Updated: June 24, 2023.
The Google product reviews update audit checklist with 55+ items that dig deep into the tips and recommendations provided by Google.
The recent Google product reviews algorithm update has come as a surprise to many websites. If you see increases, congratulations. Great job!
Unfortunately, I see lots of sites experiencing really serious traffic drops, even high-quality sites that were immune to the December Google core update.
If your site has suffered, the best thing you can do is to equip yourself with the necessary knowledge to 1) better understand this update, 2) find out why your site has suffered and 3) know what steps to take to increase the chances of full recovery.
With that in mind, I’m giving you this Google product review update guide. Have a nice read!
Basic info about the Google product reviews update
Here is the basic information you need to know about the recent Google product reviews update.
The Google product review update:
- started on April 8 and should be almost fully rolled out by now.
- impacts the sites that publish product reviews (both single product reviews and roundup reviews).
- is site-wide, which means that the whole site is likely to feel its either positive or negative effect.
- is going to be refreshed periodically. Similar to core algorithm updates, you will not see huge improvements until Google refreshes the new algorithm. We don’t know when the product review algorithm is going to be refreshed but we can expect that Google will announce it.
- influences Discover traffic and rankings (just like core updates do).
- so far seems to have had the biggest impact on lower-quality affiliate sites that mass-produced reviews with the main purpose of earning affiliate income.
- is supposed to surface high-quality review sites that actually put effort into reviewing the product and adding real value.
- has been thoroughly analyzed by Glenn Gabe in his article where he presents a lot of great insights and tips.
- has a lot in common with E-A-T so a lot of the points of the audit relate to E-A-T.
❓Looking to hire someone to audit your website or do SEO? Make sure to check the SEO services I offer including SEO consultations and monthly SEO services.
👉 Contact me for more information or if you have any questions or learn more about why you want to hire me as your SEO consultant.
Google product reviews update checklist
The below Google product update review checklist items are the compilation of all the best practices provided in the Google documentation and my own insights.
To come up with this checklist, I thoroughly studied the article about the latest product review update, the evergreen article about Google’s core updates, and the most important E-A-T guidelines provided in Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines.
- I added my own insights, comments, and examples to each tip.
- I split some of the original tips into two to make them easier to digest.
- Most of the guidelines are the specific recommendations you should implement on every product review page.
- There are also several recommendations that apply to the entire site.
- Each recommendation specifies whether it applies to the review or the site.
- I have also created a free Google product reviews update audit template that I am giving for free to my newsletter subscribers.
Note that this is a really exhaustive list and some of these tips may not be appropriate to all product review types, even though most are recommended.
Ready? Let’s dive into it!
0. Start by focusing on your users and their needs.
Focus on your users and their needs to create product reviews that Google will like.
Remember that users are reading your review because they want to learn about the product and make the right purchase decision.
Your job – as a product reviewer – is to help your users make the right choice (not to make them click on your affiliate link).
1. Check if the review expresses expert knowledge about the product.
The author of the review should have expert knowledge that goes beyond knowing the product name, model, and basic parameters or features.
You can possess expert knowledge about the product only if you are genuinely interested in it and have been using it for some time.
Example: My review of WP Rocket (WordPress plugin) expresses expert knowledge about this product because I’ve been using it for a couple of years and have tested it on multiple websites.
2. Check if the review shows what the product is like physically.
It does not matter if you are talking about a physical product or software. You should show what the product looks like.
In the case of actual physical photos, you can take your own photos of the product. You can order the product, take photos of it, and then return it. You can also visit the store that sells the product and take photos.
If you are reviewing software, you should take your own screenshots showing the software, its interface, etc. The possibilities are endless as long as you are willing to put in some effort.
Here is an example of a high-quality gaming review website.
3. Check if the review shows how the product is used.
People reading product reviews usually know the basic information about the product and they want to learn more to decide if the product is a good fit for them. That’s why your review can also show them how the product is used.
In the case of physical products, you can simply take photos of yourself using the product. In the case of software products, you can take as many screenshots as you like.
