Google’s Review Censorship Guidelines: A Word of Caution to Businesses

Recently, in an effort to improve user experience, Google exercised their right to censorship by disallowing webmasters to mark up reviews which contain profanity. While at first glance this appears to be a noble effort, this new policy may require more due diligence on the part of webmasters and skew the perception of a business when viewing their ratings in the SERPs.

Review Snippits and Critic Snippets

So, what exactly are review snippets? Currently, Google displays two types of reviews in the search results: critic reviews and review snippets. A rating snippets is shown as those orange stars you see in the SERPs. While they frequently appear for products, they can also appear as an aggregate rating for businesses and other things. Google also allows for critic reviews (which do not utilize stars) for movies, TV shows, books and local businesses.

Review snippet example

Critic review example



In order to generate rich snippets in the SERPs your website must implement review Schema markup. When Google detects this schema a rich snippet that includes stars and other summary info from reviews or ratings may be shown in the SERPs. Review snippets are known for helping to improve click-through-rates and help your results stand out from the competition.

Problems with Google’s Review Censorship Guidelines

While Google’s use of censorship aims to dissuade the use of profanity in user reviews (and perhaps provoke a more thoughtful review), there are some problems with this approach:

  • Users are likely not aware of the profanity guidelines, nor care, and likewise have little interest towards their review being eligible for markup up in the SERPs. This implies that all the burden falls on the webmaster to monitor and delete inappropriate reviews or risk violating Google’s guidelines. Because of this, businesses must be diligent at removing these reviews in a timely manner – which can be a job in and of itself.
  • This can have a particularly big effect on websites with a small number of reviews. Consider the following scenario: If stephanielevonne.com has 10 reviews (5 positive, 5 negative) and most negative reviews use profanity they would be eliminated in the SERPs. It would essentially appear as though there were only 5 positive reviews. Likewise, perhaps your customers are adamant that your product is f*cking awesome. Is there a true need for censorship in this case? Who does it really benefit?

On December 16th Google stated that “[P]rofanity and vulgar language are prohibited. Do not include reviews that contain vulgar or profane language.” However, if you visit Google’s official Review Guidelines page today, it simply states that ‘profanity and vulgar language is discouraged’ under critic reviews only, with no mention of this as it pertains to review snippets. It seems as though Google has cautiously and quietly backed away from trying to censor reviews. Should reviews be censored? Let us know what you think!

Interested in learning more about SEO? Here’s a great story about how SEO helped a financial advisor’s site get a 19% boost in traffic!

Stephanie LeVonne
About the Author

Stephanie LeVonne

Stephanie is an SEO Account Analyst at Elite and previously worked for a media planning agency where she helped craft content strategies across multiple verticals and DMAs. Stephanie’s also into food blogs and cookbooks, and loves to bake. She aspires to live on the West Coast – but isn’t sure she could give up her favorite New York cheesecake.

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