Using Schema Markup and Structured Data to Generate Reviews for Service-Based Businesses

Last updated on October 31st, 2020 by Jason Parks

UPDATE: This article on Schema Markup & Structured Data to Get Reviews for Local Businesses was originally published in late 2017. In late 2019, Google announced that self-serving reviews are no longer displayed for businesses and organizations (the LocalBusiness and Organization schema types). Google will no longer display rich review snippets for how people have reviewed a business, if those reviews are considered self-serving. Google does not want to display review-rich results when the entity being reviewed controls the reviews themselves.

We updated this article on June 20th, 2020. At of the time of the update, there are still many local business websites that have reviews populating in the search results, as you will see in the screen shots below.

We advise local businesses not to go against Google’s guidelines. Even if you see your competitors with review star ratings populate in Google’s search results, there could be a risk for your businesses in the future if you don’t follow the proper guidelines.

Google has a great FAQ about review-rich results, which you can read HERE.

We felt it was important to keep our original blog post from 2017, even though the landscape has changed. The guidelines that Google more recently set forth are still not 100% clear to many business owners.

When we originally wrote our blog, we reached out to Bridget Randolph, who is an expert on rich snippets. She had the following to say, which still should be taken into consideration several years later.

“If they (Google) think you’re just adding a bunch of reviews to get star snippets, without those reviews actually matching the page’s content, that could be straying into ‘spammy use of markup’

The original blog below is how we viewed aggregated review stars schema in Google search results back in 2017, without knowing what we do today:

An attorney client of ours noticed that a competitor had their reviews populating in Google search (see image below, which we added to this article in June 2020 to showcase that reviews are still populating for local businesses). Our client felt that their competitor had an advantage over them because of these reviews, as their click-through rate would increase, in turn helping them achieve higher search engine ranking position on Google.

We knew we could easily get reviews to populate utilizing schema markup and structured data. If you are unfamiliar with schema markup and structured data, it is code (semantic vocabulary) that you put on your website to help the search engines return more informative results for users. The question is whether or not schema markup for reviews is allowed for a non e-Commerce business.

Note: If you like this article, we recommend you check out the following: [Choosing the Right Keywords for your Local SEO Strategy]

Why Reviews Are Crucial For Service Based Businesses 

Unlike an e-Commerce business where reviews on product specific pages are natural and easily flow with the user experience, for a service-based business, this is no clear-cut answer on where the reviews should get pulled in. This is where our agency was torn on whether or not we should implement the schema for this attorney. Reviews populating organically can drastically help increase their click through, which in turn can boost SEO rank.

According to the 2017 Local Search Ranking Factors, review signals are extremely important, accounting for a 7% rank factor. Behavior signals, such as click through rate is an 11% factor in the local SEO landscape. If you combine reviews and click through rate, this covers 18%, which is why our client was eager to get this implemented and why it is easy to see the impact reviews could make from an SEO perspective.

Not So Fast My Friends – Be Careful About Implementing Schema:

On the contrary, implementing Schema could go against Google’s guidelines, causing more harm than good. This is what made our agency nervous. For example, you can’t have reviews pull in from other sites, such as Google My Business, Yelp or Facebook.

I [Jason Parks] spoke with Bridget Randolph, who wrote amazing structured data related articles for Moz [view here]. She mentioned to me that, “Google doesn’t like it when we use markup for the sake of rich snippets, without understanding why it’s there really. If they think you’re just adding a bunch of reviews to get star snippets, without those reviews actually matching the page’s content, that could be straying into ‘spammy use of markup’ territory, so that’s the first thing you’ll want to be cautious about.”

What an awesome response by Bridget! I’m still confused though on where the reviews should be getting pulled in from! Please continue to read as I continue my investigation 🙂

Trying to Understand Google’s Local Business Review Guidelines:

Based on Google’s local business review guidelines, it is very hard to understand where the reviews for service based or B2B businesses should get pulled in from. This is really the main point of this article. If a business owner, such as an attorney, wants to generate rich snippets for reviews legitimately, where should he or she pull the reviews in from?

If the attorney were to ask 15 clients over email for a review about a specific practice area and manually add each review onto that corresponding page, does this mean that the reviews match the pages content, per Bridget’s explanation?

