GD Rating System Pro includes addon (it is part of the plugin, it is not external addon) for integrating rating or review rich snippets into page content. This article will explain how this works and how Google will use the rating snippets from your website. Other search engines use rich snippets, but none does it to extend Google does, and most optimizations are targeted at Google Search.
Google Rich Snippets
Google uses structured data markup from websites it crawls to better understand and organize search results. And, some of the structured data is used to generate enhanced search result in the form of a rich snippet. Through the years, Google has added many elements into rich snippets specification, but among the first snippets added is for ratings.
There are two types of rating based snippets. One is for reviews where the single rating is used in a review capacity. And the other is the aggregated rating of multiple reviews or ratings. There are different ways to add snippets into the HTML of the page, and Google uses Schema.org standards for this in form of Microdata, RDF or JSON-LD. Ratings and reviews support Microdata and JSON-LD formats, with JSON-LD being the default. RDF is an old format, and it is not used as much anymore. Rich Snippets are invisible elements of the page (especially if used with the JSON-LD format that is recommended by Google), and to determine if the page contains the snippet, and if the snippet is valid, you need to use Google Testing tool.
Testing the page with the snippet
To make sure you page snippet works as expected, you need to test your pages. This is very important in the beginning when you make tweaks and changes to make sure it is OK. Tests can be done with the Google Structured Data Testing Tool. It allows tests from URL or you can insert HTML of your page (this is useful when you test from localhost). If the testing tool finds some errors, you will see them marked in the results panel. This testing tool shows all types of snippets, not only rating or review.
Rating types in the snippet
GD Rating System can add both available rating result types into most snippets: aggregated ratings and rating review. Some snippet types can include both and some only review rating, depending on the snippet type.
Rating snippets in GD Rating System
GD Rating System supports both types of rating/review snippets Google uses. Markup is added using Microdata or JSON-LD format. There are no plans to support RDF format. It is highly recommended to use JSON-LD format, it is used by all major search engines that support rich snippets, and it offers great flexibility. Also, some of the snippet types implemented in GD Rating System Pro support only JSON-LD format.
Adding markup to HTML can be a very complex process for the CMS based system like WordPress. Rendering of page content is controlled by the theme and each theme does that in different ways. Add to that other plugin that can influence rendering, and there is very little chance of adding special markup for ratings into existing HTML markup.
Legacy Rich Snippets
GD Rating System Lite version includes basic rich snippets support called ‘Legacy Rich Snippets’. This is the original system available from the first plugin version, and it contains basic settings to set the type of the snippet and select which rating method data to use, and the plugin does the rest. But, this is the limited system, it generates the ratings, and wraps it into basic snippet with mostly autogenerated data. But, for some complex rich snippets, that is not enough.
GD Rating System Pro since version 3.3 includes brand new rich snippets system that is exclusive to Pro version (it will not be added to Free version). And, from version 3.8, Pro version no longer includes legacy snippets support.
New Rich Snippets
New rich snippets support in GD Rating System Pro is based around the snippet types and the fact that each type might have own unique elements that need to be set for each post individually. So, the workflow is like this: in the global settings, enable general snippet types for each post type, and select rating methods to use. And, for each individual post, you will be able to change this. When you edit posts, you will need to fill in extra data for selected rich snippet type. For many types, you don’t need to do anything, the plugin will fill the data, but for Product type, for instance, you need to add price offers and other in the information. Search Engines will require for the snippets to be fully set up, or they will fail.
Extra Rich Snippet types
New Rich Snippets system has methods to implement additional snippet types with own settings, own rendering for the snippet. For now, the plugin has an addon that will add Recipe Rich Snippet type with extra data needed for recipes (ingredients, nutritional values…). More such addons will be added in the future.
How snippets data is used by Google
So, how Google uses snippets?
- There is no guarantee Google will grab any rich snippets data from your pages.
- There is no guarantee that Google will use rich snippets data from your pages.
- There is no way you can force Google to extract or use rich snippets from your pages.
- Website reputation is one of the factors Google considers for using rich snippets.
- Snippets have to follow a long list of rules Google has when it comes to reviews.
What can you do to prepare the best you can for Google extracting and using rich snippets? Well, based on a lot of topics read on the subject, experience, and testing, there are some things you should do to prepare.
