People are accustomed to seeing star ratings (also known as “Review Rich Snippets”) in Google’s organic search results. For example:
Previously, anyone could implement a piece of “schema” code on their website which would tell Google to display review stars for specific pages in their organic search results. While many law firms have been adding schema review code as a way to try and differentiate themselves from the competition on the ever-important “Google home page”, it looks like this is about to go away.
Who is Going to be Affected?
Yesterday, Google announced a change to the algorithm which will ultimately remove star ratings from organic search results for the LocalBusiness and Organization schema types. Google is specifically scrutinizing these two specific schema types, under which most law firms are categorized, to control for inauthentic reviews, thus eliminating “self-serving” reviews where the website owner can control their ratings. Specifically, Google stated
“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. That’s why, with this change, we’re not going to display review rich results anymore for the schema types LocalBusiness and Organization (and their subtypes) in cases when the entity being reviewed controls the reviews themselves.”
According to Google, their aim is to make search results more helpful and meaningful by eliminating self-serving reviews like those mentioned above. They didn’t mention when this will be rolled out, but historically speaking, we can guess that it will be happening immediately. We have already started to see instances of stars being removed from entire markets.
Please note that stars will still show up on local business listings next to the map, as well as third-party review sites like Yelp and Avvo. The current change will only affect Google’s organic results and stars showing up. Rankings should not be affected.
Keep or remove the schema?
We recommend keeping your schema markup as is. Google is calling this an algorithmic update and will be ignoring (rather than penalizing) schema markup that is tied to reviews of the site owner.
The reviews you already have on your site remain an important signal to site visitors of trust and quality. You should also continue getting more reviews for your site as part of your business strategy.
The only thing changing at this time is that the star snippets for these reviews will no longer be displayed in Google’s organic search results. Keep in mind that this will affect all attorneys in every market, which includes your competition. If your stars are gone and your competitors aren’t quite yet, don’t panic! Google typically rolls updates out over time. Keep us posted if your competitors’ stars are still around in a couple of weeks.
Make a couple of small adjustments.
If you haven’t already built a process for acquiring more 3rd party reviews, you will likely want to soon. The value of 1st party reviews for your personal website are now less important than ever. It is still a good practice to add testimonials to your site when a client emails you an amazing review or even hand writes a letter, but there are many 3rd party tools for review management which already allow you to syndicate reviews from Google or Facebook to your website. Shift your focus to getting reviews to third-party sites like your GMB profile, Avvo, Facebook and Yelp, and continue building a process to always be getting more reviews. There is no reason you shouldn’t have multiple reviews on multiple platforms in today’s world.
There is still a lot of gray area surrounding this recent Google announcement. We will continue to monitor things as new information comes out.