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MicroData - The Future of Search Engine Relevance and Optimization (SEO)

Microdata for SEO
Created
Monday, December 03, 2012
Written by Ruben Reyes

The job of a search engine is to provide relevant results for a user query. One of the challenges that search engines face when trying to define relevance for a given query, is trying to understand the content of a webpage on which the information is presented in a mostly unstructured way.

Let’s consider the following piece of content:

ACME Racing Bike Black 2008
Almost New: bought in 8/2008, with a signature of Eddy Merckx on the frame.
$125

As a human, you have no problem understanding the whole piece, but for a computer it’s quite a complex task. By reading the listing above, the following can be gathered by a reader:

  • Product = racing bike
  • Brand= ACME
  • Color = black
  • Model Year = 2008
  • Condition = almost new
  • Description = bought in 8/2008, with a signature of Eddy Merkx on the frame
  • Price = $125
  • Currency = USD
  • In this listing the words ‘Eddy Merckx’ refer to a signature on the item not to the actual person.

Since search engines are not human, they don’t always understand all of these details within the content. This lack of context presents two problems. First, the search engines can potentially present results that are not relevant for a specific query (low quality results) - If I am doing a search on Eddy Merckx, I am probably not searching for the sale of an ACME bike. And second, without the additional context around the content, web pages can be improperly ranked for important search terms.  

Microdata to the Rescue

Search engines have come up with a solution to this problem – Microdata. Microdata are structured labels that are added to the content of web pages to remove the guesswork for search engines. Microdata is invisible to the user. It is included in the source code of a website where search engines can read it. Using the same example above, in a simple HTML view, the content would look something like this:

< h3 >ACME Racing Bike Black 2008< /h3 >
< p >Almost New: bought in 8/2008, with a signature of Eddy Merckx on the frame.< /p >
< p >$125< /p >

With Microdata added, that exact same piece of content may look like this in the code:

< div itemscope itemtype="http://schema.org/Product" >
 < h3 >< span itemscope itemtype="http://schema.org/Brand" >< span itemprop="name" >ACME< /span >< /span > < span itemprop="name" >Racing Bike< /span > in < span itemprop="color" >black< /span > (< span itemprop="releaseDate" >2008< /span >)< /h3 > < p >< span itemprop="itemCondition" >Almost new< /span >: < span itemprop="description" >bought in 8/2008, with a signature of Eddy Merckx on the frame.< /span >< /p >
< /div >

With this extra data included in the HTML, the search engine can now come closer to understanding the context of this posting similar to how a human understands it. And, by providing this context data, search engines will be able to return higher quality results for search queries.

What does this mean for your website

The good news is that the inclusion of Microdata into your website will help search engines to better understand your site and your page content. This understanding will assist the search engines in returning your web pages as query results when the content on your pages is relevant to the search query being entered.

Unfortunately, this may mean some more work for your website and website data structure. Microdata is an emerging standard that is just beginning to be utilized by search engines and data heavy / database driven websites. As the world of the web evolves, Microdata will become more common and more imperative to stay relevant with search engines.


To learn more about MicroData, a complete hierarchy of standard MicroData objects has developed by and can be found at: http://schema.org/docs/full.html.

There are over 500 ‘things’ you can label using the current MicroData hierarchy. You can test the MicroData on your site using Google’s rich snippets tool at http://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/richsnippets

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