Deciphering the impact of April’s Product Reviews Update

Google launched its product reviews update in April of 2021. The objective of this new ranking system was to prioritise and promote reviews authored by, as they put it, “experts or enthusiasts” who possess first-hand experience with the product of focus. Consequently, reviews of lower quality, such as those that provide only a brief summary of the product, would less likely be featured in prominent positions.

The most recent update to the Product Reviews Update would be the most notable so far, impacting brands across many sectors, something we’ll now explore in further depth to understand why.

How April 2023’s update was a real step-change

Since launch, there have been six refreshes, the majority of which have continuously improved the algorithm, up until April 2023:

The most significant update to date was launched on April 12th. Announced via Twitter, the algorithm would now cover “services and things” in addition to “products”. Webmasters were directed to a page where they could read and understand more about the changes. They immediately noticed that the descriptor “Products” had been dropped from the naming convention. In fact, the entire algorithm was repositioned under the new label of the “reviews system.”

Below is the specific wording on what the reviews system would actively monitor and evaluate moving forward; making it clear that reviews left by visitors or customers are exempt:

Why the change was necessary

Google’s new review system applies the same level of scrutiny to all review content, not just product reviews. This is a significant change, as it means that reviews of services experienced, media consumed, or destinations travelled to will now be evaluated for their quality and authenticity, amongst other topics.

There are a few reasons why this is important. First, reviews can have a significant impact on our lives. They can help us make decisions about things like where to eat, what movies to watch, and which products to buy. Second, reviews can be used to misinformation. For example, an intentionally misinformed review could be used to promote and sell a product that is actually harmful or to mislead people about a service.

By applying the same level of scrutiny to all review content, Google is helping to ensure that users can trust the information they find. This is a positive step, as it will help people make better decisions and protect themselves from harm.

The move to a systematic approach also means a re-positioning as a core ranking system and this seems like a natural progression. Rather than relying on periodic ranking updates reviews will now be monitored on a constant basis and results frequently updated to promote reviews of high quality.

Let’s have a look at how April’s update impacted search results by looking at domains that won, and those that lost.

Was this a pre-emptive change ahead of the Search Generative Experience?

Another reason I’ve thought about, as to why this update was made, is the continued development and highly likely introduction of AI to search results. Announced by Google back in May of this year, the Search Generative Experience (SGE) is an “AI powered snapshot of key information to consider, with links to dig deeper”.

This experience sits at the top of organic search results and can be interacted with by choice, by searchers. Below is an example of the expanded generative AI for a search for ‘best home coffee machines’:

Located in the top right of the panel are links to guide-based content used to curate the information surfaced in the result. With Google at all times wanting to provide the best search experience possible, I’m sure the Product Reviews Update was also made with this highly anticipated change to search results in mind.

Example winners and losers of April’s update

Online magazines

Websites that publish a high volume of content daily, covering various topics such as product reviews, service evaluations, destination guides, and media updates, were highly affected by April’s update and we saw a number of these domains lose visibility, including:,, and

Taking as an example, and comparing the start of the rollout versus completion, here are example keywords that the domain lost visibility for:

KeywordsSearch Volume10/424/4Change
laser hair removal74,00025-3
movies horror74,000937-28
harry potter movies74,000611-5
designer acrylic nails27,10049-5
best movies comedy14,800513-8
cheapest holiday destinations9,900118-17 and (see data table below) also lost visibility for keywords lacking a ‘best’ modifier,  This is where Google deems that for a give keyword (e.g. ‘shave creams) searchers have an intent to purchase and wan to find transactional results rather than informational-led such as a review or recommendation ecommerce websites ride the change positively whilst content publishers drop.

Also showring are drops for both websites for movie themed keywords, something explicitly called out in the announcement from Google:

KeywordSearch Volume10/424/4Change
shave creams5,40037-4
basketball movies1,900611-5
best safety boots1,30027-5
rowing machines uk88016-5
best men’s shorts88035-2

After dropping to the second page of search results for the ‘basketball movies’ keyword, we reviewed the landing page content and found areas where the page is falling short:

But like the previous examples for, topical relevancy also seems to play a role here, with the first page of results featuring a number of authoritative movie websites, such as Rotten Tomato, IMDb, and Collider. Complex and Esquire both surface on Page 1 of results and both have stronger on-page relevancy with entertainment and pop culture as well as dedicated taxonomies.  A key takeaway here is the requirement for expert keyword research and subsequent mapping and targeting. Publishing product, service or media reviews that are far removed from your brand and expertise isn’t a good use of resources.

A product reviews website

Gear Lab is a reviews website, specialising in “delivering honest, objective, reviews” for outdoor clothing and equipment. The website saw a notable visibility improvement post rollout of April’s reviews update:

These keywords below all contributed to the improvement when reviewing rankings before and after the update:

KeywordsSearch Volume24/48/5Change
hiking shoes14,80084+4
camping mattress6,600126+6
best backpacks4,40061+5
warmest jackets mens3,60063+3
best mountain bikes1,90051+4

Looking at an example ranking URL, a ranked list of the 10 best mountain bikes of 2023, more intently, we can clearly see why the website was rewarded during April’s update:

A travel guide website

The travel industry is a vast and dynamic sector that provides a wealth of informative and inspirational content to help prospective travellers choose their next destination. However, Planetware, a well-known publisher of travel guides authored by, as they suggest, seasoned travel experts, recently encountered a noticeable decline in visibility after the April update, dropping by -41%.

Keywords the domain lost visibility for range in intent, from wide, high-volume exact destination queries to destination specific and things to do. Here are some examples:

KeywordsSearch Volume10/0425/04Change
austria ski resorts8,10029-7
things to do in north wales6,60039-6
winter holiday destinations1,900412-8
amsterdam attractions1,900210-8
best beaches of bali1,900210-8

Let’s take a look at the ranking URL for the ‘things to do in north wales’ query:

Key learnings to take forward

If you actively publish review content, or content that provides recommendation, take a look at the below recommendations, which will help you avoid being penalised by potential Reviews Updates in the future:

Google provides a whole host of other points to consider on this page.

Have you been impacted?

The April 2023 reviews update was a significant change to Google’s algorithm for ranking review content. One of the key changes was that the update now considers content that provides recommendations on a particular subject, not just product review content. This means that reviews of services, media, and other topics are now heavily scrutinised. As we’ve seen, review content that lacks first-hand, visual evidence of a product or service does not rank as highly as it once did. Pages that have been hastily put together, with the aim of building relevancy with search engines have also been demoted.

If you have a website that contains review content, it’s important to assess the impact of the April update. You can do this by checking your website’s ranking in Google’s search results for relevant keywords. If you’re unsure whether your content meets the expectation, please do not hesitate to contact us for assistance. We are always happy to help.


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