Example: Following up on the example of my review of WP Rocket, I am showing my users how I set up the plugin and what Google PageSpeed Insights scores I got from this setup.
4. Check if the review provides quantitative measurements about how a product performs in different categories.
You can use stars, a scale from 1 to 10, or percentages to evaluate the product in different categories of performance.
The more visual your evaluation is, the more enticing it will be to your audience. Make sure to analyze the product in at least a bunch of different categories of performance.
Example: The categories of performance for a WordPress speed plugin may include how much it improves the PSI scores, how much it improves the Core Web Vitals assessment, or how much it increases the speed index of the site.
5. Check if the review provides unique information about the product beyond what is provided by its manufacturer.
A high-quality review of a product should not only describe the list of features of the tool but also provide tips on how to make use of these features to complete specific tasks.
Everyone can look up the information about the product provided by its manufacturer but this is not what readers of product reviews are looking for. They want to learn about the unique and specific features of the product.
Example: A review of Semrush should not only list its features (that are listed and described on its website) but also show how to use these features.
6. Check if the review explains what sets the product apart from other similar or competing products.
The chances are that if you are reviewing a certain product or a certain group of products there are also other competing products. The review should make it clear why the product reviewed is a better choice.
Example: In the case of WP Rocket (I will change the example in a few moments), what sets this WordPress plugin from the rest is that it actually works and actually improves the Google PageSpeed Insights scores. I make it clear in my review by comparing the PSI scores of my site with WP Rocket vs other speed plugins.
7. Check if the review mentions other comparable products or possible alternatives.
People reading the review still have not decided what product they want to buy. You can help them make the right choice by presenting similar alternative products.
You can show similar products from the same manufacturer or the same type of product but from other manufacturers, or both.
However, don’t give your users too many choices because they may get lost. You should clearly indicate which product variations stand out and why.
8. Check if the review talks about other similar products and indicates their best uses or the circumstances in which they should be used.
When looking for product reviews, people want to choose the product type and variation that will suit their needs best.
Sometimes an alternative product may have a specific feature that the user is precisely looking for and which is missing in the product reviewed.
Example: The review of iPhone 12 should also mention iPhone 12 mini which is a better choice for people looking for smaller but powerful phones.
9. Check if the review presents how the product has changed or evolved over time.
Unless this is the first version of the product, the review should talk about how the product has changed over time.
You should provide the information on how the manufacturer works on changing the product or in the case of software products whether the product receives updates.
Example: The review of iPhone 12 should briefly present what has been changed in iPhone 12 versus iPhone 11 or even iPhone 10.
10. Check if the review presents how the product has been improved.
Practically every new version of any product brings some improvements or fixes in comparison to previous models. The review should provide information about that.
In the case of software products, these are usually bug fixes and performance improvements. Physical products may come with improvements in their build, shape, speed, or anything.
11. Check if the review discusses the pros and cons of the product.
Any high-quality product review should genuinely discuss the advantages and disadvantages of the product.
You can present the pros and cons of the product in the form of a visually attractive table.
A high-quality review will point out and genuinely discuss the cons of the product without unnaturally praising the product with the sole purpose of making the user convert.
Example: Instead of saying that the disadvantage of the iPhone 12 is its price (which is known by everyone), you can say that its battery life significantly decreases if you use the MagSafe cover (most people don’t know this).
12. Check if the review presents the pros and cons of the product based on actual research.
The pros and cons should also go beyond the obvious information that is provided by the manufacturer (e.g. price, dimensions, etc.).
A high-quality product review should go one step further and present the pros and cons of the product based on its actual usage.
Example: A disadvantage of the iPhone 12 is that it is very slippery and it is practically impossible to use it without a protective case. This is not something that you will find in the list of features provided by the manufacturer.
13. Check if the review identifies key decision-making factors for the product’s category.
If you know the product well (beyond what is in the Amazon product description), you will have no trouble identifying its key decision-making factors.
If you are reviewing an iPhone, you should make it clear what the decision-making factors for these smartphones are so that people reading the review will know instantly if this is the product right for them.
