When I was a kid, sometimes my father called me a dirty little schema. (He's from Brooklyn.) OK, OK, he didn't spell it that way. It wasn't long ago when "schema" was a word only used by database geeks. Microformats and rich snippets are even more obscure terms, but they are becoming increasingly important. If you don't know what they are, remain ignorant at your own peril, because these arcane terms are making big changes in SEO--probably the biggest markup-related changes since search engines stopped looking at the keyword meta data field.
So, what's a schema? Glad you asked. It's a formal description of what data can be stored in a database, in what format, and what it means. Doesn't sound like much to do with search, does it? Well, XML documents are defined by their schemas that tell you what the valid tags are and what you can place within those tags. Still not feeling it? Yeah, Google wasn't either, which is why it has thrown in with the crowd that wants to make HTML data smarter, so that we won't need to convert all of our pages to XML.
Image via Wikipedia
Back in 2009, Google started supporting microformats, which are defined by mini-schemas that embed tags into HTML. I didn't pay a lot of attention to the microformats that were developed at first. (Not too many of my clients are trying to encode recipes.) But that is changing rapidly.
Microformats now are defined for people, events, products, and many other truly useful commercial search targets. You can define these formats right inside your HTML using the <div> or <span> tags with the right attributes, and you can use standard CSS to format that properly for viewing and printing.
Why go to the trouble? Rich snippets, that's why. Check out how many different kinds of snippets Google supports, and the number keeps growing. How would you like your product to be shown in your search result snippet, with its current price? Or your event with the right date and address? Now you have more control over your snippets than ever before, it you take the time to encode them properly.
Time was that the only HTML people talked about was making sure you have nice titles and descriptions in your header and making your main point a first-level heading. Now, we are in a whole new ballgame and there is no reason to stay out of this game. Rich snippets are here and they are valuable. Don't let your competitors jump on them first.
Mike is an expert in search marketing, search technology, social media, publishing, text analytics, and web metrics, who regularly makes speaking appearances.
Mike's previous appearances include Text Analytics World, Rutgers Business School, SEMRush webinar, ClickZ Live.
Mike also founded and writes for Biznology, is the co-author of Outside-In Marketing (with James Mathewson) and the best-selling Search Engine Marketing, Inc. (now in its 3rd edition, and sole author of Do It Wrong Quickly, named by the Miami Herald as one of the 11 best business books of 2007.
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