About a month ago, I wrote a post on Google's rich snippets, a way for website owners to share extra information such as ratings and review information directly in the Google organic search result listing. Then last week came a big announcement: Google, Bing and Yahoo have teamed up to develop a standardized microdata format that the three engines will use to better understand the content contained on Web pages.
The common schemas are so important because they may play a much greater role in the future of organic search (and possibly even paid search) and how engines identify content types, organize Web pages containing that content, and display the results for those content types in the future. And while rich snippets are unique to Google right now, this development also opens a door to Bing and Yahoo (and all other engines) to use microdata to display their own types of rich snippets.
Expanded Types of Data
Until last week, there were primarily only seven types of microdata that Google recognized:
However, organizations is the only type that does not currently display rich snippets in organic search results.
With the new types of data in the new schema, there are over 100 types of new, detailed microdata types, including everything from auto dealer listings to TV series information to Internet cafes. The possibilities are practically endless. You can see the full list of new microdata types and schemas at schema.org.
How Can I Get Started?
Before you get started, know that the new microdata schemas do not appear to be generating rich snippets yet. So, for instance, if you have an event page that you mark with the new microdata schema, the Google Rich Snippets Testing Tool will not generate a rich snippets preview at this time.
To demonstrate this, I performed a test on some of my own event data from my website. I created two test pages - one with the new microdata schema markup and one with Google's old microdata markup. The new microdata markup page did not generate a rich snippet preview, even though the code was correct, while the old microdata markup page did generate a rich snippet preview. Fortunately, Google indicated that it will continue to support the old microdata markup format in the future as well.
So if you want to get started today using rich snippets, I'd recommend starting with Google's current microdata format to begin marking up pages that contain content in one of the old seven categories listed above. The good news is that if you want to update the microdata on these pages later to the new format, it appears to only require a few small changes; most of the microdata schema appears the same for the seven categories above.
However, Google does warn that you do not want to mix the old and new formats or multiple formats on a page. Google currently supports microdata, microformats and RDFa formats. Be sure to use the microdata format and follow the guidelines Google provides to markup your page content. Also test your markup using Google's Rich Snippet Testing Tool to be certain that you've coded the microdata correctly.
Finally, if you want to prepare content on other pages for rich snippets of the future, you can begin programming those with the schema.org microdata. You can have two types of microdata on a website -- just not two types on the same page. This way, you'll be ready on those other pages if and when the time comes that they may be included in some way with rich snippets. You can also still test the schema.org formats using Google's testing tool; you just won't see a rich snippets preview.
So get prepared! Be sure to start incorporating microdata markup into your Web page code. You never know when it might give you a boost through rich snippets or even as an organic ranking factor in the future!