Google’s April 2021 Update – Product Reviews
There’s one phrase that virtually no online business owner ever wants to see: “Google algorithm update.” These three words are enough to strike fear into the hearts of even the most battle-hardened marketers and entrepreneurs!
Of course, if you’re in the affiliate marketing space, then you likely heard about a recent Google update that could be affecting your business directly: the infamous product reviews update in April of 2021.
But what are the lasting effects of this update on affiliate marketing as a whole, and on your own business? In this post, we’ll cover what the Google product reviews algorithm update is all about – and what you should do about it!
What Is This Google Product Reviews Update?
On April 8, 2021, Google released a new algorithm update that Google identified as a “product reviews update.” To be clear, this wasn’t a core update – it was strictly aimed at affiliate marketing content like product reviews and buying guides (and it only targeted English language content). The rollout was completed two weeks later on April 22.
For a quick summary, here are some of the major takeaways from this Google product reviews update:
- It was focused on affiliate content exclusively, including posts like buying guides or roundup posts, top lists, individual product reviews, and product comparisons.
- It was designed to reward product review content that provides “insightful analysis and original research.”
- It was meant to boost more helpful reviews in the search results, as opposed to penalizing less helpful ones.
With all that said, we still haven’t answered why Google released this product reviews update in the first place. What’s the deal with that?
Well, if we put on our Google sleuthing hats, there are a few interesting things to note about this update right off the bat:
- On April 8, alongside the rollout of the new algorithm update, Google released a post on its blog explicitly telling people all about it, explaining both the changes and how to respond to them.
- Google clearly chose the carrot instead of the stick here – rather than punishing people, the search engine wanted to incentivize affiliates to create higher quality review content.
We’ll dig into the ins and outs of this in a little bit, but it’s worth recognizing that Google decided to be upfront about this update. This means it wasn’t just about making some algorithm tweaks behind the scenes, but actively encouraging changes to how people write reviews online.
That’s a lot to take in, but there’s good news here – if you can rise to the occasion, your niche site is sure to see the benefits in search rankings!
How the Product Review Update Affects Niche Sites
A few months after the update was rolled out, we’ve already seen how it’s shaken out in the real world. Some sites saw improvements after this Google update, and yes, other sites took a pretty big hit! Of those, many recovered completely, but others have had to take active steps to regain their lost rankings.
The bottom line is, you are vulnerable if you’re writing thin content or slapping together a quick list of products in an article with Amazon affiliate links and little additional value. (And if this update didn’t get you, a future core algorithm update or product review update refresh could.)
Again, Google claims it isn’t penalizing sites with thin content, but instead rewarding those it deems as having quality content. If you create valuable content, you should be able to benefit from this new update!
On the other hand, if your site has taken a hit, that’s a sign that you may need better content – or even that it’s time to move onto a new site. Whatever you decide, we want to make sure you know all about the update and how to take advantage of it for affiliate marketing success!
5 Tips for Writing Product Reviews That Google Loves
Here’s the thing: The name of the SEO game has always been about content quality and user experience.
In reality, this update is nothing all that revolutionary, and Google’s official recommendation is simple:
“The overall focus [is] providing users with content that provides insightful analysis and original research, and is written by experts or enthusiasts who know the topic well.”
From Google’s perspective, a great product review will help users make a buying decision, sometimes resulting in an affiliate commission – but if the user gets what they wanted when they entered their search query, it’s a fair transaction!
The problem comes when some affiliate marketers try to “game” the system by putting out thin content strictly to get as many affiliate links in front of searchers as possible. Again, Google wants to deliver results that add value, and a list of Amazon products without a lot of context isn’t all that valuable.
So, the question is, how can Google detect or measure a “quality product review” in practice? Here are a few things to keep in mind (based on what Google itself says and based on our own experience in the niche site space).
1) Provide Expert Knowledge
The guidelines from Google specifically suggest expressing your expert knowledge about products. That’s just what it sounds like: offering insights that come from your expertise on the subject, which may include revealing any credentials or experience that sets your review apart.
If you’re at all aware of what’s going on in SEO, then you know about the importance of E-A-T (expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness) in the Google algorithm. It’s no shocker that Google will prioritize websites and reviews coming from sites that demonstrate some level of expertise, so try to tap into this however you can!
