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|Pros and Cons of Rich Snippets and Microformats|
Today Google announced they are using microformats to make Rich Snippets:
|To display Rich Snippets, Google looks for markup formats (microformats and RDFa) that you can easily add to your own web pages. In most cases, it's as quick as wrapping the existing data on your web pages with some additional tags. |
My first reaction was actually mixed and slightly negative because I see Google attempting to become an aggregator which oversteps the bounds of simple search.
With the example that Google shows for Yelp, which would apply to any directory or review site, rich snippets give searchers way too much information at the level of the SERP.
The searcher may spend more time on Google skipping through listings now that ratings are available and less time on respective websites. Imagine Google allows review results to be sorted by ratings and the process now becomes really scary. Now add to this scenario that many sites allow Google to display their cache pages and the review site itself can easily become completely cut out of the process with Google being the complete content provider.
With the way search works today, someone looking for a restaurant or hotel may delve deeper into the review site and find lots of options per site, which also gives their advertisers or products lots of views.
However, when Google has the ability to bring more information to the surface, and you can't control which item (high or low rated) from your page is displayed as a result, your ratings site may easily see a sudden drop in traffic because Google has now become an aggregator taking another step down the slippery slope from search to content provider.
The whole concept here is more functionality at Google means more face time at Google which means more face time in front of Google ads, not ads on the advertiser sites, with such "improvements" putting the ad-based model of survival of many sites further in jeopardy.
Many will argue rich snippets are good for the searcher but not when it ultimately results in less content to search as more sites are squished out of business by such predatory aggregation.
Furthermore, the pros and cons of microformats are certainly not weighing in favor of the webmaster because microformats identify data for easy scraping making the jobs of the scrapers easier than ever with Google ushering it in. The most amusing part of this evolution is that that content within the microformats doesn't contain anything that's uniquely identifiable, such as a paragraph of unique text, so scrapers can take the microformats data freely not even concerned with a DMCA complaint.
Anyone using these microformats will be putting a bullseye on their site from would be competitors and additional aggregators trying to inject yet another layer between the searchers and the content they seek in a power grab for eyeballs and clicks.
If you must use microformats, cloak them to the SEs only and let your visitors see the data without all the identification tags.
IMO, we've just entered a new era where content control is about to become more important than ever before.
[edited by: Robert_Charlton at 1:25 am (utc) on May 13, 2009]
[edit reason] fixed typo per request [/edit]
Bill - Very sobering observations. Thanks.
With regard to scrapers, this excerpt from the blog post jumps out...
My emphasis added...
|By incorporating standard annotations in your pages, you not only make your structured data available for Google's search results, but also for any service or tool that supports the same standard. |
PS... A thought that comes to mind is that not all websites are business or commercial sites. They may be government agencies, eg, wanting to make information widely available and useful.
For these, the use of standard annotations may make a lot of sense... though even as I say that I can see mini-industries developing around re-purposing this content... more than exist already.
Slippery slope indeed. Reviews? Not all competitors are nice people tend to behave in a, ahem, not nice way. This leaves a lot open to abuse. I would normally consider it cool, but after having seen so many cool things go bad, like the now dead listible, I'm a little jaded.
I've been looking at microformats and particularly RDF's ever since I attended the Yahoo Searchmonkey party that seemed to put a lot of empphasis on the language as a way of pulling more data into the SERPS based on sites that are already making use of the language, and the ratings systems used for resturants and cars was a prime example.
I suspect that this is one of the in-roads, the making use of microformats, that are leading to a semantic web, much like what berners-lee envisioned, and with the recent talk of wolfram¦alpha providing a "unique" way to search for content, that Google too, see's a shift coming, away from static pages being displayed as a result in the SERP, to a more dynamic result, being comprised of tagged data..
Yeah, it's the own site's initial content that has been tagged and formatted, but I think it may extend beyond that to Google eventually displaying the compiled data from a variety of sources, all while on the SERP..
I guess the alternative is to not include the new format, Google displays what they feel is relevant or to come up with a tag much like NOODP but for NOExtendedDesc.
Intruiguing, and worrysome. As Google elbows in on content publishing, the relationship doesn't seem as symbiotic, it's more ... parasitic
I'm bloody annoyed by the idea of already having two standards competing for acceptance. Can't we just all go the W3-way?
