Microformats are a way of marking up code on your website to allow Google and other web crawlers to easily understand each section of your code and then apply that to the information the web crawlers supply to their users. Google is starting to put a lot more emphasis on sites using microformats and is using it to supplement its search results. With the widening use of HTML5, more and more websites are beginning to implement the mark-up, so if you are not already using the mark-up then your competitors could have a huge advantage.

There are a number of different ways that Google uses microformats such as star ratings, video thumbnails, authorship, breadcrumbs and more. There is no evidence currently to show that using microformats affects your ranking positions, but the mark-up not only helps Google and other search engines to understand your site but also can have a big impact on the appearance of your search results improving click through rates by giving search users detailed information about your site before they even get to it.

The best way to explain how microformats can help improve organic traffic is to go through a couple of examples of where microformats make a difference in search results.

Rich snippets: Star ratings

Hopefully you have seen star ratings within the search results. Below shows the result for the Cumberland Hotel in London and shows how Trip Advisor are using microformats to great effect with star ratings, review aggregation and also showing a price bracket.

Rich snippets star ratings

Compare that with the result from Expedia and you can see how the search result stands out. Users could be more likely to click on the Trip Advisor result, even if the result was lower on the page than the Expedia result without mark-up, they know already before they get to the site that Trip Advisor has lots of useful reviews but Expedia is an unknown.

If you have the opportunity to gather reviews either of products, services or suppliers then make sure you aggregate the results on your website and ensure that you mark-up the code to show this. A great way to check you have the right code is to add the URL to the Google rich snippets testing tool. This will show you what Google can see and what they could display, although the search giant can sometimes be a little reluctant to display the results. There is no guarantee that if you have marked the code up correctly that it would be displayed. However make sure that you have the ability to collect this kind of review information and that you can gather ratings, because once you have this information within your database it is much easier to then add onto your site and work on the code to get Google to display the info.

There has been some anecdotal evidence to show that having reviews and other information marked up can improve click-through rates onto your site. However, unless you have one site without mark-up in the search results followed by another site with mark-up in the same search result and can monitor the Google search traffic to each of those sites; it is difficult to get actual evidence for this. But if you think about how you normally use search, personally I would be more inclined to click on a search result that I know 2,000 people had reviewed and commented on, rather than a website that I couldn’t easily find out if they had that information.

So where would you click? The above Trip Advisor result with lots of reviewers, or the Expedia link with “no” reviews about the hotel? Ok, so they might have more reviews once you are on the site but who has time to wait for the site to load to find out when Google has already told you?

Video mark-up

Video mark-up can work in a similar way to star ratings in that a video thumbnail can be displayed in the search result.

Video markup

If you are creating video guides, ‘how-to’ videos, video product reviews or any other sort of video on your websites, make sure to mark these up with the appropriate microformat so that the thumbnail can be displayed in Google results. Schema.org shows how to mark-up code in a way that Google can understand, but get a developer involved if you are in any doubt and they should be able to help you mark-up the code.

Unlike star ratings, it is a bit easier to see how a video thumbnail can impact click-through rates. If you are in p3 without the video listing but then manage to implement the microformat, then you can see how this impacts traffic to your site. We have seen that having these thumbnails can significantly increase the click-through rate onto the site, we have seen up to 35% higher click through rates onto sites with a video listing, so this is a great way to increase traffic without battling against Google and your competitors to get one position higher in the search results.

Again, Google may or may not display your video thumbnail so check the rich snippets testing tool to see if your mark-up is correct, but by adding just a few lines of text to your code you can help increase visits to your site. One of the biggest mistakes is to have these videos or reviews and not marking them up, wasting your website assets and not letting Google work for you.

Location listings

Location-based search is increasing significantly with the explosion of smartphones and tablet devices. Some studies suggest that up to 50% of search queries are through mobile devices and 60% of that search traffic has a local intent. If you have a physical location such as a shop, showroom or even just an office, then marking up the location of that office on your about page can help the address to be shown within search results.

Location listings

Perhaps one of your customers is looking to find your showroom so they ‘Google’ your brand. If you don’t have your location marked-up, a searcher has to come onto your ‘About’ page and scroll down to find your location, and then bounce off the site as soon as they have found the information they need. So why not improve your bounce rates by not even having these people come to your site by getting Google to display your address for you. These people are already interested in visiting so they don’t need to be on your site to convert, get them into your showroom to sell them your product.

By improving your bounce rate, which Google partly uses in its ranking algorithm, you can help increase your Google position across your site. This is only one minor ranking factor but in very competitive niches these minor rankings factors can be the thing that makes you stand out against the completion.

The Google support forum has some information on adding address mark up to your site and Schema.org tries to explain more of the mark-up that you might be able to include. There are lots of other resources available as well such as this live microdata testing tool, the microformats wiki page and this good introduction to some of the code you can use.

Microformats can be a great way to improve the look of your search listings and help improve click-through rate onto your site. If you are already ranking in position one on Google, then there is not much more you can do to improve that but by adding a video listing or star rating you will be able to grab some search share from some of those PPC ads or listings below you that are getting all of your business.