The stars are disappearing from Amazon’s reviews.
At least in Google, they are.
If you search Google for a best selling book, you’ll have a lot of choices. One of them will likely be Amazon, competing with a number of other online retailers.
One thing you won’t find in Amazon’s organic listings is review stars. Consider this screenshot from a search to purchase The Fault in Our Stars.
Not only is the Amazon result missing review stars, but price and other “rich snippets” are mysteriously absent.
Rich snippets are extra details, usually eye-catching, meant to give searchers more information for specific Google searches. Online merchants vie for rich snippets for their visual appeal. In a sea of online search results, simple orange review stars can make a listing stand out. Various studies show how rich snippets can lead to more clicks.
In the example above, even though Barns & Noble ranks beneath Amazon, it might capture more clicks because of the stars.
Now multiply this effect by millions of searches per day. Without review stars, Amazon is possibly missing out on an untold number of clicks, costing potentially millions and millions of dollars.
In fact, the only review stars you are likely to find in Google search results today are paid results with a yellow Ad icon next to them.
Where did the stars go?
It wasn’t always this way.
In the very recent past, Google almost always showed review stars for Amazon in its free organic listings, often preferencing Amazon while dropping rich snippets for other merchants.
Google can choose to display rich snippets when websites add special markup to their code called structured data. More often than not, this is done with a special markup language called schema.org.
Websites and online merchants spend thousands of dollars and countless man hours making sure their structured data is accurate and up to date in order to gain advantages in search results at all.
Here’s the funny thing: Amazon doesn’t appear bother with structured data or schema.org – at least not in its visible HTML. It’s like Amazon isn’t even trying to win rich snippets in Google search results.
To see what structured data a webmaster has implemented, Google offers a Structured Data Testing Tool. If you run any given Amazon page through the tool, you’ll find absolutely no markup present.
On the other hand, if you run a typical Barnes & Noble listing through the tool, you’ll see a page rich with structured data.
In the past, it appears Google displayed review stars for Amazon because it made a special exception for them. These were the early days of rich snippets, and Google probably wanted to populate its product with trusted search results from the world’s largest online retailer.
In other words, Google gave Amazon a free ride, and now the free ride is over.
Can Amazon get the review stars back?
It seems odd that a company as technologically advanced as Amazon doesn’t markup their website with structured data. If they did, it’s very likely Google would algorithmically return the review stars for many Amazon results.
On the other hand, Amazon isn’t dumb. Perhaps they feel they don’t need Google to compete, or they’d rather not give Google more information than necessary about their products.
It wouldn’t be the first time an Internet giant withheld data from Google. Both Twitter and Facebook choose to keep much of their information hidden from Google, even at the expense of less visibility in search results. For these companies, the data they own is valuable and they’d rather keep it out of Google’s hands.
Amazon is big enough that the cost of review stars and rich snippets may not be worth the price, whatever that may be.
If I were marketing for Amazon, I’d want those stars back.
Barry Schwartz pointed out on Twitter that this change happened several weeks ago, well before Panda 4.0 that some of us suspected.