For those of you un-initiated, here's a nice primer (and comparison) by Evan Prodromou: [evan.prodromou.name...]
I would be more annoyed with what's going to be done with those formats than the fact that there are two competing formats.
It's the harbinger of things to come as SEs encroach further on the sites they index.
I predicted this was coming about 2 years ago and the only upshot is it's been coming slower than I predicted.
A quote from one of the Google reps, responding to that thread...
|And, overall, it's good for the web. |
There you have it in a nutshell. When Google stops reporting the web as it is and begins dictating whats good to webmasters... I'd say that's a major conflict of interest.
Like most webmasters, if I see a competing site being allowed to use this format (it's opt in, if approved right now) and they suddenly make a big jump in rankings then Google becomes less valuable to me in general.
I'm somewhat concerned that I didn't see any mention of the proposed rich format NOT having any effect on site ranking. Will sites that cater to this receive better serps positioning?
edit: I'm not against it per say, I do prefer deciding for myself what I make available to Google, but if this new feature plays a role in serps the choice is taken from me... i'd have to implement it or suffer lower rankings. Are my worries unfounded?
[edited by: JS_Harris at 5:28 am (utc) on May 13, 2009]
Here comes abuse of NOINDEX and NOFOLLOW...
Since I posted this it occurs to me that savvy webmasters will game the review ratings system by demoting pages with lower rated reviews to make sure their top reviewed sites show up in Google so only 5-star rated reviews show up in the SERPs to grab traffic.
Who does the work? Google (searching) or you (telling Google what that search might be if only they did it instead of taking the shortcut)?
No good can come from this. At one time "content is king" was the mantra. Now it will be snippit/microformat is king.
incrediBILL, It was my understanding that while reading the article if my pages had a user ranking feature that feature could find its way into serps. I didn't read that my pages themselves would get ranked, just that any user rankings could get passed along (read:tacked onto the regular desccriptive text as an extra).
I'm already seeing forum posts getting wiped out in favor of forum threads, Google has been adding "number of authors" + "number of replies" to those threads for a little while now at least.
I think this is another way to add extras to your snippets, not a way to have your pages ranked because of snippets.
As my previous posts says, i'm hoping this IS in fact just a way to add "extras" to my serp snippets and NOT something that will sway rankings at all.
I think we need clarification about how/if this has the power to alter page rankings in Google serps.
An example: My blog does not use a comment system because the topic works best with a full blown forum. Will my articles rank lower because they don't have "this article has received 123 comments" added to the snippet ?
[edited by: JS_Harris at 7:09 am (utc) on May 13, 2009]
How to incentivize fake reviews in one move.
Trustweb it ain't gonna be but then 1 in 3 now have concerns about shopping on the web, so it's pretty messed up already.
With Rich Snippets, SERPs are over. A user can search for "widgets in Dallas between $25 and $50 with more than 20 ratings and a rating at 4 or higher". The Google result will be at the top of the page, with a short list. The rest of the page, and page 2, 3, etc. won't matter.
There are already examples of these searches and results.
How will it affect your ranking? Ranking becomes irrelevant. PageRank won't matter. The user gets a list of widgets by her parameters for ratings, raters, price, and location.
This opens the door to new services. How about: "SMS me at 8 am with lowest gasoline prices in my zip code". SERPs and rankings don't matter there.
This will require a rewrite of all corporate websites.
[edited by: tedster at 4:17 pm (utc) on May 13, 2009]
What about this:
|yet our experiments have shown that users find the new data valuable -- if they see useful and relevant information from the page, they are more likely to click through. |
"widgets in Dallas between $25 and $50 with more than 20 ratings and a rating at 4 or higher"
Yea, but these things have to be updated constantly if you're dealing with prices. Correct? Would not people evenetually get tired of outdated information and not trust it if necessary updates are ignored?
I can see some abuse happening here for sure.
I don't see many of the websites updating pricing information in real time. In terms of the Trustweb, i just see Internet novice's getting conned.
Go type in best price guaranteed into Google and you'll see what I mean.
"Google looks for markup formats (microformats and RDFa) that you can easily add to your own web pages"
How many websites other than those owned by seo types will even bother with this? I have thousands of pages on multiple sites. I'm pretty busy with content creation and upkeep. No time for this.
