Review snippet over-saturation in Google search results

by on 16th May 2012

Earlier this week I had a lot of fun putting together a presentation for (a thoroughly excellent) SMX Advanced. Originally I was going to broach the (often slightly) dry topic of using Person Schema (or hCard) to get “people” rich snippets for author pages. As it turns out, using hCard or on an author page to get a rich snippet doesn’t work. That’s a different story and one I’ll come on to in another post. This story’s quite a lot more interesting.

Late on the eve of my presentation I was stressing that my test didn’t work and I needed a near total rewrite of my presentation for the “Schema and Authorship, One Year On” session. With Game of Thrones playing in the background, I had my moment of inspiration.

“How many review rich snippets are our retail clients competing with on page 1 of Google’s search results?”

Rich Snippets (Review Ratings) Increase CTR by 5%

Late last year, we carried out some testing with SERP Turkey to examine the impact that a range of changes to the description wording may have on click through, depending on intent. As a side note to that experiment, we introduced a rich snippet to the a/b test, which yielded a measurable, significant change to click through.

During the testing we introduced a third variation (the inclusion of a rich snippet) in the transactional scenario. The final result was perhaps unsurprising. The transactional variation received 21.52% CTR. Our rich snippet, transactionally worded variation won at 26.32% CTR. The rich snippet version in the test, ranking in 2nd place was easily receiving more clicks than 1st place. That conclusion really makes a dent in reliability of arbitrary click through rate studies, because let’s be honest with ourselves, they’re nonsense.

Rich Snippets Increase Your CTR but Everyone’s Doing it


Surely they do and unfortunately, they are. My moment of inspiration was to come up with a quick way to measure the saturation levels of rich snippets reviews in search rankings. More specifically, to revise the question:

“How many keywords in my top 500 referrers are competing with a review rich snippet on Page 1 of Google’s organic results?”

I think this search result sums it up nicely; there are so many options to get eyeballs on your content, video, image, etc; so are you so sure rich snippets are the right strategy?

lion king

With a little help from Dan, we nailed the method to measure exactly that – SERP saturation of review snippets across a set group of keywords. Here’s the outcome:

SEOgadget Top 500 Referring Keywords

Nothing to see here! In SEOgadget’s top 500 referring keywords from Organic search, 13% share page 1 of the search results with at least one site that has review rich snippets. A pleasantly surprising and uncrowded result. Now, compare it to our retail site – PrezzyBox, long-time SEOgadget friends and clients, who kindly allowed us to perform the same check on their top 500 referring keywords:


Wow – Fewer than 9% of the top 500 search queries have no review rich snippets on page one. I suppose that’s hardly a surprise but nonetheless, the retail space seems quite saturated with organic rich snippets.

Measuring with SEO Tools for Excel, and xPathOnURL


As it turns out, if you request a Google search result from SEO Tools for Excel, or Google Docs, you get the non-Js version of the search results pages. When there’s a rich snippet visible in that particular SERP, a div container styled with class="star" contains a ".". You can detect this, and even count the number of occurances to work out how many of them exist on the page.

Here’s a simplified version of the SEO Tools for Excel Query:

=XPathOnUrl([YourGoogleSearchQueryWithKey+word],"//div[contains(@class, 'star')]")

So you can use that to work out if the marker is present on the page, wrap it in an IF statement using the same principles in this post on how to check if a link is still live.

The same formula works in GDocs, just swap XPathOnURL with ImportXML

Here’s what you can build:

This is a snapshot of one of my dashboards, where I’ve got snippet, shopping, video and image data combined.

Here’s how to get result data from organic search including a count of the number of image, video and shopping results:

Get Advanced Web Ranking – it’s the best rank checker in the market and it scales well with a decent proxy. To collect image, video, news and shopping results in the data, you need to create a campaign with Google Universal (in your country). Collect the rank data as usual, and head to the “Data” tab. From there, use the “Split the results into Organic, images, video, news, shopping” check box.

From here you can construct a really rich dataset, and start considering this important point: just because everyone else is doing it, should you? Here’s the presentation:

Schema One Year On – Richard Baxter @SEOgadget – #SMX

Image credit: San Diego Shooter


  1. fair post and as a big plus, it’s always nice / interesting to see *how* someone gathers their test data.

    I’ve noticed just today that Goog has at least begun to detect and strip fake hreview star ratings on a number of sites – these have been visible in SERPs and easy to game for at least 5 months, even on third party sites.

    • I haven’t noticed that Google is striping fake hreview star ratings… can you provide an example(s)?

      I’ve seen more and more star rating spam over the last two months than I’ve seen in the year previous and have been wondering when Google is going to start taking action.

      However, when you really think about it, how they can honestly say whether star ratings are faked or not.

      I was discussing this with one of my colleagues last week, what’s to say that I didn’t run an offline poll of my customers and built my ratings and then put them up on my website? You can’t!

      I think it’s gonna be really hard for Google to identify the real snippet spammers vs those that legitimately add “real” snippets to their websites.

  2. Is there any proof that Google can really track fake start reviews?

    I’ve also heard bout this but haven’t yet seen any real time example. But have seen such website’s with fake ratings.

  3. google the machine intelligence, actually big density of output explicitly tries to develop, is an index of impartiality of google in snippet formation.

  4. I must say I have been playing catchup on this blog after finding it this week from Distilled’s website. I am trying to take it one step further to see if my website has a snippet listed on a keyword . I am having issues with the Excel formula. How do you check for a specific website with a snippet?

  5. 5% that’s very promising, Rich Snippets will increase the CTR only when there are not too much competitors using it, and for being a beta feature we still don’t know how google will treat it in the near future for example, using it you can fake Google results with fake ratings which Google will never allow.

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