In April 2021, Google changed how they assess content which ‘reviews’ products and services. The “Product reviews update” made it harder for pages that do little more than “summarize a bunch of products” to rank highly. But, unlike many other Google updates, this one came with a cheat sheet that describes what site editors need to do in order to outperform their competitors. And there’s a ton which we can all learn from these guidelines.
Table of contents
- Browsing reviews is rarely a great user experience
- Google’s Product Reviews update introduces new quality requirements
- “But my site doesn’t publish reviews!”
- Most searches are a type of ‘review’
- This focus on trust and quality isn’t new
- Because Google isn’t just a machine
- These are all the same kinds of quality questions
- A combined cheat-sheet for high-quality content
- For the search engine results page:
- For product (or service) pages:
- In conclusion
Browsing reviews is rarely a great user experience
If you’ve ever researched a purchase decision online, you’ve almost certainly ended up on websites and pages which just aren’t very helpful when it comes to assessing, comparing, and finally picking a product. Many reviews pages might show you a few product recommendations, but they don’t help you to weigh the options, understand the details, or really explore the trade-offs and benefits of each choice.
These kinds of poor experiences are a problem. Searching for product reviews, comparisons and information is a huge part of how we use Google, and how we spend our time online. So it’s no surprise that Google is taking steps to make sure that the pages we find are helpful, trustworthy, and reliable.
Google’s Product Reviews update introduces new quality requirements
By way of announcing the update, Google published a page of documentation on their Google Search Central blog. It’s a great post, which goes into depth in describing the kinds of questions that content creators should ask themselves when publishing reviews.
The guidelines set a high bar. They expect original research, deep competitor analysis, and long-form comparison content – and that’s just for starters. If you’re going to review products, you need to do far more than just present a list of options with quick “pros and cons”. If you want your reviews to rank, you need to prove that you have the expertise and rigor to make a valid, unbiased analysis and comparison.
Take a look at some of their example questions. We’ve emphasized the bits which we think really stand out. Bear in mind that these aren’t things that they’re explicitly measuring; they’re examples of the kinds of quality assessments their systems are trying to make based on the data that they collect and analyze.
They ask if your reviews:
- Express expert knowledge about products where appropriate?
- 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?
- Identify key decision-making factors for the product’s category and how the product performs in those areas?
This is a lot to ask! These requirements might represent hours – maybe even days – of work. But if you write reviews on your website, you need to try to meet (and exceed) these standards. If you fall short, you may find that competitors with better content outpace and outperform you in the search results.
“But my site doesn’t publish reviews!”
Even if your website doesn’t publish reviews, there’s a lot that you can learn and use here. The levels of depth, rigor, and authenticity that Google requires for review pages aren’t radically different from the expectations they have of ‘normal’ content. Your blog posts, product pages, and own content should aim to meet the kinds of quality levels described in this checklist.
These are the kinds of expectations that Google has of all of our content – because they’re the expectations that our users have of our content. They’re also the kinds of questions our users ask as part of the search process itself.
Most searches are a type of ‘review’
When you search on Google, you review the results. You compare websites, decide which to click, decide whether to stay, and decide whether to convert. You do this based on what you know, what you see, and the experience you have as you walk through those processes.
That means that we can take Google’s review guidelines, and apply them to the entire search experience. We can think about how users search, how they form opinions and preferences, and how we might use these guidelines to improve our own performance.
Many of these questions can apply even before the user reaches your webpage. Is your brand recognizable and memorable? Have you optimized your snippet, to present your page in the best possible way? Is it clear what sets you apart, and where you have specialist expertise?
Users will look for clues, and make decisions (consciously or otherwise) based on what they see, all the way through their journey. Your audience is constantly reviewing you, versus your competitors.