Also, what percentage of searchers will even click or notice the "show options" tab at the top of a serps. I'm pretty sure the majority of my users won't even notice it.
As a user---when I view the additional options, I find "reviews" to be largely useless. "Forums", however, seems to be a threat, though. You can't really combat forums since you can't create content to compete against every concievable forum post. Will this lead to the creation of more forums? After seeing this, I'm now thinking of setting one up for my niche.
As a site operator---I'm not sure this is a great threat as long as I produce content that closely matches the user's query. This, to me, means the value of long tail content just went up dramatically.
I'd really appreciate input on this.
I wonder whether this will take off at all. I mean, only a small percentage of links are nofollowed, yet there's often a clear case in favour of a webmaster adopting that technique. So stuff like this isn't widely adopted in any case.
With rich snippets I can see a very clear reason not to use them, versus an unproven statement made by Google that they will somehow improve clickthroughs. Excuse me if I don't take their word for it.
|Can't we just all go the W3-way? |
There's also a third option currently being proposed for HTML5 [lists.whatwg.org] (long but interesting read).
The problem with relying on author-supplied metadata is you can't rely on it. Google have their Froogle/Base experience to go on, so they must have prepared strategies to combat metadata abuse: I wonder how?
I gotta say, hats off to Incredibill and Tedster for always keeping us up to date with these awesome threads, and the insight they bring.
I lurk more than post because it is after all, webmasterworld, not webguy or wannabe...:)
but i have to ask, will these snippets affect the way ASk, Yahoo and Live read your pages. I mean would the new code interfere with their ability to crawl your content at all ?
Sounds like a lot of work, though good Search and Replace tool would do for those with thousands of pages or MYSQL query for those on PHP I guess, but I bet even thats got some huge hurdles.
Maybe this is great for mobi but not so great for regular web. Have to see if mikey likes it.
|I think this is another way to add extras to your snippets, not a way to have your pages ranked because of snippets. |
I think you missed my point in that people will sculpt their site to rank their highest rated content instead of the lowest rated content.
For instance if I'm running a hotel rating sites and have a bunch of SF Hotels I might not want Google to index the lower rated SF hotels since nobody (with money) is ever going to click on an SF hotel with a rating lower than 3. So all the poorly rated hotels now can forget people finding them on the internet because site owners will make sure than when someone searches for a hotel only the highest rated hotels rank for that city to make sure they have a good shot at getting a click.
|How many websites other than those owned by seo types will even bother with this? |
It'll become part of the CMS software or directory software many use to make these types of sites. For instance local directory software will have the vcard microformat built right in, your arm chair webmasters won't have to do a thing.
"It'll become part of the CMS software or directory software many use to make these types of sites."
So if you're publishing on blogger or wordpress you're likely covered?
The niches I operate in are filled with old established info sites. I doubt any of them will even be aware of this for years, if ever. I would guess that much of the web's content is in the same boat. So, based on that, I don't see this as something that google can really rely on to determine relevance. It's like everything else: if only the seo minded crowd is aware of it, only they will utilize it. Who the he#$ wants the search results to be based on that? From a usability point of view, the web would be become purea*# crap filled with nothing but promotional nonsense. Which is why I'm not sure if this is something to be concerned about.
incrediBill's observation ("prioritizing the high-ranked pages and ignoring low-rank pages") is valid. That's what recommendations engines already do.
Another item: Of the four criteria (people, companies, products, reviews), three are for "named entities". Most searches are for things that have names. Google is prioritizing these searches. If you own a known brand, then it has priority. But a small reseller will not show up.
The large corporate sites have the resources to make these changes. But many "legacy" sites (small sites built years ago) won't be rewritten, so they'll fall off the results.
Another implication: It will be difficult to spam. Google will know the data types, plus it will know what counts as valid content for that type.
i've had microformats on my site for ages and never seen any noticable benefit. 99% of people probably don't even know that they're there.
i wish they would just leave it alone though. i thought people we're giving up on all that XHTML stuff with HTML 5.0 coming out, and now they're talking about another XHTML-only version of an HTML thing. if they keep doing that they are going to end up with two languages that do the same thing. it will be like PHP and ASP.
|With Rich Snippets, SERPs are over. A user can search for "widgets in Dallas between $25 and $50 with more than 20 ratings and a rating at 4 or higher". The Google result will be at the top of the page, with a short list. The rest of the page, and page 2, 3, etc. won't matter. |
You will almost never see a search like that. What you might see is a search for "widgets in dallas" that is then refined to include price range, ratings, etc.
