Structured data is the new search engine optimization

Two days ago, Google announced "Rich Snippets", a move that is sure to shake up the SEO industry, and cause hundreds of thousands of people to reconsider their skepticism of the semantic web. Yes, that probably includes many of you.

Google's Rich Snippets provide summary information to help users quickly identify the relevance of their search results. For example, if you search for a restaurant, rich snippets may include an average review score, a price range, or more. As users get more sophisticated at search, they'll ask Google increasingly complex questions. Rich Snippets allow Google to stay on top of that trend, and prevents losing users to competitors.

It is very hard for search engines to understand the structure and semantics of data embedded in an HTML page. To create these snippets, Google needs the help of hundreds of thousands of webmasters around the world, and by extension, content management systems like Drupal, Joomla!, and others. Specifically, Google is asking all of us to surface structured data to their crawlers by marking up our HTML with RDFa and Microformats. When Google announced Rich Snippets this week, they really announced support for RDFa and Microformats, and the semantic web in general. This is big.

Initially, Google's adoption of RDFa will disrupt the current approaches to Search Engine Optimization (SEO). With Google entering the RDFa game, the words "semantic markup" will get redefined. Every webmaster wanting to improve click-through rates, reduce bounce rates, and improve conversation rates, can no longer ignore RDFa or Microformats. Structured data is the new SEO.

As I've written before, search engines like Google and Yahoo! will provide the killer apps (e.g. vertical search engines) that the semantic web has been waiting for. Five years from now, we'll look back and say: "All it took was some incentive for the SEO industry." ...

Rich Snippets is a natural step in making search better. It provides a glimpse into the future of search, and tempts us with the possibilities of the semantic web. Right now, Google has a database of pages. If you read beneath the lines of their announcement, what Google is really asking is for us to help them in building giant specialized databases of all products, people, places and events in the world. This provides opportunities well beyond providing rich search snippets. We're turning the web into a giant database for Google (and others) to slice and dice as needed.

For example, it is easy to see that a database of all the job applications in the world, built by crawling hundreds of thousands of independent RDFa-enabled sites, will impact specialized job sites. Or how a database of all the product or movie reviews in the world could affect specialized review sites. It might seem scary at the surface, but it really isn't. On the web, scale and reach are more important than scarcity -- you win by setting data free, not by holding it close to your chest.

For many of us in the Drupal community, Google's announcement couldn't be more timely. The Drupal community has been working on adding RDFa support to Drupal 7, and at this very moment, people from the community are gathering in Galway for a week long code sprint to get more RDFa support in Drupal 7 core. Once again, Drupal proves itself to be on the cutting edge, and is taking a leadership role in adopting semantic web technologies. As I said in my DrupalCon Boston keynote 1.5 years ago, I believe that Drupal can become a significant player in the development of the semantic web. It's bullish, and maybe even naive, but I couldn't be more excited about giving the semantic web snowball a small push.

Comments

Anonymous (not verified):

I share your excitement, Dries. There is tremendous opportunity for all of us in the Drupal community that grasp the future of RDFa and the semantic Web!

A clarion call to all Drupalistas: "Let's roll!"

May 15, 2009
David Peterson (not verified):

This is excellent news Dries... You started talking about this stuff years ago and late last year we had many a good chats on what RDFa and structured data could mean to the Web and specifically to Drupal.

Google's move will finally move the masses, they have the power to do that -- Good or bad.

Structured data is now going to be king and old SEO will go the way of a leaky boat...

Cheers,

David

May 15, 2009
Lin Clark (not verified):

I couldn't believe the timing of this announcement, right in the middle of the code sprint.

I'm very excited to see how Google's support increases the awareness of RDFa... and grateful to the folks working away in Galway, getting Drupal ready to give that snowball a push.

May 15, 2009
Koen (not verified):

Does sound exiting Dries, but I can't help but wonder how this mechanism can (and will!) be abused by spammers or not-so-noble web-entrepreneurs.

