Today was a big day for Microformats - very big. First, they announced that the new value-class-pattern is ready for implementation. The value-class-pattern is a great step forward, as it provides needed accessiblity improvements, and in my opinion, gives the developer a bit more flexibility over how to structure their markup.
That was a pretty big announcement in its own right, and I was very pleased to see the new pattern approved and garnering a bit of buzz. That announcement, however, was trumped by Google announcing that they will be starting to index Microformats and RDFa and using that data to enrich their search results.
Microformats has been around since 2003, but the adoption has been a bit sluggish. While overall quite easy to implement, it can been difficult to demonstrate the value of using Microformats at times due to a lack of major support, and therefore, major incentive. That shouldn’t be a problem anymore, because Google is definitely providing that major incentive.
How They’ll Be Used
Google has a good vision for how to make use of the harvested data in their results. They’ll be providing these “rich snippets”, as they’re calling them, to provide both additional content and meaning about the pages in their search results. For example, a page featuring reviews will feature the average star rating, and number of reviews the page contains, right there in the search results.
In addition to reviews, this initial launch will also provide “rich snippets” for people. Using contact information parsed from sites like LinkedIn, for example, search results may indicate a person’s job title and location, to help users determine if the results they are looking at are likely to be associated with the person they’re looking for.
On top of that, Google plans for to use these Microformats to allow users to be a bit more specific with their searches. An example given was that a user could search for all reviews on a printer where the average rating was over 3 stars. This allows users to tailor the content they receive by the context in which they are interested.
Not only does this new feature enhance the user experience, but the use of Microformats and RDFa data should also provide signifcant value for sites smart enough to markup their content using them. According to studies done by Yahoo on similar enhancements to search results, they found these kinds of improvements resulted in a significant improvement in click-through rates, in some cases up to a 15% increase.
There’s been lots of great coverage on Google’s announcement, and I highly encourage you to have a look at some of the insights offered in the posts below:
In addition, if you haven’t explored Microformats, I encourage you to do so now. With Google starting to index Microformats, and in turn leverage the harvested data to enhance search results, whether or not Microformats are valuable is no longer debatable.