refining the search helps the user find what they want, nothing wrong with that
|For instance if I'm running a hotel rating sites and have a bunch of SF Hotels I might not want Google to index the lower rated SF hotels since nobody (with money) is ever going to click on an SF hotel with a rating lower than 3. So all the poorly rated hotels now can forget people finding them on the internet because site owners will make sure than when someone searches for a hotel only the highest rated hotels rank for that city to make sure they have a good shot at getting a click. |
Maybe you will do that, and the lower rated hotel won't get as much play. As the site owner, that's what you want. As a searcher, that's what you want. The person who loses is the guy with the bad reviews. Sucks for him, but there's probably a good reason he had such bad reviews and maybe he should focus on improving his business - if he doesn't he'll lose anyway
|Like most webmasters, if I see a competing site being allowed to use this format (it's opt in, if approved right now) and they suddenly make a big jump in rankings then Google becomes less valuable to me in general. |
I don't get the impression this will impact the order of the results, but that it will allow google to show snippets it thinks are more useful. If a competitor does use it to jump above you in the SERPS, or if they don't jump above you but they show a better snippet, the result is the same: time for you to get to work updating your site, or time for you to give up. It's the same as any other technique used to improve search ranking or snippets. If you don't keep up, you disappear.
|Many will argue rich snippets are good for the searcher but not when it ultimately results in less content to search as more sites are squished out of business by such predatory aggregation. |
I don't see the web shrinking as a result of this.
|It will be difficult to spam. |
Define difficult to spam - some sites with lots of juice already that decide to manipulate their index to only contain the cream of the reviews will be a type of spamming.
They may not get more SERPs, but the ones they get will look top-notch and attract more attention with 4 and 5 star ratings.
Also, the older sites that possibly find themselves with a sudden dip in traffic will have to adapt or become extinct.
I noticed a while back already that in Google Maps, when you search for an actual physical place (not an address) there were a whole extra set of information that are now listed in the map result bubble: for ex, I am seeing this right now:
OverviewDetails (1)Reviews (1)Photos & Videos (2)User Content (27)Web Pages (24)
All these tabs contain content taken from real content sites. The Reviews tab contains only a snippet, but the other tabs are pretty much self-contained, you need not navigate to the source page to get the content.
Furthermore, an even more problematic functionality is an option to write a review straight in the Reviews tab, a review to be hosted by Google Maps.
I think there is a very thin line here that G should be very very careful not to cross.
The key to not crossing this line will be snippets: make sure they are short enough.
A suggestion I would make is to add a functionality in the standards for these technologies, where you can decide the character limit a snippet is to have.
In any case, I am staying away from this technology, and if those who stay away get penalized, then get ready for this thing to be abused and spammed to death.
From a search prespective I myself find this exciting as I do use reviews a bunch when looking for a product I am intrested in and doing research on.
I would think most of here in the forum do as well.
I can see the possibility of a new form of spam emerging, new business starting up to post reviews etc, and if we see it you know well Google sees it. This will be very intresting in how it will be delt with as myself I can't see a way to detect a phony review to a real review.
I guess it will be something that we need to use and not something that we fight because it is coming.
I have wanted for years to add this fuction to my web pages on my ecommerce site I guess now it is something I need to dig deeper into.
The ability to add ratings data to the snippet will benefit the user. We are often reminded to build for people, not engines, and playing the devil's advocate here, the extra information contained in the snippets I think will help the click-through, and to be clear, will NOT improve rankings.
As I mentioned before, Yahoo tried this with SearchMonkey. The simplist way I understood it to be was, when someone does a site search with the yahoo search box embedded in my site to make a function call to a site that contains reviews, associate those reviews with particular search terms, and display your site page, with the snippet containing the review info from site:B, triggered by a certain keyword search.
I thought to myself, "wait a minute, yahoo wants me to customize my snippet to included microformat data from another site, and thus pre-populating the SERPS of the local searchsite with data that is more user-friendly" and I wondered why I should be building Yahoo's search results..and I said forget it..
I think google is doing the same, but instead of it being a site-based search (widgets site:example.com) like yahoo, it's the actual SERP..
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