The Ugly State of Google SERPs: Rich Snippet Abuse
With Panda’s and Penguin’s nipping at the tails of SEO’s it seems as though everyone is finally trying to go by the straight and narrow and do their part to generate useful, unique content targeted at their audience and work to generate links naturally.
But just as many SEO’s let out a sigh of relief as they hope to conquer some of their more spammy competitors I am noticing some new forms of webspam rear their ugly head.
Rich snippets have been evolving rapidly over the last couple years, so much so I feel that Google is unable to really manage them.
And while elements like authorship, rating aggregates, and other rich snippet data make the Google user experience that much richer, I feel that Google’s inability to filter these elements from displaying when misused has created a new playground for the more overzealous internet marketers.
The rel=”author” Debate
In the beginning rel=”author” was a bit of a beast to implement, but news sites, bloggers, and the like began doing their part to markup their blog posts to display their most prominent authors.
It took a number of bloggers and authors some time to reap the rewards of their efforts, but eventually we began seeing our happy little mugs in the SERPs right next to our content.
As the practice has become more mainstream rel=”author” has begun turning up on everything from generic home pages, to about pages, and even some product pages. Clearly not the initial intent of the schema, but obviously since data suggests a higher clickthrough rate webmasters and internet marketers are doing everything they can to get their authorship snippet to display in the SERPs.
As the practice began to become more rampant in the plastic surgery search space I began reaching out to Google pretty frequently to get their take on the matter.
From a tweet to Matt Cutts, to a webmaster central help thread, to more recently a Google Moderator question and a Google+ discussion aimed at my Googler’s circle, I have practically begged for a stance on the use of rel=”author” for generic website content, but to no avail.
And while more and more websites adopt rel=”author” sitewide I can’t help but wonder what Google will do if/when authorship becomes a ranking factor. How will it measure the true authority of an author and will generic website content warrant the inclusion of an author photo in the search results?
My Mom Thinks I’m Five Star Worthy…
More recently I stumbled upon a site in the SERPs that was displaying a five star rating in its rich snippet. But in this particular case it wasn’t Yelp or another review site displaying a five star rating in the snippet. Instead it was an actual doctor’s website.
At first I thought maybe Google was experimenting with a new local format and reverting back to the star rating system in exchange for their recently rolled out Zagat rating system, but in this particular case there was no local data tied to the listing.
Once I realized something fishy was going on I ran the page through AJKohn’sRichSnippetTestingToolBookmarklet and discovered that there was indeed something afoul. This page, as well as every other page on the site was using Schema’s aggregate Rating. Where were these ratings being aggregated from you ask? The website’s testimonials page…
You see, while this doctor has managed to only gain two reviews on Google, his raving testimonials from his patients apparently also warranted nineteen five star reviews built into his website, which in turn are being aggregated and displayed in the SERPs for all to see as part of the rich snippet for nearly every page of his website and for a variety of different queries.
As it was I was uncertain as to why this rating was appearing, which means potential patients and searchers are probably going to take this rating at face value and think that Google and the web clearly think highly of this doctor, even if his ratings were fabricated by his webmaster or SEO team.
Note: I know nothing about this doctor, he could be a great surgeon, I just don’t think his internet marketing practices are the most ethical.
So now I turn to you fellow search geeks. What say you on this chaotic state of rich snippets?
Is rel=”author” sitewide perfectly acceptable until Google makes a clear stance, or is it an area to tread lightly? Furthermore, do you think Google should be accepting the aggregateRating schema from a website where ratings can be manually generated?
Share your thoughts in the comments, I’d love to get a discussion going. Hell maybe even our good friend Matt Cutts will chime in and give us some insight.