Barry Schwartz of Search Engine Land summarized Google’s local business review guidelines. In the headline of his article, it states that, “Now only reviews “directly produced by your site” can have local reviews markup, according to Google.”

Please see the guidelines below along with my understanding to each one.

Google’s Local Business Review Guidelines

  • Snippets must not be written or provided by the business or content provider unless they are genuine, independent, and unpaid editorial reviews.
    • This seemed straightforward. The reviews need to be authentic and they need to be from actual clients or customers that you’ve done work for.
  • Reviews must allow for customers to express both positive and negative sentiments. They may not be vetted by the business or restricted by the content provider based on the positive/negative sentiment of the review before submission to Google.
    • This seemed straightforward. You need to give the customer the option to leave a positive review or a negative review.
  • Reviews cannot be template sentences built from data or automated metrics. For example, the following is not acceptable: “Based on X number of responses, on average, people experienced X with this business.”
    • This is where I started to get confused. Where exactly are the reviews supposed to pull in? The reviews have a star rating, so there has to be some sort of average rating, right? I’m assuming Google wants you to have the reviews housed on your site. How exactly do you go about doing this though if you want the review to populate for specific services? Unless, of course, you have the ability to custom code for this sort of process or there is a plugin to allow you to accomplish this.
  • Reviews for multiple-location businesses such as retail chains or franchises can only be submitted for the specific business location for which they were written. In other words, reviews for multiple-location businesses cannot be syndicated or applied to all business locations of the same company.
    • This seemed straightforward. You can’t combine reviews for numerous business locations into one aggregate rating for your company.
  • Aggregators or content providers must have no commercial agreements paid or otherwise with businesses to provide reviews.
    • This seemed straightforward. You can’t pay for reviews.
  • Do not include reviews that are duplicate or similar reviews across many businesses or from different sources.
    • This seemed straightforward. Google doesn’t want you to pull in reviews from Google or Yelp onto your site and have them populate as schema. I understand this rationale as it could be deemed as duplicate content. 
  • Only include reviews that have been directly produced by your site, not reviews from third-party sites or syndicated reviews.
    • It seems clear to me that Google doesn’t want reviews generated by other sites to populate on your site. My question is where the heck should these reviews come from for service-based businesses? 

UPDATE: The processes below would likely be classified as “self serving” as the business below controls the review process.

Ideal Way to Pull in Reviews for Schema?

Our agency worked closely with Sears Home Services. Below is the process they had in place to collect reviews:

Sears Clean and Sears Garage Doors have a custom survey they created ( which asks for an overall rating along with comments about the service. This information then feeds those comments and rating into a database. When a job is completed, the customer receives an email and fills out a satisfaction survey. Based on the location of where the job was completed and what type of service is completed, the review from the customer will automatically get pulled into the appropriate page on their website, all predicated off of the database.

Understanding Microdata 

Based off of Google’s guidelines, we realized if you want your reviews to populate through rich snippets, there needs to be a source on your website to back this up. Displaying the actual reviews on your website is the route you’ll want to take and it will use Microdata. This is the exact process that Sears has implemented. Below, you can see that each individual review on their service page uses Microdata.

Microdata uses HTML to display the structured data on a website. JSON-LD is a script that is not seen on the browser. If you want reviews to populate on the actual page, you will use Microdata.

Make sure the reviews come from your site! 

It is clear to me if you are a service-based business, you will want to make sure the reviews are directly produced by your site.

If you are a company like Sears, you can allocate development resources into customizing a survey and having the reviews pull into your site, which in turn will populate as schema.

The alternative is you can find a plugin to obtain unique reviews for service-based businesses. I have not yet found a plugin for service based businesses that would 100% appease what Google is looking for in their quality guidelines.

Jason Parks

Jason Parks started The Media Captain in 2010. He’s grown TMC into one of the largest digital agency’s in Ohio over the past decade.The Media Captain has worked with hundreds of small, medium and enterprise clients on digital marketing and development projects.The Columbus Based Digital Marketing Agency has received numerous accolades. TMC was named a Top 1% Agency in the U.S. by UpCity in 2019 and 2020. They also won the “Best PPC Campaign,” which was a national award from DashThis. They were also the recipient of the Top 10 Social Media Marketing Agencies in Ohio.

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