Example: For users of iPhones – which are premium phones – the key decision-making factors include security, ease of use, or reliability. Price on the other hand is not one of these factors for iPhones.
14. Check if the review shows how the product performs in its key-decision making factors.
Identifying the key decision-making factors is great, but evaluating how the product performs in them is even better.
A high-quality review focused on helping users will go deep into analyzing the key-decision making factors.
Example: You should assess the iPhone you are reviewing in terms of its security, reliability, and ease of use instead of complaining about its high price (because this is not the key-decision making factor).
15. Check if the review describes key choices in how the product is designed and their effect on its users beyond the information provided by the manufacturer.
The key choices in how the product is designed are usually connected with the main goal of the product (and the problem it will help solve).
This can relate to the technology that the manufacturer chose to use in their project (e.g. the FaceUnlock in iPhones instead of a fingerprint scanner).
Example: iPhones are designed with the security of users in mind, so in your review of an iPhone you can talk about how FaceUnlock works, whether it is reliable, and if it actually protects the privacy of users.
❗ The below tips come from Google’s post on core updates, Google Search Quality Evaluator guidelines, and my own experience as an SEO auditor. There is a lot of focus on E-A-T (Expertise, Authoritativeness, Trustworthiness) or Page Quality, YMYL (Your Money Your Life), and basic technical SEO optimizations.
16. Check if the review contains original research or analysis.
People are looking for product reviews because they want to learn about your personal experiences with the product.
If they were interested only in the product features or specifications, then they would only be interested in reading the user’s guide.
Example: A high-quality review of an iPhone should demonstrate how intensively the reviewer used the phone and what its battery life was like instead of simply reporting on battery life information available in the technical specifications.
17. Check if the review copies or rewrites other sources without providing additional value.
The biggest issue of many affiliate sites is that they simply rewrite the product information that is already available somewhere else (in other reviews or on Amazon).
This used to work a couple of years ago but now you REALLY need to provide additional value. One way you can get additional information about the product is to run a poll and ask actual users of the product about their experiences with it.
18. Check if the review describes the product in a substantial, complete, or comprehensive way.
A high-quality product review that both Google and users like goes beyond providing the obvious information and parameters about the product.
A substantial, complete, or comprehensive product review is usually a longer article but that does not mean that you should try to make it long only to get a specific number of words. It is not about the length but the completeness of the information.
Example: Adding unnecessary “fluffy” information to the review (defining the product and describing the history of its manufacturer) is a very bad practice. Users looking for a review of an iPhone know what an iPhone is and that it is produced by Apple.
19. Check if the review provides substantial value in comparison to other similar competing reviews.
This is simply about making sure that your review is the best that is out there.
The review should provide more value, more insight, and go beyond what other similar reviews provide.
20. Check if the review serves the genuine interests of visitors or it exists solely to rank well in search engines.
By serving your visitors you also serve search engines which will in return serve your content in SERPs for relevant queries.
It’s obvious that the reviews (especially on affiliate sites) are created with the purpose to rank highly in search engines and earn affiliate income.
In 2021, however, the primary goal should be to serve the genuine interests of visitors and, as a result, earn income from that.
21. Check if the review satisfies the search intent of the keywords it tries to rank
Make sure that your review matches the search intent for the query you want it to rank.
The search intent changes just like user behaviors and needs change. The easiest way to determine the search intent behind the query is to check what types of content rank highly for particular keywords.
Example: Your single product review used to rank number one for query “best SEO tool” but now after the update only roundup reviews rank on the first page. This may indicate that the search intent for this query has shifted and people typing this keyword are now actually looking for a roundup review.
22. Check if the review or the site shows evidence of the expertise (e.g. certificates, awards, etc.)
If your review has been chosen as one of the best reviews of this particular product in 2020, make sure to mention this within the review.
Does your site have any certificates? Has it received any awards? Is there anything your site can boast about? If there is, then don’t forget to talk about it. This will have a positive impact on your E-A-T.
