Fairly recently search engines started to show ratings and reviews in search results. These can be indicated in several ways but is usually shown in Google as one to five stars and numbers showing the rating total and number of ratings. The obvious benefit here is two-fold; firstly, simply having a rating when the competition may not should help your website stand out to increase click through rates and, secondly, the ratings can enforce confidence in the item you are marketing.

Star ratings vs. reviews

There are two ways to enhance your search results using these techniques but boils down to a simple choice. The two options are as follows:
1 – Google star ratings are displayed using data pulled from the webpage you are marketing. We can see an example of this by searching for “the hobbit review” in Google.
Google ratings

2 – Google reviews aggregate data from external, and often expensive websites, into their newly acquired Zagat rating system as shown below.
Google reviews

The main difference between the two is simple; Zagat reviews are designed exclusively with restaurants in mind, so choosing between the two should be easy. The main point of confusion focuses around the different ways to implement star ratings into a website and how ratings may affect SERP placement.

How does Google judge reviews in search results?

It is very unclear how and/or if Google uses this data to rank results but it seems logical considering its potential value and costs Google incurred by buying Zagat. It would be easy to assume that the highest rating or most relevant result is placed highest, but that would make too much sense! Using the above image of Google reviews we can see that “The Refinery” has a lower score and less Google+ Local reviews yet ranks higher than some competitors. Just aiming thundering link cannons at your website or Google+ page won’t always work as expected.

It comes back to old fashioned elbow greese – a combination of a solid Google+ Local profile, positive feedback, links to your website and Google+ Local page, and citations.

Getting Star ratings in Google results

Implementing star ratings is far less mid-life crisis inducing to SEO Engineers as controlling negative reviews can be time consuming. Inserting the required code into a website is usually a fairly simple task and can provide great results. Google may take a while to reflect these changes which is to be expected when you have the internet to crawl.

Here is an example review borrowed (I’ll put it back later, honest) from Google’s Webmaster Tools help site…

Visitors will see:
Blast ‘Em Up—Game Review
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Search engines will see:

<span itemscope itemtype="http://data-vocabulary.org/Review">
<span itemprop=&quot;itemreviewed&amp;amp;amp;quot;>Blast 'Em Up</span>—Game Review
<span itemprop="rating" itemscope itemtype="http://data-vocabulary.org/Rating">
<span itemprop="value">7</span> out of
<span itemprop=">10</span>

The above code may look complicated and use some fancy terminology but, in practice, is pretty simple to implement by adding a few pointers for search engines to pick out the important information. Google, Bing, and Yahoo! now officially support Schema.org markup formatted using Microdata, it’s a good idea to follow their lead.

Adding star ratings to a website is usually a fairly quick and menial task while attracting solid reviews can be time consuming. Most of our clients will opt for star ratings simply because reviews are intended for restaurants. However, it may be worth considering using ratings if there are no reviews as a temporary solution.

Many sites try to game the system by using hidden tags and clearly faked ratings. So how does Google tell if the results are real? There seem to be a few things Google expects…

  • The ratings should change
  • The ratings should be changeable
  • Ratings should be different for seperate products/pages
  • They should appear natural

If we follow the tips above we should be able to manipulate the ratings to our liking… within reason. Obviously a product with a million five star ratings doesn’t look natural and may cause issues. We can use Google’s testing tool to check if our changes have worked.

Here be dragons!

The massive flaw should be apparent by now… *drum roll*
Bad publicity!

By implementing either technique there is a possibility that your pages will show with one star ratings or bad reviews. Reviews can be difficult to counter but ratings are fairly easy to change. It is well worth considering the possibility of bad press from any source before making a decision on which method to use, if any. Bad publicity can take many forms including, but not limited to: upset customers, disgruntled employees, competitors, spam, or accidental clicking.


Hopefully you now have shiney new 5 star ratings shown next to your listings to help boost click-through rates and customer confidence. If not, feel free to get in touch using the contact form below, Twitter or Google+.