What exactly are microformats and how can they help my SEO? If you’re like many SEOs or developers I know, you’ve probably heard some talk about microformats, but you’ve probably got some questions.
You may remember an old blog post of mine where I lamented that nobody really supports hCard. Thankfully the day has finally come where sites are supporting hCard, but it’s not because of my previous bitching. It’s because of SEO and search engines.
Sometime last year, Google announced what they call “rich snippets”. Rich snippets are Google’s way of presenting more useful information from your site right in the search results snippet. They look something like this:
Shortly after we started seeing them in search results for sites like Yelp and Linkedin. Then, at SMX advanced in Seattle, Google let it be known that they’d soon be rolling out rich snippets across all websites whenever the algorithm decided that they would be useful. This is very similar to how they treated site links.
This is great news! Since preliminary studies have shown that things like rich snippets increase click throughs, the obvious question becomes “how the heck can I get them on my site?”
Microformats are the answer. Now, before you go thinking “oh great, I’ve got to learn another programming language, I’m still struggling with jQuery” you can relax. Implementing microformats is simple – and it’s all done with HTML that you already know.
While there are several types of microformats, Google currently only supports 6 major ones. Those are:
- hcard – for marking up business card or profile information
- hReview – for dealing with individual user reviews
- hReview-aggregate – basically a summary of hReviews (think, overall or average rating)
- hProduct – for marking up products, prices, and all things e-commerce
- hCalendar – pretty self explanatory, dates and appointments
- hRecipe – also pretty explanatory. Recipes and ingredients
If your site deals with any of those categories, you should explore the possibilities of using microformats. There’s a great guide over a Microformats.org (which I won’t copy here, so go take a look when you’re done reading) but when it comes down to it, implementation is as simple as tagging your content with classes.
Here’s an example. Instead of just typing Name: Ryan Jones the hCard way to do this would be:
<span class=”fname” >Ryan Jones</span>
This tells Google, or anybody else for that matter, that my “full name” is “Ryan Jones.” I can use the same style markup on my phone number, address, email, picture, homepage URL, and even nickname.
So what are the SEO benefits? Let’s look at an example.
Here’s 2 search results from LinkedIn. One has microformats, the other doesn’t. Which one do you think is more useful? Which one are you more likely to click?
Without Rich Snippet (no microformats)
With Rich Snippet (has microformats)
The 2nd snippet here not only looks better, but it’s way less ambiguous than the first one – especially since there’s at least 25 Ryan Jones’s on LinkedIn. It goes beyond the generic LinkedIn META description and pulls in basic information. In this case, it tells you I’m from the Detroit area and that I work at ZAAZ.
The difference is even more astounding when you look at something with reviews. Let’s look at a rich snippet that uses both hReviews AND hRecipe.
Which of the following results would you be more tempted to click on?
Here, ThaiTable out ranks FoodNetwork for the query “pad thai” – but I’d be willing to bet that FoodNetwork.com is getting more traffic from Google for this query.
Ok, I’ve tagged my site, can I test it? Yes! Google webmaster tools offers a Rich Snippet Tool that will not only show you a preview of your site’s rich snippet, but it also tells you what information Google sees available.
Microformats may not directly increase your search engine rankings, but they can still be a vital part of your SEO strategy. Ranking on page 1 of Google isn’t all there is to SEO – you’ve still got to entice the searcher to click. Rich snippets may be just thing to do that.
Go ahead, give ‘em a try. I’d love to hear your success stories here in the comments.