what exactly is good content, and how to create it!

So what is the Google product reviews update? And what exactly does it mean for product review SEO? Or even search optimization in general?

Here we’ll go over it.

How Google describes its product reviews algorithm

Google’s Search Central Blog claims that the point of the new update is to address the specific world of online product review content.

Their main motivation is to make sure that – as a search engine – Google can surface only the best, most accurate, and high-quality content for users that rely on to research products, make purchases, and navigate through eCommerce decisions. After all, almost every shopper as looked up user reviews or product reviews before making a big and expensive purchase.

According to Google the purpose of the product reviews update is to focus on:

reviews that share in-depth research, rather than thin content that simply summarizes a bunch of products. That’s why we’re sharing an improvement to our ranking systems, which we call the product reviews update, that’s designed to better reward such content.

The algorithm effects all English language searches (and at first, only English language queries). And the update is not a core-algorithm update. That means it only effects rankings for certain types of content in the search index.

Brands and businesses that do not publish “product reviews” will not be affected by this update.

According to Google, it’s designed to “better reward” product review pages/blogs/content that “share in-depth research, rather than thin content that simply summarizes a bunch of products.”

And according to Google’s Danny Sullivan this will effect not just eCommerce product reviews, but all types of reviews including service business reviews, single product reviews, product “round-ups,” and more.

The update is broader in its scope, meaning that it might be more likely to effect websites as a whole, or sections of a site. In fact, Google’s John Mueller as told marketers that these types of changes to the algorithm are meant for broader “parts of sites, or the site overall.” This suggests that content publishers/review sites are more likely to be effected – instead of say eCommerce sellers with one-off reviews.

How to make SEO optimized content for the product reviews update

Fortunately for online business owners, content creators, and marketers, Google has come right out and provided guidance about how to create good content for this algorithm!

There’s no information on how the algorithm update technically functions, or what sort of on-page SEO ranking factors are used as signals. But aside from well-known SEO best practices, it’s best to approach this update by making sure that product review content is high-quality and helpful to users.

The main goal of this update is to float expert and insightful analysis to the top of search results in favor of thin or vague content. It’s meant to promote original research, content written by “experts or enthusiasts” who know the topic well.

In fact, Google as outlined 9 useful questions to consider regarding their product reviews, which marketers can use as guidance for product review SEO.

Do your reviews…

  • Express expert knowledge about products where appropriate?
  • Show what the product is like physically, or how it is used, with unique content beyond what’s provided by the manufacturer?
  • Provide quantitative measurements about how a product measures up in various categories of performance?
  • Explain what sets a product apart from its competitors?
  • Cover comparable products to consider, or explain which products might be best for certain uses or circumstances?
  • Discuss the benefits and drawbacks of a particular product, based on research into it?
  • Describe how a product has evolved from previous models or releases to provide improvements, address issues, or otherwise help users in making a purchase decision?
  • Identify key decision-making factors for the product’s category and how the product performs in those areas? For example, a car review might determine that fuel economy, safety, and handling are key decision-making factors and rate performance in those areas.
  • Describe key choices in how a product has been designed and their effect on the users beyond what the manufacturer says?

To better optimize content for the Google product reviews update, these questions can help content creators ensure they can meet user needs, and not just provide empty words.

It’s not a core algorithm update

An example of a bicycle product review search results page on google

The Google product reviews algorithm is not a core update, meaning that it does not affect all rankings/pages in the Google search index.

This means that for many brands, businesses, eCommerce sellers, and publishers there’s nothing to worry about. That is unless they also publish reviews, such as in the form of blogs.

It’s not known how Google’s algorithm is able to differentiate what content is considered a review and what is not – but it’s likely built on elements like Google’s increased natural-language processing abilities, including past algorithm updates like the BERT AI, which introduced an ability to understand language/content more like a human would. Being able to get better product review SEO results means understanding how Google uses these concepts to better serve its users.

Additional SEO best-practices for product related content

In light of the product reviews update, Google has re-iterated the need for high-quality, user-focused content across all of SEO.

Here’s what brands need to know for how to create the best, SEO-rich content.

Providing better product information for shoppers is still as important as ever for retailers and businesses – regardless of whether or not it counts as a review.

Google relies on accurate and trusted product data to precisely identify products that are available for shoppers – that means better results in regular search engine results pages (SERPs) as well as in Google Shopping results.

Google recommends that businesses focus on content that provides clear information, clear product IDs (like SKUs or GTINs), use exact product names, structured data/schema, quality photos, and more.

Be careful with sponsored content, especially with backlinks – don’t buy into the common misconception that product review pages/blogs are ways to give/get free backlinks. Website owners can still tell Google about sponsored content by using the sponsored content HTML meta-tag on their site, and by properly utilizing robots HTML commands. Although it’s not known whether the product reviews algorithm cares about sponsored content – generally Google understands the existence of affiliate marketing/sponsored content and offers the above elements to handle it.

