The Product Reviews Algorithm Update: What You Need To Know Two Months After It Dropped

04 June 2021

Posted in: SEO

Product reviews play heavily into Google’s robust traffic flow. Retail (whether online or offline) is a massive industry, and we’re all hungry to ensure that we make the smartest purchases we can: we’re ultimately seeking value for money, strong build quality, reliability, and many other qualities. And since we can’t trust exaggerated claims from sellers and manufacturers, we inevitably look to our peers and industry experts for guidance.

As you’d expect, Google is fully aware of this, and knows the role it plays in pushing searchers towards the reviews that will greatly shape their buying decisions. This guides its development process, and led to the announcement of the titular update back in early April 2021.

Now that two months have passed (at the time of writing), it’s the perfect time to review what we know about this update, including its goals, its impact so far, and its long-term consequences. In addition, we’ll offer some advice for how businesses can adapt their review processes and adopt practical processes that will benefit them for years to come. Let’s get started.

What was the goal of the product reviews algorithm update?

The crux of the intent was made clear in the update announcement: acknowledging that “people appreciate product reviews that share in-depth research, rather than thin content that simply summarizes a bunch of products”, Google designed an update to “better reward such content”.

Why was this necessary? Well, the thin content highlighted there has become a significant problem in recent years. The decline of traditional retail in some areas stemming from the COVID-19 lockdowns has been taking away opportunities for shoppers to physically inspect items prior to buying them, and there are so many options online that it’s necessary to thin the herd by looking for guides and recommendations.

And while there’s nothing wrong with providing such advice (it’s immensely valuable if done well), most websites take shortcuts. They review products they’ve never even used, averaging out comments from elsewhere. They endorse items they know aren’t worth buying, solely on the basis that they can make some affiliate revenue from them.

In other words, the quality of the average product roundup has dropped immensely. If you look for a guide to the best X in 2021, you’ll find numerous posts with that exact SEO-tailored title and almost-identical content that seeks to exploit you instead of informing you. This is highly frustrating for shoppers. The unsuspecting among them can end up buying products that aren’t actually worthwhile, and the others have needed to wade through numerous junk results.

How has the update changed things after two months?

Given that Google maintains many secrets, there’s much we don’t know about the effects of this update, but we can glean some insights from anecdotal evidence and apparent trends in how the SERPs have shifted. This Search Engine Land report features some useful information, and we can pick up on some shifts in the collected data.

It’s interesting, for instance, that the categories most affected (finance, law and government, jobs and education, autos and vehicles, health, food and drink, and computers and electronics) pertain to products or services that are high in value or have strong safety or legal implications. This fits with Google’s commitment to trustworthy YMYL (your money or your life) websites.

Additionally, seeing that websites with in-depth reviews and trusted brands (such as Tech Radar and CNET) have gained in the SERPs gives some indication that the update is producing the desired effect. Products in the consumer electronics category are often expensive and vitally important (smartphones, most notably), so shoppers need to get expert opinions.

How can you safeguard your product reviews?

There’s obviously a lot of value to be yielded through the provision of product reviews, but this update serves as a stark warning: using weak content to get easy traffic is a dangerous game because the ranking rules are always changing and a high-performing website can be rendered almost useless overnight. If you’re offering reviews, you need to make sure they’re up to par.

So how can you hone your review content to give it the best possible chance of surviving the further updates that await just over the horizon? Here are some key tips based on the questions set out in the update announcement to which we linked earlier:

  • Provide unique content featuring genuine insight. There’s much more to a review than simply listing features that could easily be found elsewhere. If your content is to stand out, it needs to provide something more: namely insight. What are your thoughts on the features? How could what you’re reviewing be better? Your review should be something that only you can produce, which leads neatly into the next tip.
  • Do your own research instead of aggregating. It’s all too common for reviews and roundups to copy content from one another. If you wanted to get a ranked review with minimum effort, for instance, you could combine points from several existing reviews to offer ostensibly original content that actually had nothing new to say. Don’t make this mistake. Actually test whatever you’re reviewing, and focus on what you think instead of what other reviewers have mentioned.
  • Offer rich content with original images and videos. In-depth review content should feature images and videos because they provide invaluable context. When a shopper is trying to choose between several products, being able to see them is obviously vital. And while you can just take visual resources from manufacturer sites, it’s better to create your own. Snapping your own product photos and recording your own review videos will render your review content more distinct and valuable.
  • Explain how you arrived at your conclusions. Maybe you think product A is better value for money than product B—but why do you think that? Explaining your reasoning will make your conclusions more impactful and strengthen the perception of your brand as a trustworthy authority (something that’s essential for growing your site).
  • Beat the averages for whatever you’re reviewing. While the pure stats don’t tell you everything about digital content, they do give you a clear roadmap for outperforming the competition. If you can see that the average review in the top 10 positions for a particular product is 1500 words, aim to hit 2000. SurferSEO’s Content Editor is very useful for this, giving you a real-time readout of how closely you’re cleaving to your targets.

Why the user-first approach should be your overarching priority

It’s often advisable to look past the specifics of an update and focus on what lies beneath it, and the underlying structure of this update is essentially the same as that of many others: giving searchers what they want. It’s in Google’s best interests to make searchers happy, because it ensures that they’ll keep coming back to Google services and products.

The question you need to focus on, then, is this: what do people looking for product reviews really want? Think about what you do when you’re interested in buying something. Which keywords do you search for? Which meta descriptions tempt you into clicking? Which reviews leave you feeling informed, and which leave you feeling that you’re wasted your time?

SEO is a high-stakes game, and the difference in ROI between a user-first review and one designed in an effort to play to Google’s ranking methods can be enormous. At Seeker, we enjoy solving difficult SEO problems, so we’re always eager for new opportunities to review strategies and help our clients achieve their goals. If you’d like to build on what we’ve covered here by building a review structure that delivers remarkable results, get in touch.

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