Google adopts microformats. Finally.
What are microformats?
Microformats is a semantic markup that brings structure and meaning to metadata. In less technical terms it means you can tell search engines exactly what the content is versus having them guess. Google is supporting just two of the microformat standards initially – reviews and people – but seems committed to expanding their coverage in the future.
Why microformats matter
The upside to microformats is that search engines no longer have to guess. Remember, think of a search engine as a blind five year old.
A five year old may figure out that what they’re reading is a review by noticing the format or content of the text. (They can’t really ‘see’ a star rating.) A search engine might piece it together. You’d hope so but … they’ll often fail.
Microformats lets you put a big headline on the review that shouts ‘this is a review‘.
What are rich snippets?
If the search engine can understand and trust the metadata it can transform bland search results into something more robust and compelling. This is what Google calls a rich snippet.
Both Microsoft and Yahoo! adopted microformats long ago and Yahoo! has been using SearchMonkey to accelerate the display of robust search results. It was an area where I believed Yahoo! had an advantage and should have been seeking to exploit it more.
A rich snippet is far more attractive and will drive more clicks. It was rumored that Google was holding out because they didn’t want to create an inequity based on the ability to implement semantic markup.
Was Google trying to write an extraction program to interpret native code so everyone could obtain a rich snippet? Maybe they were, maybe they weren’t but they’ve clearly decided that rich snippets are important and microformats are the way to quickly deliver rich snippets in search results.
Microformats go mainstream
Does the adoption of microformats by Google fulfill that prediction? I think so.