Webmaster guidelines for the best SEO content

One of the single best things online businesses can do is to focus on high-quality content. For SEO, content is an important ranking factor that helps search engines understand the webpage, find keywords, and determine index rankings.

Fortunately, Google gives clear guidance on what content it prefers! Here are just a few, that can also be used to optimize for the Google product reviews algorithm update:

  • Create a useful, information-rich site, and write pages that clearly and accurately describe your content.
  • Think about the words users would type to find your pages, and make sure that your site actually includes those words within it.
  • Ensure that your <title> elements and alt attributes are descriptive, specific, and accurate.
  • Avoid spammy, manipulative, or misleading content.
  • Make pages primarily for users, not for search engines.
  • Don’t deceive your users.
  • Avoid tricks intended to improve search engine rankings. A good rule of thumb is whether you’d feel comfortable explaining what you’ve done to a website that competes with you, or to a Google employee. Another useful test is to ask, “Does this help my users? Would I do this if search engines didn’t exist?”
  • Think about what makes your website unique, valuable, or engaging. Make your website stand out from others in your field.

Inbound marketing with EAT

Since the Google product reviews update places so much emphasis on quality content it’s good practice to look at other ways to get good SEO content.

For an inbound strategy that drives better product review SEO, focus on writing EAT content – or content with “Expertise, Authority, and Trustworthiness.” Websites with lots of EAT means websites featuring content that is not only useful, but is built on their overall expertise, authority, and trusted reputation for a certain subject matter or niche.

The idea comes from their Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines that outlines the concept of EAT for the search giant’s human reviewers. It’s what they use to evaluate how well their search algorithms perform – and it can be used as a guide for what Google actually considers good content (even for product review update SEO).

Though EAT isn’t itself a discrete ranking system, it compels marketers to consider certain signals on their site that can improve SEO. It’s a hugely important concept to understand for better optimized content marketing.

It also emphasizes user experience as the primary point of content.

Afterall, what’s the point of content (and SEO) if visitors and shoppers don’t get what they’re looking for – or worse – only find low-quality, weak content?

Google’s guide on EAT content works as a guide for inbound marketers using SEO and content strategies. It specifies that a “high quality page should have a beneficial purpose and achieve that purpose well.” Specifically, they say that on-page content should have:

  • High level of Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness (E-A-T).
  • A satisfying amount of high-quality MC, including a descriptive or helpful title.
  • Satisfying website information and/or information about who is responsible for the website. If the page is primarily for shopping or includes financial transactions, then it should have satisfying customer service information.
  • Positive website reputation for a website that is responsible for the main content on the page. Positive reputation of the creator of the main content, if different from that of the website.

Content for user “needs met”

There’s another core idea that should run through the heart of all of your content. And that is “needs met.”

Needs met is essentially what it sounds like: will visitors find their “needs met” when they visit your page?

This concept also comes from Google’s search quality evaluator guidelines – and it means that everyone who reads or visits your site should hopefully come away from it with the feeling that their needs were fully met.

When creating content for both your website and for off-site marketing channels, it’s important to make sure that you use product-review SEO keywords that match with the content’s subject matter, and to provide a UX that will help visitors get to their ultimate goal. Whether that’s making a purchase, researching information, navigating somewhere, filling out a form, etc.

This means understanding search intent marketing (what the intent, or the actual individual’s goal is when they use Google or Bing), and creating content that actually matches that intent and meets their needs.

For example, with a product review, a person might type a query like “iPhone X camera quality review” or “Hyundai Sonata consumer safety reviews” – and it’s possible that Google will use the product reviews update to rank the results. For brands, publishers, and reviewers that want to appear for these searches, it’s best to ask themselves “what do people searching these things actually want” and to try to create content that meets those needs (a.k.a. “needs met”). Understanding searcher intent is core to being able to provide them with great results – and for improving product review SEO.

Why content matters for shopper marketing

When it comes to better product review SEO it’s important to remember who it’s all for – the shoppers! Growing your business online organically means understanding what they really want, and how SEO fits into modern shopping habits.

Think With Google data shows that these days, 47% of global purchases are made online, additionally nearly 1/2 of all shoppers use Google to discover new items or products, and in 2019 retail eCommerce alone brought in $3.5 trillion in the U.S. That’s not all, according to BrightEdge over 40% of revenue is captured by organic search engine traffic! More than half of shoppers say they use Google to research a purchase they “plan to make online,” 59% say they use Google to research a purchase they “plan to make in-store or online,” and more than half of people surveyed claim they use the search engine to “discover or find a new brand.”

Internet shopping and browsing is the new normal for the way people buy stuff for their daily lives, and even for how they discover new brands. Understanding how product review content (and even product review SEO) plays into modern marketing will help content publishers expand their reach better than ever!

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