Microdata Format

January 13, 2012

Microdata is a vocabulary specification used to embed and define the meaning of the content within the element. Think of it as “definition” markup. Adding, or retrofitting this markup to your pages is time consuming and, quite frankly, a burden for content producers. But the pros, in my opinion, far outweigh the cons of integrating the Microdata schema into the content generation process. Besides, isn’t it in our best interest to pave the way for a future with a more relevant web experience.

Why do I need this?

Why would I spend hours re-structuring all of my content? Is it just so that perhaps, one day in the future, a machine can read my content and know the difference between Apache, the web server; Apache, the native American tribe; or Apache helicopters?

As a matter of fact, yes. Just that example alone should tell you just what kind of challenge a machine-learning algorithm (Google) has when indexing and catagorizing your pages and content. Sure, the machine can inspect contextual signals like page titles, neighboring image alt tags and other on-page indicators, as to what kind of “apache” it is; but as we see so often with contextual ads, they don’t always get it right.

Schema.org is a collaboration between Google, Microsoft and Yahoo! and they are focused on defining the item types and properties that are most valuable to Search Engines. They suggest:

On-page markup enables search engines to understand the information on web pages and provide richer search results in order to make it easier for users to find relevant information on the web.

So basically, we have an organization whose efforts are a collaboration between the major Search Engines, who have agreed to support the Microdata schema. The same schema which will be able to identify previously ambiguous content, which allows a Search Engine to properly index and rank your documents. This, in turn, means your pages will rank better in SERPs for appropriate queries… which all correlates to higher conversions, decreased bounce rates, and a better user experience.

How Do I Get Started?

Here’s a Before and After example of how to structure a business listing:

    <h1>Great Scott's</h1>
    <p>9999 Van Ness Ave, San Francisco, CA</p>

<div itemscope itemtype="http://schema.org/LocalBusiness/Restaurant">
    <h1 itemprop="name">Great Scott's</h1>
    <p itemprop="address" itemscope itemtype="http://schema.org/PostalAddress">
        <span itemprop="streetAddress">9999 Van Ness Ave</span>,
        <span itemprop="addressLocality">San Francisco</span>,
        <span itemprop="addressRegion">CA</span>.</p>

The itemscope and itemtype are top-level microdata items which tell search engines what to expect, and what kind of item to expect. The itemprop (item property) is the meat of the schema, which describes what the actual content is. Simple structure, really — but very heavy on markup.

The Reality

It’s important to note that the entire page doesn’t have to utilize the microdata format, although it can. Admittedly, it’s a schema that’s still trying to gain traction and the schema itself hasn’t quite been set in stone because it is still evolving. From a search and content perspective, there may be some SEO advantages here. Seeing how this is somewhat in its infancy, I don’t think there’s much weight given (by Search Engines) to this extra meta. At least not yet.

In Practice

I would recommend utilizing microdata in small increments, starting with tidbits of your content. Contact information, business listings… these are almost essential – especially for local search. Microdata formatted products and editorial reviews – both great for shopping searches. The list goes on. As a matter of fact, here’s the full heirarchy of the Microdata Format schema.

Additionally, use the HTML5 Microdata Generator to help build these formatted components into your website.

For those of you looking to get the extra edge on relevancy and proper indexing, microdata formatting may be just what you need.


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