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SAScon 2011: Feeds and Microformats – Optimisation beyond the site

Chair: Ben McKay, Speaker 1: Joost de Valk, Speaker 2: Richard Baxter, Speaker 3: James Lowery

— Ben —

People recognise the context of information – e.g. address details, product reviews, recipes or business cards.

It’s different for search engine bots – they don’t recognise any of this data.

They need to categories this information. Information on the web is inherently unstructured. Microformats allow you categorise & arrange data to help search engines understand. There are other methods, but Microformats are the most elegant.

hReview

Useful for e-commerce sales. But Google have said they aren’t approving rich snippets from retail sites… Confusing.

hRecipe

Used to structure the data in a recipe. This is useful because Google have a recipe search engine.

This is the first example of a search results page which relies on Microformats. You can see that there’s a correlation between Microformat fields & the filter options for the user.

Seatwave

Search results from this site show 2 types of Microformats blended – you can exchange and nest different types of Microformats – e.g. reviews and events.

Good example of usage – Spoonfed.co.uk

Microformats are based on a small set of rules, which are really easy to learn; and SEO’s have used them for a long time – e.g. :

  • rel=”nofollow”
  • rel=”me”
  • rel=”friend” (used by facebook)

They can be powerful because you can use them to gain extra real estate in the SERPs.

However, they can be abused, and there’s a White-list to be aware of.

Q: What’s the uptake?

A: In retail – an absolute nightmare. Events do-able; Reviews – insurmountable; Recipes – winner.

Q: Do you prepare a business case for microformats?

A: We don’t do this. But because it’s so easy, it doesn’t take much extra time to help developers implement.

There are 3rd party providers – e.g. review sites that are on the white-list. Possibly due to a lack of resource at Google.

Higher conversion rates seen where users see reviews in SERPs (300% increase for 3-4* ratings)

—– Joost —-

It’s very easy to get hReview on the site, but it’s hard to get Google to add them to the SERPs.

They are often used on retail site, but are now starting to be shown on news sites in the US – e.g. CNET.

It’s hard to measure the increase in CTR, but you stand out in the SERPs. Especially for niches (WordPress plugins!)

There’s a Rich Snipping Testing Tool from Google [link to follow].

There are quirks with Rich Snippets, which aren’t documented well, but sometimes discussed on the forums.

You can embed reviews within the product listing.

Sometimes it’s useful to add data that’s available to search engines but not to the user – e.g. the currency that a product is available in. The review aggregate class is really useful – add the embed rating & count.

Results

Results that we have seen have been very good. Up to 300% higher conversion.

It’s worth the trouble – e.g. in Magento shouldn’t take more than a day to implement.

Good for search engines, because they seem to like the structured data.

Something to think about:

If you were a retail site, would you mark up the data if you had 2* our of 5?

Retailers are likely to not show it, or fake it.

Google is getting spammed to bits in some areas, which is why they allow certain sites in but not others.

This goes for availability too. There may be benefit to add ‘not in stock’ (e.g. bounce rate), but most will leave it to show in stock.

— James —-

XML Feeds used everywhere – e.g.: Feedburner, Microsoft products, etc.

You can use them as part of your Link building – to share content (and re-publish links externally), provide relevant reviews (encouraging people to link to your content).

You can provide your data to 3rd parties, and your content is published and linked back to you.

They are beginning to be used beyond the web – e.g. shopping review sites have started to collect and re-publish this data on iPhone, iPad and Android apps.

Q: Hotels are just getting their heads around the Internet – what’s your experience of their use of XML?

A: You need to make it easy for them, you can create the feed in different ways, it’s not a massive job. If you also provide an XML reader to make it easy, you tie up both ends.

Q: Google thinking of aggregating flight info, etc using Microformats?

A: You can learn about the draft Microformat standards [Link to follow]. For travel, no. For recruitment there’s a format called hResume.

Q: Should you hold back your data to prevent Google using it & re-selling your idea – e.g. in review/listing sites.

A: They have the data already.

Wish there was a Microformat for definitions.

—- General discussion/questions —

There are open standards, so if it doesn’t exist you can define one.

Nothing can replace you writing decent descriptions for your products.

No correlation to using Microformats & better rankings, but it can give you more presence on the page.

Q: Any control webmasters can implement on their site as to how Microformats are used (e.g. in Google Webmaster tools). We’re getting reviews mixed up with restaurant listings.

A: No. But you should make sure there’s no mixed up Microformats on your pages.

Q: How are Google dealing with people who abuse Microformats?

A: Has been a manual intervention. No algorithmic intervention to black listing. But presence can be influenced by rankings.

Think about whether it would be approved when you’re writing the content.

Depends on industry & seasonality, but generally 46% increase in traffic for search terms by using Rich Snippets.

Q: What would you do to get white-listed.

A: Form to submit [link to follow], but honestly, it’s pulling strings with people you know. Speak to a Google rep at a conference. If you spend money on PPC with Google, keep badgering until they get you in touch with the right person.

Q: Increase in traffic by using feeds?

A: certainly an increase in traffic seen from links from an feed placed elsewhere. Think about the titles – write things in a way to encourage a click through. Focus on the 1st 20 words & use a relevant and attractive title.

You can submit your feed as a Sitemap to Webmaster tools. Google indexes this content faster.

WordPress automatically creates feeds for each category – you can use this to great effect.

RSS feeds are useful in so many ways.

Q: Preference with Microformats?

A: Microdata is nice, but difficult to get right. Microformats is the easiest. But if you want to be HTML5 valid – use Microdata.

Q: Conflict HTML 5 & Microformats?

A: No. Change your doc type to HTML 5 & it will work – it’s backwards compatible.

HTML 5 is getting overhyped. Use of headings has changed – not seen Google using/understanding them correctly.

Look at Mashable for a good example of new heading usage.

Open data – e.g. Bizarre Voice. Use of 3rd party data provider with reviews still needs some work. If you have the budget, review content can be a useful tool. You can rank for ‘company name’ + reviews.

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