Act 2: in which Google invalidates even more product review app data in Shopify stores

The changes to reviews from Google just keep coming.

After September’s big structured data algorithm update that caused some product review apps to be non-compliant with the structured data guidelines, Google made a minor update that has impacted many of the others.

[Example of the new invalid AggregateRating error in Shopify stores]

This screenshot is from one of the popular product reviews apps from the Shopify App Store. (I hid their name because they are actively working on a fix right now).

Notice how it has that error at the very bottom?

That means this set of structured data is non-compliant and will now be ignored by Google.

As of when I write this, 5 of the 5 review apps I’ve checked are impacted by this problem and will start losing Rich Results. Going from my memory, I wouldn’t be surprised if a dozen more are impacted too because many follow this same coding pattern.

The root cause is pretty simple too.

Previously these apps were claiming these reviews on a Thing which includes anything and everything in structured data (e.g. product, business, article, hat, dog, shoe, etc…).

Google’s September update limited reviews to only a few types, which is what caused the bugs in the first few apps. They could no longer use the Thing type.

Some of them solved that bug by switching to the Product type. Which makes sense.

This next update is now enforcing the full structured data guidelines on those Product types.

By them claiming the item reviewed is a Product they are now missing a lot of critical information. Some is optional (orange warnings) but the product is required to have an offer (i.e. variant), a review (for Critic reviews), or product reviews (aggregateRating). Each of those can require a dozen more fields.

Sharp eyes will notice something humorous:

  • the AggregateRating type requires an itemReviewed
  • with a Product as the itemReviewed, it can be corrected if the aggregateRating is supplied
  • but yet the top-level data type is already an AggregateRating

Catch-22.

The solution is simple, which is exactly what JSON-LD for SEO has been doing for years:

Use a standalone Product to hold the review data and include all of the required product data.

That’s why JSON-LD for SEO has had 0 impact from these algorithm updates. Even when review apps and competing structured data apps are scrambling to update their code to recover lost Rich Results.

One big engineering problem is that many apps don’t provide all of the product data Google asks for and they can’t access it. This is especially a problem with the apps that use JavaScript to add the structured data.

(There is a way to make it work with JavaScript but you’ll tank your store’s performance. Additionally not all search engines support structured data added via JavaScript, including Google’s Merchant Center, so JavaScript-based structured data apps are inferior in many ways)

Right now review apps are caught in a bind.

Their customers are actively losing Rich Results.

They can try to rewrite their structured data but they might not be able to get all of the product data. Or for some, it won’t be worth the effort.

I suspect some will go full ostrich and hide from the issue. I’ve already heard of another popular product reviews app try to claim there’s no issue, even though every one of Google’s tools and their official guidelines say otherwise.

Sucks for their Shopify customers though.

The alternative is to use JSON-LD for SEO to create your structured data. Since it integrates with a couple dozen review apps, it’s able to correctly format their review data to meet Google’s guidelines.

Eric Davis

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