Google's Review Censorship Guidelines: A Word of Caution to Businesses

By Tinuiti Team

Recently, in an effort to improve user experience, Google exercised their right to censorship by disallowing webmasters to mark up reviews which contain profanity. While at first glance this appears to be a noble effort, this new policy may require more due diligence on the part of webmasters and skew the perception of a business when viewing their ratings in the SERPs.

Review Snippits and Critic Snippets

So, what exactly are review snippets? Currently, Google displays two types of reviews in the search results: critic reviews and review snippets. A rating snippets is shown as those orange stars you see in the SERPs. While they frequently appear for products, they can also appear as an aggregate rating for businesses and other things. Google also allows for critic reviews (which do not utilize stars) for movies, TV shows, books and local businesses.

Review snippet example

Critic review example

In order to generate rich snippets in the SERPs your website must implement review Schema markup. When Google detects this schema a rich snippet that includes stars and other summary info from reviews or ratings may be shown in the SERPs. Review snippets are known for helping to improve click-through-rates and help your results stand out from the competition.

Problems with Google’s Review Censorship Guidelines

While Google’s use of censorship aims to dissuade the use of profanity in user reviews (and perhaps provoke a more thoughtful review), there are some problems with this approach:

On December 16th Google stated that “[P]rofanity and vulgar language are prohibited. Do not include reviews that contain vulgar or profane language.” However, if you visit Google’s official Review Guidelines page today, it simply states that ‘profanity and vulgar language is discouraged’ under critic reviews only, with no mention of this as it pertains to review snippets. It seems as though Google has cautiously and quietly backed away from trying to censor reviews. Should reviews be censored? Let us know what you think!

Interested in learning more about SEO? Here’s a great story about how SEO helped a financial advisor’s site get a 19% boost in traffic!

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