Google rich snippets are a good idea in theory, though in practice it seems that they have been a little more problematic. If ever you've done a search in Google then you'll have come across them – they're the short snippet of content that appears underneath the main URL, but that might also include user reviews and star ratings. This sample content exists for all websites and allows viewers to discern which sites to browse, but where rich snippets are concerned this also helps them make decisions such as which product to buy, or whether a service is any good before they visit the page at all. These work by looking for structured data that is embedded in websites as markup formats.
So in other words you would search for a type of hair brush, and up would come Amazon and eBay and there you'd see the star ratings for the product lifted from the page and right there in the snippet for your convenience – so you could decide without clicking whether you wanted the brush or not (and from Google's perspective it's a win as you're staying on their site longer).
The Inevitable Abuse
Of course though it wasn't long before people started abusing this feature, and of course now it's commonplace to see rich snippets with reviews on almost any search related to a product. And likewise any review relating to a service, or even anything else at all. If a company website comes up when you search for a restaurant then that shouldn't include a five star rating unless those are genuine ratings by visitors (which most businesses wouldn't allow on their site for fear of backlash).
What companies are doing then is rating themselves as five star products (even sometimes when they don't sell anything at all) in their code to make it look at a glance like their site has been well reviewed. There are a few ways to spot this: a) the company doesn't provide a range of products, b) there is no space to rate or review when you visit the actual site and c) the rating will be 5 star but you won't be able to read any of the reviews (on eBay the reviews are hyperlinks).
The question is, how long will it be before every site on Google has a five star rating? Oops...
Google has of course noticed this and as a result they have decided to take countermeasures. Whether or not Google shows the rich snippets that you opt to include is apparently calculated 'algorithmically' and of course it would take a huge team of humans to check each site. Instead then they are 'crowd sourcing' or in other words turning to us folk to report when we see a site abusing the rich snippets. Pierre Far of Google said on his Google+ page recently that if you should find rich snippets that 'hurt the search quality' you can submit them to the support page at Google.
It's unlikely however that this will be enough to completely stop the problem, as it would take a big team to find and put a stop to all the sites using the snippets. So what else could Google do? Make the algorithm be more thorough in making sure there are actual reviews that are regularly added to? Or removing the rich snippets all together? And is using the rich snippets to promote your site or service something you'd consider doing, or is the risk of potential penalty somewhere in the future to great? Have your say in the comments below!
Jeet is part-time passionate writer; He also manages link building company named GetLinksPro situated in Mumbai,Maharashtra. Follow Jeet on Twitter @GetLinksPro