We’re all used to seeing star ratings in the SERPs for things like movies (IMDB/Rotten Tomatoes), products (Amazon) and restaurants (Yelp). Over the past month or so, I’ve noticed them appearing alongside listings/rich snippets in the organic search results for regular websites and blog posts.
This seemed out of place to me, so I did some research.
As it turns out, it’s pretty simple to get a star rating in the SERPs for any old run-of-the-mill page. I used the following format to add a “review” to the homepage of johnvantine.com.
<span class="reviewer">Name of reviewer</span>
<span class="dtreviewed" title="YYYY-MM-DD">Date of review</span>
<span class="summary">Review summary</span>
<span class="description">Review body</span>
<span class="rating">Numerical rating (from 1-5)</span>
The review is not fake, mind you! It was written by Ryan Farrell. Anyway, I added the review to the homepage on Wednesday. I checked the SERPs on Thursday morning, and the star rating was showing up along with my listing.
At the time of this writing, it still is. You’ll also notice that my meta description is being truncated – normally the full description (157 characters) is displayed, but since the star rating showed up, it’s being cut off at 139 characters. The addition of “3 days ago” is probably causing this.
How is this done? In the above example, the hReview microformat was used. hReview is just one part of the Microformats standard. Microformats are used to help search engines understand what they’re looking at. When they’re added to a site, it will still appear normally to human users, but “behind the scenes” a sort of framework is established that tells the search engine explicitly what different types of data are: “this is the street address of my business. This is the city name, and this is the telephone number.” The search engines can then use this information in various ways which can be beneficial to the publisher.
Anyway, I think it goes without saying that the potential for abuse exists. To take this one step further, some sites are using (abusing?) this structured markup to show “double star ratings” in the SERPs:
In the example above, Google displays the star rating from the Google Places listing in addition to their hReview rating. In my opinion, this is taking it a little too far. I’d call this “pushing your luck”, and I can’t imagine that it will last for too long.
The mere presence of these star ratings next to your listing in the SERPs makes it stand out to a searcher, and I’d imagine it has a positive impact on your CTR. If you have a 4 or 5 star rating and hundreds of reviews, you’ve got a pretty serious advantage over the competition, who now look slightly boring in comparison.
If you’re running a site that utilizes reviews, especially any sort of ecommerce site, I’d urge you to get on the ball and add structured markup to your HTML with Microformats.org or Schema.org. Do some research! If you’re running WordPress, there are plugins available that’ll do it for you!
Also, there’s no need to wait for the spiders to crawl your site in order to see how the rich snippet appears – you can get an instant preview by using the Rich Snippets Testing Tool in Webmaster Tools.
Addendum: For the record, Schema.org seems to be the format that Google prefers (see here), but I went with microformats because it was being used in the first example of star ratings on regular sites in the SERPs that I encountered. If you’re new to rich snippets, check out this helpful visual guide written by Selena Narayanasamy.