The Semantic Web can only succeed if the semantic information is qualitative and truthful. Today it is too easy for a website to embed a few high-profile keywords to attract more traffic.

Let's see how Google copes with people doing the same with their Snippets...

May 15, 2009
Ole Begemann (not verified):

Have you guys seen the WolframAlpha introductory screencast yet? Amazing. If Wolfram Alpha comes close to this in the real world, they have a killer app. I believe they plan to publish more info soon how webmasters can work with Wolfram to enable their structured data to be used by the search engine. Perhaps this could also be interesting for the Drupal community.

May 15, 2009
Tom Troughton (not verified):

Amazing! What will Google think of next? Gongrats on Drupal being at the cutting edge of this cutting edge development.

May 17, 2009
hjg (not verified):

FORM FUNCTION AND HISTORY FUSE IN VICTORINOX SW

June 8, 2009
Aaron Pearson (not verified):

While some people are still reluctant to make the switch to Drupal from other platforms, it's definitely one of the leading-edge CMS platforms available today. I was happy to hear about the change! ~Aaron Pearson

January 29, 2010
Stacy Renee (not verified):

Can you please explain this a little more in detail>

"Initially, Google's adoption of RDFa will disrupt the current approaches to Search Engine Optimization (SEO). With Google entering the RDFa game, the words "semantic markup" will get redefined. Every webmaster wanting to improve click-through rates, reduce bounce rates, and improve conversation rates, can no longer ignore RDFa or Microformats. Structured data is the new SEO."

I am not understanding how the RDFa will disrupt Search Engine Optimization, thanks.

Stacy Renee

February 19, 2011
Ryan Johnson (not verified):

Dries it is such a tremendous RELIEF to hear someone else talking about Semantic Web and SEO!

The problem with SEO is that people who have no business doing SEO are doing it. The other problem is that 3rd party SEOs shouldn't exist (in a perfect world). To over simplify SEO only 15% of on page/site factors play into the ranking equation. Might be small, but if you don't square away the first 15% the returns on the other 85% are lessened.

This 15% on page SEO should be the responsibility of the programmer to allow the person operating the business/website to take it from there.

Now the other 85% is pretty much backlink driven since Google still works on a thesis type algorithm (I believe this to still be the case...). This should be a business function and not something that you hire out because the act of getting backlinks should be a result of presenting the value of your business online.

I guess my example for an example business would be to have my PR person running the SEO for my PRs, my Secretary asking for the backlink or review from a satisfied customer or vendor, and my content writers to understand how to write around keywords. I wouldn't hire anyone to my marketing team that didn't know the difference between a follow and nofollow backlink.

These are the real changes that should be made because those within your operations can be your best AND most sustainable source of SEO because you're translating the value through the company voice and not hiring some mysterious SEO with a bag of tricks.

What really excites my about Drupal 7 and Semantic Web is that RDFa in time will gather its own % chunk of the SEO ranking factors and Drupal 7 positions itself beyond description for this!

Also something like RDFa is pretty esoteric and this particular advantage falls in the favor of programmers to as an extra benefit to recommend a Drupal driven site. Basically RDFa gives real developers SEO value that they can market and provide. Drupal 7 developers, thanks to everyones' great work in sprinting in RDFa, get that power in core!

The one thing I love most about the Drupal community is how much we put the right thing ahead of everything. I do consulting for small businesses and when I hear mentions of SEO and Word Press it's hardly ever positive, but for small businesses lucky enough to happen across a drupal developer I don't think I've ever heard a negative comment.

If we take Drupal 7 to the masses we're not just going out there and building a good name for Drupal anymore, but also a good name for those who belong to the Drupal community. We have the fundamental advantage of being good people who care about what we make.

Semantic Web is a matter of changing perception and the more we can contribute to the change the more of a win-win it will be for our wonderful community and the internet community as a whole when we 'set data free!'

March 6, 2011

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