So if you haven’t heard by now there is this new term called microformats spreading like crazy across the net. At first it can seem overly confusing but when digging into the heart of the matter the exact opposite is true. So what are microformats? Microformats are sets of simple data formats built for today’s technology (XHTML mostly) to solve simple problems. To speak in plain English a Microformat in most cases is a set of XHTML code embedded in web pages that provides a structured set of data that can be utilized for other means.
Since Microformats is such a new topic even for tech heads I have a brief explanation of what they are below, if you would like to skip straight to how microformats affects Search Engine Optimization then skip to the bottom of this article.
Remember back when “XML” was the huge buzzword of the time? The idea that anyone could sit down, open up a basic text editor, and create custom XML tags that fit their business from which anyone else could take and translate for their own was a revolutionary concept. Microformats is esentially an extension of this philosophy, only instead of a free-for-all of different XML tags microformats adheres to the basic rules of leveraging technology everyone already has access to aka XHTML via your web browser. The are 2 types of Microformats, they are compound microformats and elemental microformats, the difference between these two are as follows.
A compound microformat is an organized collection of data, for example:
<a class=”url fn” href=”http://www.usweb.com”>Shaun Shull</a>
<div class=”street-address”>1060 Timberline Terrace</div>
This is an example of a commonly used microformat called hCard. An hCard is a collection of data about a person just like the typical vCard you may send over email. To utilize the hCard microformat you simply post code similar to this on your site which would display something like the example below.
This box may look innocent enough when being viewed on a web page through your browser but in reality if any microformat bots or other tools read this code on your website they could easily take this information and do a million cool things with it including turning it into a standard vcard for people to use in their email client.
An elemental microformat is simply an attribute attached to an existing tag:
What this means is that instead of a big block of code providing a ton of data, an elemental microformat is a small snippet of code providing a brief bit of info. A good example of an elemental microformat in use is Technorati. For those of you who are big Technorati users then guess what, everytime you put a Technorati tag on your website you are utilizing an elemental microformat. How is this? It’s simple, the rel=”tag” in the link you post is a microformat called the Rel-Tag microformat. This microformat simply provides a way for bots and tools to know that you have posted this URL because you are tagging (aka categorizing) it to the word specified within your link.
Another common elemental microformat is XFN (Xhtml Friends Network). This is simply an attribute you place on links when linking to someone you know. For example I may link to my cousin Ed Shull with code that looks like this:
<a href="http://www.edshull.com/" rel="kin met">Ed Shull</a>
This code basically relays to any bots or tools scanning my webpage that “Ed Shull” is my kin and we have met. Imagine the possibilities of a web crawler such as Google being able to show my family tree simply by typing in my name in the search box. This idea and so much more can one day become a reality with the use of widespread microformat adoption.
Enough already, so how do microformats affect Search Engine Optimization (SEO)?
Well, I’m afraid to say that this answer is very simple. Currently microformats affect SEO the same way content on your website affects it. From a web crawlers perspective there is currently no distinguishing factor between a microformat and standard content on your website. Why is this? Well, microformats are composed of common XHTML attributes and tags of information that are used in a standardized way, therefore engines such as Google and Yahoo treat it as exactly that, standard information. Does this mean microformats are useless in search engine optimization? No, not at all, microformats may be undistinguishable by engines at the moment but they still provide valuable content for web crawlers to index. An hCard for example provides Google with useful data about yourself such as an email, phone number, address and photo, all of which will be indexed into the Google engine allowing people to find your webpage based on your personal information. Sure, it’s not an SEO breakthrough but content is content so if you can get this information indexed in the engine why not do it using a microformat method and help increase the awareness and availability of microformats as a whole.
One day search engine spiders will need to accommodate microformats.
Let’s face it, one day search engines will have no choice but to take microformats into consideration and they will certainly benefit because of doing so. Microformats provide valuable data that people are interested in, just like Technorati pushed elemental microformats to a level of common widespread use (although most don’t realize it), another popular site could just as easily leverage compound microformats causing even more need for engines to begin distinguishing microformats from standard webpage content. It’s a snowball effect that is happening right this moment.
So what are some examples of microformats benefiting search engine results?
Well, below are just a few scenarios where the utilization of microformats could make engines more useful and productive:
- You perform a search for a persons name and see their family tree, business acquaintances, friends and significant others, along with the ability to download their vcard.
- You search for a keyword such as “ford mustang” and receive a list of sites, photos, and documents that people have decided are related to the word “ford mustang” through tagging on their website.
- You search for a product and receive a list of reviews related to that product which people all over the net have posted on their website.
- You search for a specific date and receive a list of categorized events occurring on that date that people have posted on their website.
What really makes microformats so unique and exciting is that everything is decentralized. This means that no matter who you are or what website you post your microformat on, tools such as search engine spiders will finally have the ability to easily collect information in an organized fashion as if the entire internet was a large standardized database. This standardization allows companies to present a wide variety of tools and search data in a clean, easy to navigate, easy to understand way that has never been seen with the likes of today’s current search engines.
written by Shaun Shull