In March 2017 there was a Google update that affected product reviews and specifically Shopify’s Product Reviews App.
I’m still collecting details on the Google update, how Shopify’s Product Reviews App was affected, and how this affects JSON-LD for SEO.
Unfortunately Google doesn’t really talk about their search updates and it’s been difficult to piece together what happened with Shopify’s app.
Here’s what I’ve found.
The Old Structured Data
There are many forms of Structured Data that can be used. Google recommends the JSON-LD format using Schema definitions (don’t worry about what that means yet).
Shopify’s Product Reviews App uses the microdata format with Data Vocabulary definitions. This worked fine for a few years and lets review data appear in search results.
The problem is, since June 2011 Data Vocabulary has been discontinued and Google and other search engines have recommended using Schema instead.
March 2017 review crash
Around or before March 6th, Google performed an update to their algorithm that affected reviews and ratings.
One part of that update either removed support for Data Vocabulary definitions or severely increased the requirements around them.
The consequence was that many sites lost their review Rich Snippets in Google. This included the majority of the stores using Shopify’s Product Reviews app. Interestingly, some high authority sites still kept their review rich snippets so it wasn’t a total wipe-out.
Shopify Product Reviews app update
The timeline gets a bit fuzzy at this point because I haven’t gotten a lot of details from Shopify on this.
Near that time, the Shopify Product Reviews App released a new version of their structured data. This time they use the more modern and supported Schema definitions.
Though the update was deployed, they didn’t update every store and product page with it.
Due to a technical reason (caching), stores will have the old version on their products until they get a new review.
Forcing the upgrade
One workaround I heard from Shopify was to post a review to a product so the app will update the format and then delete the review. I’ve tested this and it worked in my store.
Unfortunately for stores with a lot of products or stores which don’t get frequent reviews, this might mean that the old version is still live. That means Google will not be seeing the reviews.
Even on my test store, I’m still seeing the old Data-Vocabulary style reviews on an old product.
Losing the review snippets in Google
To complicate matters even more, if you’ve lost your reviews for a long time Google might delay adding them back into the search results even after you’ve fixed them.
I’m working with one customer and it seems like their site got moved all the way back to Step #3 in the rich snippet process.
Impact on JSON-LD for SEO and other structured data
Luckily JSON-LD for SEO was not affected by this update at all. Since it doesn’t manage the reviews at all, nothing affected it directly.
I’ve had to help dozens of customers who were affected but in every case it’s been to point them to Shopify or the other review apps support team. Kinda feels like air traffic control at times.
In fact, I think having JSON-LD for SEO installed saved a few customers.
Since JSON-LD for SEO exports more structured data than just reviews, several customers who lost their reviews still kept their product rich snippets. They didn’t have review data shown but product prices, availability, and other fields are still visible. Hopefully this will speed up the process to get their reviews back.
Hopefully this is only short term
To summarize, in early March 2017 Google made an update to the reviews structured data that broke Shopify’s Product Reviews App. This break, the delay in the fix, and the delay due to the caching might have combined into the perfect storm causing many Shopify stores to lose their product reviews.
It sucks and will hurt your store for March but I think it will resolve itself over the next few months. The important thing is to not panic. Don’t switch reviews systems around. Don’t install all of the SEO apps to try to fix it. Don’t make massive edits to your theme.
Any significant change might make your store look like a bad SEO suspect in Google’s eyes. Even in the best case, it could delay getting things back to normal.
This is part of SEO and organic search, things change and you (and me and Shopify) have to adapt to those changes.
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