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Are you using microformats & rich snippets to increase clickthrough rates and traffic?

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Microformats offer your site the chance to get more visits and response by increasing your clickthrough from search engine results pages (SERPs). Richard Baxter, Director of SEOgadget, a niche UK-based SEO agency consulting company, looks at what exactly microformats are and how you can use them to improve the way your website is displayed on SERPs.

Over the past 12 months, search engines such as Google have started using Microformats to enhance their search results for users. Let’s look at how this can work with reviews, people and events...

Reviews

You may have noticed search results for product reviews for some sites appear differently to others. For example, let’s take a look at Google’s results for Nexus One Review.

hreview

In the above image, the line starting with the stars is made from the page’s microformat. Google calls such lines ‘rich snippets’.

We can confidently predict that the above rich snippet will increase that page’s clickthrough %. And might such reviews be used in the Google Local algorithm? Perhaps.

Do you have product reviews on your site? You could implement a similar tactic to CNet by using the hReview Microformat. hReview gives you the opportunity to mark up single user-generated reviews and an overall score of multiple reviews. As you can see in the images above, reviewer name and price range can also be included in the search result.

Google gives an excellent primer in the hReview Microformat here. Also try this post from Joost de Valk on Yoast: Implementing hreview in your WordPress theme.

People

Have you searched for a colleague in Google and noticed a Linkedin.com result like the one shown in the following image?

hcard-example

Notice the second line beneath my name (beginning "London..."). There’s another Microformat in action here, and it’s called hCard.

hCard is dedicated to marking up data that describes contact and social networking information. hCard can describe names, job titles, locations and the name a person is associated with. In my case, that’s my company, SEOgadget.co.uk.

If you own a website with contact information for people, perhaps a profile page, then you’ll be interested to read what Google has to say on implementing hCard into your site.

Events

Perhaps you have a site that promotes or lists events like Spoonfed or Yelp. Google announced their support of our third and final snippet example at the end of January 2010 - the hEvent Microformat.

hevent-example

The three events listed on the image below are rich snippets that Google has found using microformats.

Again, imagine how these rich snippets might improve that page’s clickthrough rates.

hEvent describes information such as event location, start date and time, and event name. Google’s documentation on implementing hEvent is excellent.

What are Microformats?

Imagine for a moment that you’re looking for an address or a place name online. You might see a piece of text on a web page that looks a little something like this:

'123 Lansbury Street, London, W1 2BF'.

As a human being, you’ll recognize that text in an instant. It’s an address! If you’re a search engine, you could struggle, especially if the address was presented on multiple lines of text or if there were several different addresses on one page.

Search engines just see the text in HTML code, and regardless of how clever their algorithms can be at measuring relevance to specific keywords, extracting data like addresses, contact names and even telephone numbers can be a huge programming challenge.

The HTML used to construct a web page can be a little different on every site you visit. As humans, we don’t notice what’s happening in the code. We see the words and we understand them. Search engine engineers have to write software to interpret that code. Because web developers build sites very differently, with styles and classes unique to that particular website, a piece of data like an address can look very different depending on the way the code has been structured. This is an enormous challenge for people who work to improve the relevancy of search engine results.

Microformats add a degree of meaning to our HTML. By marking up the data contained on a web page with Microformats, we’re helping search engines better understand what’s contained on the page. Search engines are now rewarding savvy web developers and SEOs by enhancing search results for websites using Microformats with the kind of rich snippets we’ve looked at in our examples above.

Once you’ve implemented Microformats on your site

Google are applying rich snippets to search results on a site by site basis. They advise webmasters to submit their sites for review via this participation form.

Though it could take time and a little work to get your Microformats implementation perfected, the effort could provide you with an important advantage over your competitors. As an SEO, I like to take any opportunity to grow traffic to my clients’ websites and thanks to search engines like Google, we have an exciting new way to do exactly that.

About Richard Baxter

Richard Baxter, founder of SEOgadget.co.uk a UK-based SEO agency, is an accomplished senior search engine optimization consultant. Richard has accrued valuable experience throughout his career in travel, engineering, recruitment, technology, retail and events industry SEO. To find out more about Richard, you can view recommendations made for him on Linkedin, follow him on Twitter, Google+, read his posts on SEOmoz and the SEOgadget SEO Blog.