4 Jun 2011

Google, Bing & Yahoo's New Schema.org Creates New Standards for Web Content Markup

The Web's three leading search companies are announcing today a new collaboration called Schema.org, where more than 100 new types of website markup for content like movies, music, organizations, TV shows, products, places and more will allow search engines to better understand and present what they find on the pages that show up in search results. Yahoo announced the project first today on its Yahoo Search Blog and said it was reminiscent of all three search companies collaborating to create the sitemap concept.

This will change the way people design websites, it will change the way people do search marketing, it will change a lot of things. It should be very, very interesting.

The work is related to Yahoo's years-old Search Monkey project, where website owners were given guidance about how to mark up websites so that their appearances in Yahoo search results were vastly improved. Gone are the days of a blue link and a few lines of text in each and every case. Some types of discovered content are better displayed in other ways, with charts, graphs or images, for example. Now that Google and Bing are teaming up with Yahoo to create a standard format, I expect that just about every site on the Web will be stopping to take a look and see how they can incorporate the new structure advocated on Schema.org.

Above, a screenshot of the kind of search results Google has displayed since offering its Rich Snippets markup documentation. In this case, it will be easy to know what the cooking time for this recipe is because "cookTime" is one of 10 standardized fields in the recipe schema under schema.org, so there's one standardized way to communicate cook time for a recipe and every third party indexing a recipe Web page will know what the cooking time is immediately.
Bing says of the project:

"We've made great progress on the technical front to begin to model the real world from the messy bits of data scattered across the web. Things like movies have benefitted from this work. We're now able to understand 'Casablanca' is a movie and literally mine the web to re-assemble information about that movie from millions of sites. But we think we can do better. We want to enable publishers to give us hints about what things they are describing on their sites. Rather than rely solely on machine learning and other AI techniques, we asked "what if we could enable publishers to have a single schema they could use to describe their sites that all search engines could understand?...We at Bing see this as a major step forward for the web, simplification for webmasters and richer more informative search results for consumers. As search continues to evolve from finding links to taking action, we're excited about the potential this new system provides."
Google's take on the announcement is the most detailed and can be found here.
Here's how I understand such work: technical standards like standardized markup for content types allows search engines and other sites to skip spending time and work figuring out what kind of content is on a page and move directly to the stage of doing something interesting with that content.
It's not easy for a Web service to know that a page is about food, or wine or a movie - but if all pages that are communicate that in a standard fashion, then 3rd parties like search engines can proceed directly to building beautiful food, wine and movie search results pages or other services that present the content in a more compelling fashion. That could make searching more pleasurable and useful and ultimately drives more traffic to the most useful and best formatted sites in the search results.

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