Just keep in mind that with expert knowledge, you don’t necessarily have to use every product to understand its significance and provide helpful commentary.
2) Show the Product in Use
Provide your own pictures or videos showing the product in use, beyond what the manufacturer has provided on their product page or in their marketing materials. This is an obvious way to A) prove that you actually tested the product firsthand and B) give readers a more objective and neutral view of the product.
Beyond photos, posts with custom videos are likely to see a significant boost (and videos also have the added benefit of ranking separately in the Google SERP).
3) Compare the Product to Other Options
Quality reviewers recognize that buying decisions are usually made between products in a similar category.
For example, if you’re looking to buy earbuds, a review of Apple’s AirPods could also mention competing options from Sony, Skullcandy, Samsung, and other manufacturers to provide a more complete picture.
4) Offer Helpful Pros and Cons
Most quality reviewers will offer a quick list of scannable pros and cons that help a reader decide if the product is worth exploring more closely.
That’s not a big surprise, but there’s an important point here that many people miss: you should include actual cons! No product is perfect, so in a real review, you acknowledge a product’s drawbacks or faults as well as its strengths.
Without any legitimate cons, your piece is more likely to read like the manufacturer’s marketing and less like a real review.
5) Identify Key Decision-Making Factors
Lastly, what are the primary factors that someone has to think through in making a purchase decision?
In our earbuds example, the most important factors could be price, sound quality, battery life, comfort, durability, and style. Breaking down your review in this way can help communicate where the product stands in the areas that readers care about.
Also, for products where it makes sense, including quantitative measurements like a comparison table or list of technical specifications, as these can summarize important factors at a glance.
Quick Tips for Writing Better Product Reviews
These pointers may seem intuitive, but when you realize that Google is a robot instead of a human reader, it’s worth considering how to frame your content so that Google sees it in the best possible light.
Here’s a quick checklist for producing Google-approved affiliate content:
- Use an on-page optimization tool like Surfer SEO to incorporate a wide range of relevant keywords and phrases, with extra emphasis on keywords that aren’t found on the official product page or in competitors’ reviews. (The goal is to show Google that your review is saying something unique.)
- Focus on writing with neutral language instead of throwing out lots of buzzwords and salesy phrases. For example, instead of saying, “These amazing earbuds will totally change your life,” offer a more nuanced verdict like, “These are a solid pair of earbuds with an acceptable battery life and a robust bass response.” (The goal is to show Google that you’re not just hyping the product, but offering a truly impartial review.)
- Create original images and videos of the product whenever possible, and ideally make them higher quality than what’s already online. If this isn’t feasible, at least take any current product photos and add some new elements so they aren’t identical to what’s already out there. (The goal is to show Google that your review is adding something new.)
- Write like you’re talking to a friend who needs some good advice. Google wants to elevate helpful reviews that answer real people’s questions and help them make a buying decision. (The goal is to show Google that people are engaging with your post through on-page metrics like time on page.)
- Revisit your old reviews and add perspective. Google values fresh content, and what’s cool is, there’s actually a built-in reason to go back and update old product review content based on further time spent with a product, new releases of the product, changes in the marketplace, or additional insights to share. (The goal is to show Google that your content is always up-to-date and relevant.)
Product Reviews Update Conclusion
Google has said there will be periodic refreshes for this product reviews update, but without any additional announcements.
Ultimately, Google loves to keep people guessing, but one thing’s for sure: quality content tends to rise to the top. This is true for any site you may own, including a site you decide to buy.
So, if you’re interested in jumping into the affiliate marketing game by buying an existing niche site, you need to be able to tell not just how a site has performed so far, but also how it will perform going forward!
Buy a Review Site from Motion Invest
Here at Motion Invest, our bread and butter is buying and selling niche sites – so we know that this Google update has already had an impact. Some product review content sites with historically good performance took a hit, while others got a nice boost.
Either way, the last thing you want is to pay for a site based on faulty data! When you buy a website with Motion Invest, you’re buying a site that our team has purchased outright based on professional due diligence, so you can be confident that you’re actually getting what you’re paying for.
To learn more about buying a site with Motion Invest, please visit our buying page here. And for further industry news and analysis – including any future core algorithm update from Google – stay tuned right here on the Motion Invest blog!