Example: If you review SEO tools on your site, you might want to mention the fact that you have so far reviewed 100+ SEO tools (and counting) or that SEJ chose you as the SEO tool reviewer of the year.
23. Determine if the site publishing the review is a Your Money Your Life (YMYL) website.
The review sites are Your Money Your Life sites because they often help users make very important purchase decisions that can influence their quality of life, health, well-being, and more.
Your Money Your Life sites are known to be held to a higher standard, which means you should aim at meeting all of these audit checklist items.
24. Check if the review draws on other sources
Drawing on other high-quality sources will make your review more complete.
You can provide links to some technical specifications of the manufacturer or link to another high-quality review of the product that analyses it from a slightly different angle.
You can link to your sources either in the text or at the end of the review. Remember to make these external links do-follow (and don’t worry about the link juice).
25. Check if the review presents its sources clearly.
Just like you are adding affiliate links in your review, you might as well add links to the sources you used to research the product.
When creating your in-depth review, you were probably studying different sources, such as the user’s guide, manufacturer specifications, or other in-depth analyses and tests of the product. Why not quote them?
26. Determine if the review is the type of content that could be referenced in a book or a printed magazine.
If a book or a printed magazine could reference the review to provide additional value to its readers, then you can be sure that the review is very high-quality.
The point of the Google product review update is not to get a magazine or a book to reference your review but rather to meet certain quality standards (that are described in the Google documentation and in this guide).
If the site that publishes the review is an authority, then it gets mentioned and cited in other authoritative sites from the same field.
Mentions do not necessarily need to be links. Google can determine if a specific mention is a true recommendation regardless of whether it is a do-follow link, no-follow link, or no link at all.
28. Determine if the review is the type of article that you would feel comfortable sharing with a friend or recommending to others interested in the product.
Think about your best friend and imagine that they want to buy the product that you review on your site.
Would you be willing to give your friend the link to your review to help them make the right purchase decision without thinking about the affiliate income you may earn if they buy the product?
If you answered YES, then your review probably passes this test.
Not only do you need to provide the full name of the author but also provide at least basic information about them and ideally what experience with the topic they have.
The times when you could have a review written by an “admin” (and make it rank well) are gone forever.
Now you should add the author’s bio to each review and create dedicated author pages if the site has more than one author.
Example: My site has only one author (me) so I provide more detailed information about me on the about page but I still always add the author’s bio to each article.
You should not be making recommendations for a product unless you know the product very well and are a recognized authority in the field.
If you are not, then you can hire someone who is and have them write the review (or conduct the tests and analyses). Don’t forget to put their name in the review to make use of their authority.
Example: I am the right person to write the review of SEO tools because I use them on a daily basis and I have a lot of experience in this field. However, I would not feel comfortable creating an in-depth review of my iPhone because this is not the area I specialize in.
31. Check if the site that published the review provides information about itself (e.g. the about page).
If users are to trust the information you provide to make a purchase decision, then they need to know what your site is, what it does, and what its purpose is.
The best place to establish the purpose of your site and provide information about it is the about page. The homepage is also a good place to put the information about your site, its purpose, establish the tone, and present your E-A-T.
32. Check if the review contains the information that makes you trust it.
Nothing makes users trust a product more than the testimonials of its actual users.
You can ask your site visitors about their experiences with the product and publish their testimonials in your review.
33. Check if the site provides testimonials of its users or customers.
Having testimonials of the products you are reviewing is one thing but having testimonials of your site is another.
Ask your users about their opinions about your site or run a poll and ask them what they like about your site. Satisfied visitors will be happy to share their positive opinions about your site (just like unhappy visitors will want to express their dissatisfaction).
34. Check if the review is well-produced, or appears sloppy or hastily-produced.
Search engines might not instantly notice that the review is a bit sloppy or hastily produced but users will definitely see that.
This will lead to a bad user experience that Google will definitely notice. In 2021, there is no room for sloppy reviews. Period.
35. Check if the content of the review is free from spelling or stylistic issues.
A high-quality review is free of any spelling mistakes or stylistic issues.
