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Schemas, Microformats, and Making Your Website Machine Readable

Schema.org Person DocumentationMicroformats let you take a little big of data and turn it into a big useful tool for your website. Here’s a pretty good definition of “microformat” from Wikipedia:

Microformats…make recognizable data items (such as events, contact details or geographical locations) capable of automated processing by software, as well as directly readable by end-users.

There are lots of different microformats a website can use, but I’ve spent the most time using “schemas” from schema.org. The schemas they provide include people, events, businesses, songs, and more. Other less-common schemas include Diet and Anatomical Structure! For the more adventurous, schemas can be “nested.” For instance, if an event has an “organizer,” that organizer can be formatted as a “person” with a name, position, and email.

I Don’t Understand a Word You’ve Written So Far. Can You Give Me an Example?

Yes!

For the Iowa Flood Center, I used a schema for their people directory. This takes what looks to a visitor like a normal webpage…

A record for Jackie Stolze on the Iowa Flood Center website.

…and shows Google this:1

Type: http://schema.org/person
image = jackie_stolze.gif
name = Jackie Hartling Stolze
jobtitle = Lead Communications Specialist, IIHR

telephone = 319-335-6410
worklocation = 133 - 6 SHL

With a bit of fancy formatting, Google knows that this page represents a person with a name who is pictured in a specific image and holds a certain job title, etc.

On another website that I’ll be launching soon, I’m using microformats in a business directory so search engines can quickly find a phone number, email, and address for each business we feature. (Update, 9/23/12: Visit White Center has since launched!)

The Technical Stuff

Setting this up requires some technical knowledge, so you may need to hire a “web guy” to implement microformatting on your site.

The proceeding code snippet with the relevant schema.org formatting might look like a bunch of gobbledygook, but I’m putting it up here for any brave users that wants to try to follow along. Keep your eye out for:

  • “itemscope” (i.e. “We’re about to define something right here.“),
  • “itemtype” (i.e. “This is what we’re defining.”), and
  • “itemprop” (i.e. “This is the property of the thing we’re defining.”).

Why Should I Care?

This topic arose while writing an article about search engine optimization. By formatting content in a machine readable way, search engines gain a significantly greater understanding of a webpage. I can’t quantify the search ranking improvements a site gains from using this, but I think it’s worth doing regardless.

The point of publishing information on the web is to make it accessible to everyone. By specifically identifying the type of content on a webpage, powerful web tools—including, but not limited to, Google—can find that information and present it to relevant web users.

Talk Back

What do you think? Will you race back to your website to update it? Is this just too geeky to get excited about? Or is this old hat?

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