The Dangers of Online Product Reviews

Kendall Brennan
By Kendall Brennan

Imagine the following situation:

You have a new product. So naturally you’re trying to create buzz around the product and your brand. Or, maybe you already have an established brand and now you want to increase the amount of organic traffic to your site. One of the best ways to do that is to start building quality and relevant links to your site.

It’s only natural to want to get your product in people’s hands so that they can use it and spread the word. Not only does this help with brand awareness, but it previously acted as a way to build links that would provide SEO value. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case anymore. Google changed their policy on product review links in March 2016 and these changes are having a significant impact on not only SEO link building, but also the traditional PR industry.

A Real Life Example

In the summer of 2016 we started working with a client who had a manual action from Google for an unnatural link profile. It’s important to note that this was a manual action and not an algorithmic penalty.

This client had never worked with an SEO company prior to working with us and had never used any spammy link building tactics, so we were shocked that they had been hit by a manual penalty. We were suspicious that the penalty could be due to the large amount of followed product reviews links pointing to their site, but we hadn’t yet seen anyone be penalized for this.

Related: Everything You Need to Know About Google’s Penguin 4.0 Algorithm Update 

We didn’t want to jump to any conclusions, so during our first round of outreach we only reached out to the obvious low-quality links. Any of the sites that didn’t respond, we added to our disavow file to tell Google to remove the value from these links.

Unfortunately, this first reconsideration was denied. When Google denies your reconsideration, they provide examples of links that still violate their policy. Our suspicions were confirmed and product reviews were given as examples of links that were violating Google’s guidelines.

This was the first time we had heard of anyone receiving a manual link penalty from product reviews on quality and relevant blogs. Now that we had come to this realization, we went through the process of changing all product reviews to no-follow links.

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What Is A No-Follow Link?

As a refresher, a no-follow link tells Google to not pass any link value from this website. As an ecommerce business, it is common for the majority of a website’s links to come from product reviews. Previously, this was a very successful way to build the brand and grow sales for this company.

The SEO industry is now aware of this policy change and is slowly realizing that Google isn’t joking around with this one. But for the non-SEOs of the world, you’re at risk for doing traditional PR!

Related: Content, SEO, & PR – Three Peas In a Pod

When we started working with this company, they had never worked with an agency or had done any SEO before. They had purely worked from a traditional PR perspective. This is when we realized that this problem went beyond just the SEO industry and needed to be shared with the non-SEOs of the world.

How To Avoid Being Penalized

If you plan to continue with product reviews, it’s imperative that you request that these links be “no-follow.” Most bloggers are now aware of what this means and are willing to do this.

Reasons To Be Suspicious Of A Penalty

If you’re looking at your traffic in Google Analytics, take a year look back to see if you can identify a clear trend. If your site has been penalized, you will see a clear decline in Organic traffic.

How To Know If You’ve Been Penalized With A Manual Action

The first step is to make sure that you have a Google Search Console account set up. When you’re in this account, click into Search Traffic > Manual Actions. This is where you would officially know if you’ve had a manual action placed against your website.

All in all, it’s important for the SEO and PR industries to be aware of these changes to be sure that we aren’t putting our clients at risk with what used to be harmless strategies.

 

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Kendall is a Senior SEO Strategist at Power Digital. She specializes in SEO, but also has a passion for the holistic view of digital marketing and seeing how all channels work together to create a strong digital presence.