If grammar is not your thing, you can always ask an expert to proofread your review or use an app, such as Grammarly.
36. Check if the headline provides a descriptive and helpful summary of the review.
The headline should provide the user with a descriptive and helpful summary of the review instead of simply targeting the major keyword.
The user should know by just reading the headline if they can find the answers to their questions in the review.
Example: Instead of writing “best WordPress plugins” you may change your headline into something like “the best WordPress plugins to speed up your website”.
37. Check if the headline and/or the page title of the review is shocking or/and exaggerating in nature.
Shocking headlines may have a higher click-through rate but they usually end up irritating and dissatisfying the user.
Google is pretty good at recognizing when users are dissatisfied and does not like it when you make your users unhappy or irritated.
Example: Your site may get banned from Google Discover if you use shocking headlines.
38. Check if the review has an H1 tag and if its content is optimal.
Your review should ideally have one H1 tag that would act as a headline (which is, as mentioned above, not shocking, has your main keyword, and summarizes the review).
Google may not have problems with your site having multiple H1 tags or not having them at all but this may cause trouble to screen reader users. When designing a review, you should think about everyone, i.e. Google, regular users, and screen reader users.
???? TIP: Crawl the site to quickly check whether the site has H1 tags on its web pages. Once you crawl your site with Sitebulb, go to SEO > On Page > Content and navigate to H1 Identification to view all your H1 tags in bulk,
39. Check if the structure of headings is correct.
The correct structure of headings will make the review easier to scan, read and digest.
The structure of the review should be similar to the structure of a book where you have your cover (the title tag), the title (H1 tag), main chapters (H2 tags), and subchapters (H3 and/or H4 tags).
The content of headings should actually reflect the content of specific sections of the review, e.g. product specifications, pros and cons, practical use examples, etc.
40. Check if the review is up-to-date.
A high-quality product review should provide up-to-date information on the current availability of the product, its discounts, etc.
Example: If the software developer has recently released an important security update of their product, your review should mention that. You can simply add the sentence starting with “Update:” somewhere at the beginning of the review.
41. Check if the review has the last modified date and the publication date.
The last modified date and the publication date are important metrics that will help users decide if they want to read the review or if it is relevant to them.
These metrics are also important signals for Google as long as you use them correctly.
Changing these dates without changing the actual content can only confuse users and make Google simply ignore these on your site. Google has many other methods to check if your review has actually been updated and when it was first published.
42. Check if the site provides contact details.
Users are unlikely to trust your site if it has no contact details. Providing contact details is a must for YMYL sites.
A bare minimum is to have a contact form and/or provide your email address. You can also add the physical address of your business and a telephone number (if applicable).
43. Check if the title tag of the review is SEO-optimized
Make sure that the target keyword is present in the title tag but at the same time make sure the title still makes sense and actually encourages users to click.
This is a bit slippery area because it is easy to overdo the SEO optimization (especially in the case of affiliate sites that want to rank for very competitive transactional keywords).
Your task as an SEO is to find the right balance between the two.
TIP: Crawl the site to quickly check the content of the title tags across all the web pages. Once you crawl your site with Sitebulb, go to SEO > On Page > Content and click on Title Identification. Looking at all your title elements at once can be very insightful.
44. Check if the review has the meta description element.
The meta description should both contain the most important keyword (and/or its variation) and encourage users to click through (in case Google decides to show it).
It is totally OK to leave the meta description element empty because – yes – Google rewrites it most of the time anyway.
However, in the case of highly competitive affiliate sites, I recommend adding a custom meta description to each review because Google always reads the content of the meta description even if it chooses not to display it.
???? TIP: You can crawl the site to quickly check the content of the meta description elements across all the web pages. Once you crawl your site with Sitebulb, go to SEO > On Page > Content and click on Meta Description Identification.
45. Check if images are embedded correctly.
Images added with the help of CSS (as the background element) are treated as layout elements and are not indexed by Google. These images will not show in the Google Image Search.
I see lots of review sites add their main image as the background image of the page header. This is a mistake because it unnecessarily adds a usually large image at the top of the viewport (which has a bad influence on the Largest Contentful Paint metric) and also makes it impossible for that image to be indexed.
