As search engines try to provide ever more relevant results to searchers, they continuously change and update the way their crawlers view data as well as the way their search tools display it. With the advent of HTML5 one of the things that has been implemented is microdata. Microdata are metadata-like snippets of HTML code, hidden to a human viewer, that help computers (most importantly search engines) understand semantics and contextual information on a website or individual page. If you’re not up on your HTML or generally aren’t the most web-savvy individual you may find that a bit confusing. Don’t be. I’ll walk you through an example.
Search for a local theater, performing arts center, or something of that nature in Google. Chances are that it’s showing you show times and upcoming shows, a map, when the box office is open, and some other details about it. If not, search for another until you find one where that info is displayed, or just use the one local to us here in Kingston, NY. All that extra information is there because Google a) could find it, and b) believes it to be relevant to your search. What microdata does is provides information to Google and other search engines in a context that they inherently understand such that the information can then be provided to searchers that are looking for it. You want to make sure that when someone searches for you or your products that not only they do find you, but they are given the information that they are looking for but that as much info on your product is displayed as possible. Why? The same reason that General Mills wants supermarkets to carry all the different kinds of cereal that they make and put them at eye level – visibility.
There is a highly relevant eye-tracking study done by SEOmoz that shows, unsurprisingly, that the more content-rich “enhanced” results that show up get a disproportionately high amount of visibility. The more likely someone is to look at your link, the more likely they are to click on it, plain and simple. As search engines find more ways to serve more relevant data, more results will be enhanced, and microdata is a tool for them to do just that.
Bing, Google, and Yahoo have all gotten together recently and published a collection of microdata-providing HTML tags (which they call “schemas”) which they will all recognize. You can find it at schema.org. If you don’t have microdata implemented across your site, don’t panic. Even Google, the most progressive of the major search engines, doesn’t know how to answer most queries with enhanced results. That said, they are all moving in that direction as the internet progresses towards being a semantic web. Jumping on the microdata bandwagon now will make you an early adopter, especially in the life sciences, but over the next years, or possibly even months, you’ll improve your search visibility, and likely your search rankings as well, by allowing search engines a clearer and more accessible view of your data.