Google Announces Full Support for Microformats in Local

The Lat-Long Blog has announced that Google is now supporting rich snippets as a mechanism for identifying the specific location that a webpage is referring to:

From a local search perspective, part of this effort means looking for all the great web pages that reference a particular place. The Internet is teeming with useful information about local places and points of interest, and we do our best to deliver relevant search results that help shed light on locations all across the globe.

Today, we’re announcing that your use of Rich Snippets can help people find the web pages you’ve created that may reference a specific place or location. By using structured HTML formats like hCardto markup the business or organization described on your page, you make it easier for search engines like Google to properly classify your site, recognize and understand that its content is about a particular place, and make it discoverable to users on Place pages.

From Google’s Rich Snippets for Local Search page:

Beyond improving the presentation of your pages in search results, rich snippets also help users find your website when it references a local place. By using structured markup to describe a business or organization mentioned on your page, you not only improve the Web by making it easier to recognize references to specific places but also help Google surface your site in local search results.

Here’s how you can optimize your site for local search results:

  1. Use structured markup to help Google identify the places mentioned on your site. If your site contains reviews or other information about businesses and organizations, then the structured markup helps precisely correlate your pages with the place mentioned.
  2. Tell us about your content so that we know who you are and what content you have to offer if additional opportunities arise.

Google’s decision to support a more structured approach to presenting local data on the web has been a long time coming. Chris Silver Smith first recommended hCard as a best practice for Local SEO in October 2007 shortly after Yahoo announced support for the standard. Google announced a more general support in their index for Microformats (Rich Snippets) in partnership with large review sites like Yelp in May of 2009.

This announcement is interesting on several levels. It appears that Google is ready to scrape and include in Places index location information that is marked up in hCard or a similar formats. While it appears from the announcement that they will also be generally scraping other information like reviews that are properly marked up, it is not clear that it will flow directly into the index. They noted that sites that are using review markeup to use Google’s form to tell them about your content so that they know who you are and “what content you have to offer if additional opportunities arise“. (Bold mine) One presumes that this will allow Google to pick and choose which sites to scrape to include in Places. It might also open up Places to smaller sites to show their data in Places that have been unable to get Google to accept their data previously.

From a local best practice point of view it confirms what many Local SEO’s have been saying for some time: Be sure to encode your address in hCard format. But the implications are really more important for news and blog sites as these now have a better way of indicating to Google that a particular article is about a particular place and to feel confident that the information would flow correctly within Google.

Please consider leaving a comment as your input will help me (& everyone else) better understand and learn about local.
Google Announces Full Support for Microformats in Local by

23 thoughts on “Google Announces Full Support for Microformats in Local”

  1. It’s interesting that they reference Rich Snippets, but we haven’t seen examples yet of Microformat content displayed differently in the Maps search results.

    That could partly be due to Reviews/Ratings data already receiving special treatment within Maps — so, no further special display would be necessary for that content. If your site had hReviews about lots of businesses, it might then be adopted as yet another data source for Google Place page content.

    I’d conjecture we could be on the cusp of seeing some additional display treatments within Google Maps, however. For instance, it would make sense for businesses which host events to have some of those events displayed within their Place pages. If they’ve marked-up with hCalendar, we might start seeing that.

    Additionally, this may enable Google to associate more citations about businesses with the corresponding Google Place pages (although, they’ve already been effective at doing that prior to paying special attention to Microformatting, for all we know).

  2. Sweet, more incentive for those who provide a service but don’t use an actual address or work from home {hide address} to at least use this format for getting recognized for a city or zip code. Or would that even come into play? Good update Mike.

  3. The potential for spam/fake content is huge. How this is implemented and refined by Google will determine if it this is a great way to surface valuable content or the start of an avalanche of spam.

  4. I don’t really perceive it as having a high risk of increasing spam.

    If you’re a small business, it’s natural to provide more info about one’s own biz — but a small biz site that abruptly starts displaying info about other businesses is likely to not be trusted for that content.

    Likewise, if you’re a business directory site with some level of established trust and fairly good quality score, your content about other businesses may be accepted for display — but, if you are not trusted, your content might not be allowed to flow.

    Domenick: Microformat is not a way for hiding info on a page, by and large. A business which doesn’t provide street address still would not be able to display street address when using Microformats. Microformat is a way to structure data — it’s not really another way of delivering invisible metadata. So, this isn’t any incentive at all for people to attempt to hide content.

  5. @Chris

    Likewise, if you’re a business directory site with some level of established trust and fairly good quality score, your content about other businesses may be accepted for display — but, if you are not trusted, your content might not be allowed to flow.

    Obviously Google will not accept all comers but the devils would seem to be in the details as to who they do accept, what that process is like, how long it takes to be accepted, have they put people on the job etc etc Or do you think that the process is somehow automated?

  6. This opens the possibility of review services collecting reviews through many means and feeding them to Google. Hmmmm… Very interesting. The line “if additional opportunity arise” seems to mean that you will still have to be hand picked for reviews to feed to places though. Any thoughts???

  7. I think Google can automate methods for deciding whether to absorb microformat data from particular sources and use it for special interface display features.

    It’s even possible for them to perform a level of human evaluation along with automated methods. For instance, of the websites they crawl which have microformats, those which have more than a certain number of listings might be flagged for evaluation to decide if they were worthwhile for special use. If that were the case, then attempting to use this as a method for spamming would be a wasted effort.

  8. Nice article, Mike.

    I view this announcement as one more way in which Google can add content to the Places Pages. Action after action shows that Google is making every effort to create content full Places Pages that will draw traffic.

    To date, I don’t see the hard evidence that it is working dramatically well at the moment but I suspect its a long haul campaign. I saw several instances of the “create free photographs” inside retailers’ businesses campaign. It was fascinating. Generally the retailers were open, happy, and excited to get this free exposure from Google.

    I don’t believe they thought through the full scale scope of this campaign..and probably they shouldn’t be concerned…..but it was one more case where google was making an effort to expand content into Places Pages (and in that case spending significant money and effort to do so).

    I can think of several sites with reviews that would benefit from the additional exposure of having their content/reviews picked up by Google….and Google gets the opportunity to get more access to more content for the Places pages…..something they clearly have targeted.

    On the issues of Reviews I experienced something for the first time. I was looking at the reviews for several restaurants, and first went to places pages for the eateries. G Places had aggregated plenty of reviews.

    I found myself though feeling unsatisfied and then turned to Yelp reviews for these places. I realized I had bought into the concept of Yelp as the “ultimate” review source.

    After reading the Yelp reviews on the same restaurants…there was no discernable difference. Reviews were reviews. Some liked the restaurants-some didn’t. Some wrote engaging critiques in the aggregated reviews found in G Places and some didn’t. Likewise Yelp carried engaging reviews and non engaging/non informative reviews.

    Yelp began to lose its mystigue over me.

    If Google aggregates reviews from many sources…and also picks and chooses whose reviews it will show and whose it won’t…..it could have a power over the vitality of certain sites.

    Now that is a concept I hadn’t considered before.

  9. Nice article Mike :-)
    I’m still a bit confused as to which format to go with; I’m leaning in the direction of microdata because of its adoption in html5 — any advice?

  10. Google is offering a really poor value proposition for content providers. Google Place Pages do not send sizable traffic yet are designed to completely usurp the value of content from the sources. Why would anyone want to give their content to Google just so they can use it to compete against you without giving anything back?

    I’ll ask the community here – is anyone getting sizable traffic from Google Maps/Places?

  11. Very excellent coverage of this, Mike. Devils being in the details, I find myself struck with a devilish thought. We go to the extra effort of formatting SMB website data into hcard so that…Google’s Place Page can ultimately outrank the SMB URL for its own business name, across the board? Am I being grumpy or, like the free photography being offered, is this a Trojan horse, generating more content and more ad revenue for Google, while doling out less control to the business owner over his reputation and Internet presence?

  12. @Miriam
    While I do think this is a trojan horse of sorts it is not really directed at the SMB… In the end, the SMB doesn’t really care if the client goes to his website or the places page just so long as he gets the sale. And Google already knows which website the business person has.

    It is directed at the larger, multi location businesses that would rather not maintain a trillion local directory entries.

    It is also death by a thousand cuts strategy directed at the larger review type sites etc…it is so that Google can more easily and with greater speed gather up the content from the likes of local newspapers, blogs and sites that are struggling to break through. It makes their job easier of communicating to Google the unique information that they have about the business without negotiating a direct relationship.

    It will allow Google to have a much richer Places page with a great diversity of content… It may outrank the SMB website but more importantly from Google’s perspective it will be perceived, as Dave noted, as more valuable than the sites that compete for readers’ eyeballs.

  13. Andy: Whether to use Microdata vs Microformats is a good question. Google’s webmaster help section states that they’re supporting Microformats, RDFa, and Microdata right now. So, you could use it and get the same potential benefits right now.

    The caveat to this is that relatively fewer people are using Microdata and HTML 5 itself right now. So, to my mind, using either one is a bit like using the first release of some 1.0 version of software — you’re essentially the guinea pig that the search engines will use to start developing their ability to interpret pages marked up with these protocols. There’s risk associated with being the first adopters of newest versions of HTML.

    I’d generally advise being a member of the pack where SEO is concerned – if you want to use new features, use the protocol that more others will be using first and wait a little longer before adopting the new standard when it’s better tested.

    Overall, using Microdata is very low risk because it’s merely semantic markup — if the search engine doesn’t recognize it, it can still make use of the text data that is visible on the page, though.

  14. @Ben

    You make a great point. If traffic is why a content provider gives over their info to Google, they are probably in trouble. Yelp recognizes that issue.

    But each content provider has a different need and point of view. Google doesn’t need to get them all, just some of them… for example DemandForce uses the fact that they have reviews in Google as a selling point to get Dentists to sign up for their service. For them the traffic is not the issue.

  15. Great post. We were doing real time GPS enabled search inside the mobile browser almost 5 years ago. The future of the web is clear – it’s going to be local. The issue now becomes if you know the location of a web page, can you tie that to the location of a user.

    A solution for that is already available.

    Cheers,

    Peter Cranstone
    5o9 Inc.

  16. Great article and excellent comments. Would some one mind briefly explaining how to incorporate these new types of changes ( h-card, html 5) into a wordpress website? To add, what is the process of getting approved by google to have your reviews featured ? Is there an industry standard review system that should be used?

    Thanks Ahead.

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