TIP: To check how an image is embedded, simply right click on it and select Inspect. Correctly-embedded images are embedded with the use of
46. Check if images have the ALT tag.
Not only should a high-quality review contain unique images of the product, but it should also have descriptive ALT tags (that contain important keywords or their variations).
ALT tags help both Google and screen reader users understand what your images show. Don’t leave ALT tags empty but don’t stuff them with keywords either.
???? TIP: Crawl the site to check if images have ALT attributes. Once you crawl your site with Sitebulb, go to SEO > On Page > Hints and look for Images without ALT text.
In addition to adding descriptive ALT tags, you can also go one step further and add helpful captions to your images so that users actually see what you want to convey with a specific image.
Captions may be especially helpful if you use them to show how the product is used or how it looks from different sides. The same applies to the reviews of software. If you have screenshots, tell your users what these screenshots actually show.
Google is pretty good at recognizing and “ignoring” affiliate links on the site but it’s still a good practice to mark them as “nofollow”.
Affiliate links are not true recommendations so you should mark them with
If internal linking is off on your site, Google may have trouble determining the most important web pages on your site and/or associating your review with specific keywords/topics.
One basic internal linking technique you can implement right away is to make sure that the review has contextual links to other articles on the site.
Example: The review of WP Rocket on my site can link to my other reviews of WordPress speed plugins, my guides on how to speed up the site, or my Core Web Vitals audit guide.
If a specific review is your top page and you want to give it as much “juice” as possible, you should link it from other important pages on your site.
A homepage usually has the best backlinks so you can link the most important reviews from your homepage.
If your site publishes studies or statistics (these pieces like to attract a lot of backlinks), you can link the most important reviews from those pages as well.
???? TIP: You can use Sitebulb to analyze the internal backlinks of your site and see what URLs exactly link to specific articles. Go to Link Explorer > Internal Links and type the fragment of the URL you want to analyze.
51. Check if the content of the review is unique.
Make sure that your review is unique both on your site and on the internet (don’t copy other people’s reviews).
I still come across many sites that have reviews whose content is partially duplicated across the entire site. Such sites seem to be using one template for all of their reviews and only making 60-70% of their content unique, with the rest being the boilerplate content.
TIP: You can use Sitebulb to check if the site contains duplicate content. Just go to SEO > Duplicate Content.
52. Check if the site or the review contains structured data and if it is valid.
Structured data can help your review look more attractive in search results, which can improve the CTR of your review.
However, your review will be eligible for rich results only if the structured data markup is valid. To check if the structured data markup is valid and your site is eligible for rich results, you can use the Google Rich Results Test.
TIP: You can use Sitebulb to analyze and validate only these types of Schema that can be displayed as rich results. To do that, go to Structured Data > Search Features. check if the site contains duplicate content. Just go to SEO > Duplicate Content.
53. Check if adding other types of structured data makes sense.
There are at least a few different types of structured data that you can add to your review to make it look more attractive in SERPs.
The examples include review FAQ, How-to, Product, Q&A, Review snippet, and more. You can check the full list of structured data types eligible for rich results in the Google documentation.
54. Check if the review has an excessive amount of ads that interfere with the main content.
It’s OK to monetize your content with ads as long as you keep the right balance.
You publish content for free so you have a right to earn from it. However, a lot of affiliate and review sites really go overboard with ads that make it difficult to access the main content. This is something that can hurt your site both in the eyes of Google and users.
55. Check if the review displays well on mobile devices.
Even if the majority of your users use desktop devices, you should still optimize your site first and foremost to display well on mobile devices.
The review may look great on desktop devices but be totally messed up on mobile devices. Remember that with the mobile-first indexing just around the corner, Google will only look at and index the site as it appears on mobile.
TIP: You can use the Google Search Console Mobile Usability report to check if all the web pages are mobile-friendly or if there are any issues (like text too small to read or clickable elements too close together).
Check my other SEO audit guides and checklists: