tl;dr HTML Microdata helps search engines to understand your content better and your search results will look cooler.
Providing content in the hypertext markup language is always a challenge, because you need to serve a wide variety of consumers: Human users as well as machines, e.g. search engines.
In order to make your content successful, both kinds of consumers must be satisfied. This means, first of all both need to be able to understand what your content is all about.
Fair enough, this is a hard thing to do. While you often use visual elements to explain the meaning of an information to a human user, a search engine needs much more specific information about the semantics of the content, in order to understand and categorize it correctly.
One way to do this is the HTML Microdata specification, an approach to embed machine-readable data in HTML.
Here at flinc, we first used microformats to add semantic information, because we liked the simplicity of the markup. But with further usage, we noticed that we needed more specific ways to distinguish the meaning of our data. This was the point where we switched to Microdata, as they provide a very simple and flexible extension mechanism.
Why you should use it
Providing Microdata is some kind of soft search engine optimization. According to Google it will not affect the ranking of your page – for now. But it can make the listing of your page in the search results much more useful and appealing to the user.
Let’s compare some real use cases from flinc to get a better idea of what I’m talking about.
We take a look at some common Google search results of flinc content: A ride search. You’re looking for someone to carpool with who has a car and can give you a lift.
A Google search result without Microdata looks like this:
Google provides the user common basic information about the content: A title (1), the URL (2) and a short description (3).
This is the way Google represents all kinds of search results. It’s the default view for the content of the page. No matter if your content belongs to a blog or a shop or a carpooling site, if Google doesn’t get more semantics about your content, it will probably show you these three items.
In fact, it’s a good overview, but we want to provide the user with better formatted and use case specific information.
Similar result for a ride search that is enhanced using Microdata:
You can see first of all, Google provides the common information title (1) and URL (2) of the page. But instead of a simple short description, we now see more detailed information about the search.
As flinc, we provide the number of possible drivers found – more than 15 (3), as well as a well formatted description, when the ride is supposed to take place, including departure time, location and destination (4).
Additionally, Google shows a short excerpt of the possible drivers flinc found for this ride. They are listed with the calculated price for this ride (5), as well as the calculated pick up time (6) and even the model of his car (7).
With this addition, the user gets a much better overview about the state of the search, its matched offers and, of course, flinc itself.
Another good example is our new feature: Groups.
Group search result without Microdata
And again, Google provides only the title (1), the URL (2) and a short description (3).
Compare this to the ride search result without Microdata. You can’t visually tell them apart, even though they are completely different types of content: A ride search and a group.
This is what it’s all about! They should not look the same. A user, looking at a very short excerpt of a group, wants to see other hints about the content behind that link, than a user looking at an excerpt of a ride search.
Let’s see, if we can make this kind of search result more useful.
Enhanced group search result with Microdata
One of the coolest features about being in a group: You can publish a schedule of the rides of the group members.
So besides the basic information title (1), URL (2) and description (3), we can also provide a preview of the ride schedule of this group!
Google renders a well formatted preview of the next couple of rides of the group members. Besides the date (4) where a ride takes place, it shows a clickable short description of the ride (5). It tells the searching user, if the group member is searching for a ride or is offering one, as well as the departure and destination location (6).
Oh, and Google is even so smart, they will only show future rides in this preview list, so the user never gets to see out-dated information.
Again, this representation is much more interesting to the user viewing this search result. It provides a better summary of what to expect when the user follows the link.
This is may be just a minor advantage, but if you’re using Microdata, Google allows your result to take a bigger part of the screen. Instead of 4 text lines before, now it can use 6 lines to provide information. That’s an increase of 50% in getting screen estate on the search results page.
Please note that Google does not guarantee you to show your search results in the way you want it. Sometimes they fall back to the basic presentation. But nevertheless, if Google enriches your search results with the additional semantic data you provide, I think it’s a huge advantage compared to common result representations.
How to get started
If you want to use Microdata yourself, there are already a lot of good resources to get you started:
- Google Webmaster Tools Help provides a quick introduction to the principles of Microdata.
- So does schema.org. This page contains a comprehensive list of all data schemas that are already supported by the major search engines Google, Bing and Yahoo!. Hint: Browse a bit through the different types, a lot of examples are included.
- Another good explanation and a real recent use case is the New York Times article about the implementation of the rNews standard in Microdata.
I hope I was able to give you a better understanding about Microdata, its current use cases and how we work with it here at flinc.
If you have further questions, let me know in the comments! 🙂