Dr Seuss' SEO Star Wars

So Search is changing, what's new?

SEO is ever more morphing to inbound marketing.

Sometimes advantages in Search last only as long as the professionals privileged to have tested their thesis, discovered a prize technique, exploited a flaw, escaped punishment of one, or preferably gained a massive reward for successful inbound marketing efforts.

And before not too long, often the cat is out of the bag and that advantage becomes standard fare.

Step forward Rich Snippets.

Rich Snippets are the prized gold stars and descriptions a search result can boast of adjacent to the URL in Google's search results.

Last week, Joost de Valk, aka Yoast, blogged about rich snippets everywhere in a self fulfilling post detail, since Google started applying seller extensions more liberally in the search results in recent weeks.

The original GoogleBlog Spot post about Rich Snippets infact seemed to garner less attention or engagement than the post from Yoast.

Search Engine Land reported the videos in a quick post, but miserably failed to cast any analysis on the matter.

Star Wars, the next frontier

So the theory is that seller extensions, to you and me, gold stars, help users separate the wheat from the chaff when we Google.

And welcome that they are, in that we demand ever more social proof of content on the web, they are worthy of caution.

do you trust a starred result because the publisher has earnt it through merit or because they have managed to have it display through ingenuity?

Yes, seller extensions - gold stars - are also a superb device for publishers to display collective social proof of customer reviews, ratings and so on, irrespective of the sector they compete in.

And the click-through rate of results with stars is no doubt higher than those without.

But are they infallible? I mean do you trust a starred result because the publisher has earnt it through merit or because they have managed to have it display through ingenuity?

The truth is at the moment, there is little way to verify the authenticity of those stars, and indeed Google do not appear to, as of yet, pre-vetted the search results that sport them.

In those snippet video tutorials Google hint at reserving the right to control the display of starred results, however the initial results of webmasters' efforts suggest this is a worrying loophole that has no discrimination in place.

The plain fact is that publishers can fabricate them and just mark up their pages with technical precision, just as they have embellished customer testimonials since day one.

Google has just made it easier for site owners to display stars for all their results

In many instances starred reviews link to 3rd party sites of the publisher so that is acceptable, but the difference now is that Google has just made it easier for site owners to display stars for all their results, on all pages if they so choose.

There are services for Business Owners that can assist you to garner verifiable reviews such as TrustPilot which I recently trialled for a client with great success. Therein lies the crux of social proof, it must stand up to scrutiny to really offer you legitimate long term advantage.

I suspect the whole Schema bandwagon, which is really in it's infancy in some ways, is likely to be a real differentiator in the future as publishers and aggregators scramble towards a more meaningful web.

If anything, 2011 has professionally taught me that it's now less about rank anymore than richness and trust of search results.

Part of me cannot believe there is no Mountain View checks and balances in place for this. Yoast concludes in his blog that he "very much doubts whether this will continue to be as easy as it seems to be now though".

It seems we'll all be seeing the stars soon even if some of us are not.

Are you star struck when you view search results?

ps. I read this Dr Seuss story to junior Gailey probably every week to his delight, here's the full version 12min video of the The Sneetches

2 responses
ANYONE, and I mean anyone can fake reviews, comments etc.. and therefore the entire system is completely unreliable (for now).

To those who don't know any better (internet amateurs & IE users), seeing shiny gold stars are going to be the deciding click in SERPs. I mean, how can you not check out the product with a 5 star rating and 3,634 reviews right?

I can only speak for myself, but I decide by actually reading the reviews looking for sentiment and authenticity, price, refund policy, website quality, brand, customer support options and personal recommendations.

Do I trust stars, nope. Will they get me to click, probably.

I also blogged this issue up the other day and made a nice proof of concept video: ->

Interestingly, I took the fake microformat data off my site yesterday (after proofing) and it's STILL showing in the SERPs