Microformats – What are They?

A few weeks ago, I got an email from a friend who is developing a super-top-secret-something (even I don’t know what it is). He informed me that as an SEO, I would be interested to know that they were going to incorporate microformats into all of their coding.

Huh? I admit it – I wasn’t even exactly sure what microformats were, so I set out to do some research.

Rather than giving you some vague statement like “a microformat is a new way of organizing information on the web” (double huh), here’s an example: the Nofollow attribute:

rel=”nofollow”

Insert this attribute into a link reference:

 <a href="http://www.outsidepage.com" rel="nofollow">

and then Google will know not to assign any value to it. This protects webmasters from having outbound links dilute their Google page rank.

So, a microformat is a snippet (or snippets, plural) of code that can be embedded into existing HTML to provide additional information to visiting spiders. Yeah, they’re like little… microformats!

There are a myriad of other microformats currently in use, such as rel-tag for tagging keywords and content (currently used by Technorati, among others) and the hCard microformat for outlining contact information. Some other amusing stats for you: Steve Martin and Brown University are among the many adopters of the hCard microformat- and Yahoo! local is also one of the first search engines to support hCard.

Recent articles have noted that microformats have had a faster adoption than other web technologies like RSS. And Jeremy Zawodny recently wrote in his blog, “Microformats are slowly but surely going to create a whole new web of data, ripe for mining, indexing, and exploring.”

When talking about microformats in a recent meeting, comments from fellow SEOs ranged from “Interesting” to “How can we get people to STOP using microformats?” to “Ripe for mining? You mean ripe for SPAM!”.

But seriously – as an SEO, I love the concept of setting standards for making information universally accessible via the web. I must sound like a broken record to many of my clients, advising them over and over to take their text out of images, to take their navigation out of JavaScript. Microformats are a simple way to say to web crawlers, “Hey look at me, the information you want is right here!”.

However, some will argue that it’s one thing to make information easy to spider and index – and another thing to make it perhaps *too* open to dissemination through the web (such as with the hReview tag), leading to duplicate content issues and other site-scraping nightmares. And I’m sure some devious minds will also see possibilities for abuse and spam.

Well folks, it’s still early in the game, so we’ll just have to see how it all plays out.