We did not even have the time to recover from the November 2021 Core Update, and here comes a new Google algorithmic update, but this time focuses on a very particular type of query and content: it is in fact started the Product Reviews Update, that tries to improve the results provided by the search engine for content related to the “product reviews“, that are shown when we search on Google information on a product by typing its name with the addition of the term reviews (for example, iphone 13 reviews).

Google Product Reviews Update, what it is and which sites are affected

The most attentive readers will remember that it is not the first time that Google intervenes on this issue, which in fact was already the focus of an update last April: the new Product Reviews Update is precisely the continuation of the work begun eight months ago to promote and bring out high quality product reviews in SERP, in reference to both reviews of a single product and those dedicated to a product group, until reviews of services.

This second Product Reviews Update was released on December 1 and will be completed by the end of the year; according to information released, is only active on English-speaking pages. Technically, it should only have an impact on a specific type of content – pages focused on the review of products of all kinds – and not on other types of content, and affects both the ranking in the classic SERP and the performance in Google Discover.

The goal promoted (and promised) by these updates is to reward the pages and sites that publish reviews of quality products, written by experts or enthusiasts who know the subject well and who perform in-depth analysis and original research, and not “poor contents that simply summarize the characteristics of a product group”, as clarified by Google as early as April. Many of these low-quality content comes from affiliated sites, which publish fake reviews that are closer to rewritten versions of product specifications.

In other words, the algorithms will not directly punish reviews of products deemed to be of lower quality, but the pages that provide such content may notice decreases in positioning due to overtaking by other sites. Although the effect is similar to that of a penalty, technically it is just Google’s different way of evaluating , which brings out with higher rankings sites with more in-depth review content.

What changes with the new Product Reviews Update

To take stock of what is changing is a post published on Google’s blog, which describes the novelties made by this second change and offers new tips and best practices to sites that want to align themselves with Google’s wishes.

Or, better to say, to the wishes and needs of users: to move the action of Google, in fact, is the will to present to those who use the search engine of pages with more useful and accurate information, and not simply collections of products with news copied from other sources (including, often, descriptions of the original producers themselves).

In particular, in recent months Google has received a greater amount of “feedback from users on what type of content reviews is considered reliable and useful“, namely “reviews in which there is evidence that the products have actually been tested” and “possibility to have more options to buy the product”, instead of pages that offer a single link to e-commerce stores.

Also thanks to these two indications has been implemented the new update, which carries on the operation of improvement of the SERP started in the past months. For those who have already adjusted the pages of his site to the advice provided in April, says Google, the release of the second Product Review Update Google may be the opportunity to see improvements in the ranking, although – the post clarifies – the “automated evaluation of the content of product reviews is just one of many factors used in content classification, so changes can occur at any time for various reasons”.

Two new tips for who creates content

The search engine team also updated the recommendations to produce quality product reviews, introducing in particular two new best practices that creators of these content should follow (or at least take into account):

  • Provide evidence such as images, audio or other links of your experience with the product, to support the recognition of expertise and strengthen the authenticity of the review.
  • Include links to multiple retailers to give the reader a chance to buy from their preferred merchant.

In practice, then, Google suggests on the one hand to expand the number of outgoing links to sites resellers of the product (which might be problematic for a site that makes specific affiliations, in fact)while on the other invites to more multimedia content to make the review truthful. In addition, it is impossible not to notice how, also in this case, the focus on expertise, one of the concepts behind the E-A-T paradigm, in fact, as pointed out by various observers, anyone can take a description of the manufacturer, add a little mumbo-jumbo and then insert an affiliate link to Amazon, but not everyone can write a solid review, based on a wide experience in a given category.

Google’s explanations

Barry Schwartz on Seroundtable collected a series of answers provided by various Googlers via social, which help to better understand the intentions and objectives of the Product Reviews Update just launched.

In particular, Developer Advocate Alan Kent (specialized in e-commerce) clarifies that the update is mainly relevant ” for sites that publish articles that review products”, making the example of a site like “bestTVsunder$200.com” (something like “lemiglioriTVsottoi200dollari.com”, and tries to “improve the quality and usefulness of the reviews shown to users”.

In more detail, Kent quickly focuses on two innovative aspects for content creators: first, in relation to the meaning of the invitation to include outgoing links to multiple retailers, it points out that people “distrust reviews in which everyone points to a seller’s affiliate links“, because they raise the question “whether it is really a good review, or whether it is trying to maximize what the seller wants to push”which, on the contrary, the inclusion of links to other retailers may reduce or eliminate.

The use of “tests” to demonstrate that the product has actually been tested serves, instead, to resolve another doubt that may affect readers, namely that the author is only processing third-party information. Google therefore wants to better position pages written by someone “who has made a real effort to review a product and is offering real value to the community”, and advice on “things to include in the review serve to make clear the effort he put in personally”.

These contents are much more useful than those proposed by a site that “takes product descriptions from sellers, makes small changes and then publishes them as a review”, because they are made by “someone who really reviews the product and gives their own unique perspective on it”.

John Mueller also spoke on the subject, reiterating that Google “does not recommend simply reuse the content and call it a review, because it is not a review if the author is just reformulating the specifications and is not reviewing the product”. Based on his experience, there are “tons of copy-paste reviews of very low quality”, but in addition to the obviously bad ones “there is also a ton of content in which you take the pages of products, reformulating or rewriting them as something new” and that it fits well because “now there is no metric for this and is seen as a fantastic content”.

In short, the Googlers imply that, especially in the long term, the search engine will be able to recognize and reward only those who are really dedicated to creating a unique content and able to stand out from those from the competition for the review of a product, adding details and evidence to certify this effort to readers.

SEOs’ analysis on Product Reviews Update

Although this update (for now) does not yet concern the Italian Google, it is good to know what are the central points highlighted by international SEO analysts.

In particular, already in April Glenn Gabe and Jennifer Slegg had dedicated interesting insights on the Product Reviews Update and its effects, and their considerations are even more useful at this stage.

Gabe, for example, has “heavily analyzed the update since it was launched, including the impact on different niche categories, affected content, site-level results, user experience factors in affected sites and more”, and noted that – in a similar way to the broad core update – it takes into consideration and performs an evaluation at the level of site and section, not only of single pages. Even sites with UGC reviews were affected by the update, especially those for which UGC reviews constituted a large part of the main content of each page.

Most of all, however, already in April it was becoming clear the focus on the competence required of the author who writes and publishes a review, and Google has rewarded sites “who had reviews written by experts or enthusiasts and provided solid information about the author on the page or on the site (via a biography)” and who showed “a logo and a brand at the top of the page”which immediately let the reader know who is providing the information. These aspects are also some of the EAT signals for Google, which we can easily add to our sites to strengthen the understanding that the search engine has of our brand and the people who write to us.

It goes even further in detail the work of Jennifer Slegg, which first clarifies one aspect: the update does not “specifically target all affiliated sites”, but “affiliated sites that are not doing anything to improve the user experience with their reviews” and, at the same time, also “sites that offer reviews of low quality products that earn through Google Adsense or other advertising networks and not through affiliate links”.

Even according to his analysis, to be able to emerge in the charts you have to work hard on E-A-T, highlighting the competence of the authors of the reviews and the reasons why users should trust them, “including more information and original data in such reviews to bring them to a higher level of quality, whether it be video, images, additional research, benchmarks, real statistics and feedback on products”.