How to (mis)use Microformats & Rich Snippets for improved Click-through rates
It became apparent recently that Google is automatically whitelisting any microformat data which webmasters put on their websites – such as reviews and ratings. Google is giving these websites enhanced listings on the SERPs. While this is great for the user experience, this also means is that ANYONE can create fake reviews and put them on their website (hidden!) to benefit from stars and hugely positive reviews under their listing on Google.
The hack works also for users of third party hosted blog and CMS solutions such as on Google’s own blogger.com, Tumblr and WordPress too! This search engine optimizers wet-dream of an exploit allows unscrupulous webmasters and SEOs to effectively ‘steal traffic’ from their search-engine ranking page neighbours, simply by attracting more clicks via the results pages (due to the allure of those reviews and stars – it would be rude not to click that site with all the stars under it, right?).
Fake Google Ratings & Stars – Video
How to get fake ratings and stars on Google
In a nutshell, you can place specific structured data in your webpage markup (metadata) which can be read by user agents (such as search engine bots) to get ‘extra information’ from your page. This extra info can represent people’s contact details, reviews, events, & products.. the scope is limitless (an example is the hReview microformat used for specifying review data of a movie on a web-page for example).
Obviously any type of automatic rich snippet whitelisting is open to exploration and abuse.
The sites which had this data on their sites and which were “ok’d” or whitelisted manually by Google were lucky enough to benefit from rich snippet listings, allowing them to often “outclick” their Search Engine Results Page neighbours by having some funky stars / review info under their listing. What appeals more to a searcher than an instant positive indicator before they select 1 out of 10 sites to click on huh?
How to fake reviews to get rich snippet listings on Search Engine Results Pages via Microformats
Faking the above data is trivial! Simply insert the following html code into your homepage page:
<span class="hreview-aggregate" >
<span class="item"><span class="fn">Microformat Abuse for improved CTR</span>
<span class="rating"><span class="average">9.9</span> out of <span class="best">10</span> based on <span class="count">99,999,999</span> ratings</span>
Wait until you get white-listed (probably when googlebot next crawls your site and discovers the extra on-page data), and enjoy a higher clickthrough rate than your rivals. Ho Ho Ho!
If you don’t want to abuse the system, but still want to leverage rich snippets and micro-data, there are many microformat review plugins available for the common CMS’s out there which can be used to generate the relevant microdata for your own (legitimate) enhanced search listings.
- This ‘hack’ also works on anythird party blog platform (e.g. Tumblr, WordPress, Google’s own blogspot – any site on which you can insert raw markup), resulting in those magical stars and a 9.9/10 rating / 99,999,999 ratings. BOOM.
- Food for thought: If these microformat informed ratings have any real effect on organic rankings, blackhatters will be acquiring as many “reviews” on third party sites as possible (crack out automation tools such as LFE, controlled blog networks, or even a crude automation tools such as iMacros to do the work..)
It will sure be interesting to see how this issue can/will be resolved.