- Make sure you add your website into Google Search Console (former Webmaster Tools). This is a very powerful tool that will give you a lot of information related to your website. For rich snippets, you need to use Structured Data tool located under Search Appearance menu. This will show all structured data and rich snippets Google has found on your website. There you will see Review and Aggregated Rating elements and which pages have them and Google extracted it from. This is not all pages with rich snippets but pages Google used so far.
- Again, in Google Search Console you have a useful tool that can speed up the Google crawl rate and make Google visit your website at the faster rate and that will improve your chances for the rich snippet to be extracted. This can be done from the Site Settings page for each website you have in the Search Console. Normally, the crawl rate is set to automatic, but you can set it to a higher value for a limited time. Do not overdo it, 0.05 requests per second are enough. Again, this doesn’t guarantee that Google will obey this, but from my experience, the number of hits my website got from Google increased after setting higher value here.
- It is a good idea to have posts/pages with a higher number of votes recorded, it is considered as better value for inclusion. Reviews are always considered as good value, but it is a good idea to provide subject and description along with the review value.
- Be patient. There is no way to force this, but using the Search Console you can monitor extracted structured data and confirm that your rich snippets are used.
And, finally, Google has made some significant changes to the rich snippets in September 2019 that have a huge impact on what review based snippets they will use:
- Many snippet types that previously supported reviews and rating markup, no longer support that. This includes common types like Article, NewsArticle, BlogPosting, WebPage. This list of snippet types that support reviews and ratings is available here.
- Self-serving reviews and aggregated ratings are no longer allowed. This means that you can’t show ratings on your website related to your own products or services in any form (including embedded third party reviews widgets).
- Each review must have a well-defined item that is being reviewed with an expanded list of required and recommended properties.
- Google will not penalize websites that include reviews or rating markups that are not following the rules, they will simply exclude these snippets from results, there will be no SERP related consequences, bad rankings or things like that. But, the rating stars displayed in the SERP will be gone.
- Schema.org has been updated also to reflect many of these changes, including the fact that Article based types no longer support ratings/reviews. This means that other search engines supporting Schema.org obey by the same rules, and it is confirmed through testings with Bing and Yandex both flagging results the same way as Google.
Google policy changes and GD Rating System
In light of the changes made by Google in September 2019, all WordPress plugins dealing with snippets have been affected. When it comes to GD Rating System Lite/Free version, right now I have no plans on how to deal with the changes, because the rich snippets used in that plugin are not able to be up to the changes and requirements because generated snippets are basic, and the changes require a lot of changes.
As for GD Rating System Pro, the advanced implementation is very powerful and it is able to deal with the changes. Here are the things you need to know and do to make sure that your website is up to the code.
- If you have a blog, writing articles, posting news, you will no longer be able to have rating/review stars displayed in Google SERP because these snippet types (Article, NewsArticle, BlogPosting, WebPage) no longer allow ratings to be included, because they also fall into the category of self-serving.
- GD Rating System Pro will continue to include Article, NewsArticle, BlogPostin and WebPage snippet types, but they will have rating/review option disabled by default. You can enable it through settings, but that will make a snippet invalid.
- Make sure to recheck all the Pro plugin settings related to rich snippets, check the individual posts rich snippets settings and configure them properly. Test the snippets to make sure they look OK.
- If you are using Article, NewsArticle, BlogPosting or WebPage snippets, either disable rich snippets for them or only disable the rating inclusion for them – snippets will be generated without the rating, and will be valid and usable. The plugin version 3.8 has a new tool that can do that.
Other search engines
GD Rating System implements rich snippets for ratings according to Schema.org and Google implementation. All ratings pass the Google verification tool. Other search engines that support rich snippets might do things differently. Currently, Bing and Yandex allow rich snippets to some extent.
Bing supports rich snippets for rating according to Schema.org and validates ratings added with GD Rating System without problems.
Validator URL: www.bing.com/webmaster/diagnostics/markup/validator.
Yandex should support rich snippets, but this is not documented properly by Yandex. It states that Schema.org is supported, but their validation is not able to validate even the simplest Schema.org tags, and the ratings don’t validate also. Messages displayed don’t make any sense and they don’t reflect the Schema.org specification. GD Rating System can’t support this search engine until their markup is clearly defined and up to the specification of Schema.org.
Validator URL: webmaster.yandex.com/tools/microtest.