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The hCard Microformat & Local Search Optimization
Last year in a blog post on tips for local SEO, I recommended using the hCard microformat as a component of local search engine optimization. I believe I was first to recommend this, and I was happy to hear a few different speakers at the SMX Local & Mobile Conference a couple of weeks ago recommend this too for local SEO. However, I could see there was some minor confusion from some attendees as to how widely it’s adopted, which search engines support it, and whether local info sites should be using it—so, I thought it’d be worthwhile to provide a brief update to answer these questions.
The hCard microformat is a standard method of semantically marking up your HTML to inform the search engines (and other devices/applications) very precisely about which part of your page text contains addresses, phone numbers, and other typical directory listing info. I recommended using it for formatting a business’s address and contact info because I saw indication of a trend towards increasing adoption of the protocol, and it would make good logical sense for local search engines to recognize hCard formatting when spidering local websites.
Here’s an example of the hCard code from Madison’s Orpheum Theatre page at Cinema Treasures (partial code example):
<h1 class=”org”>Orpheum Theatre</h1>
<div class=”address”><div class=”adr”>
<div class=”street-address”>216 State St</div>,
<span class=”postal-code”> 53703</span>
<span class=”country”>United States</span></div>
The concept here is that the microformat makes it very clear to the search engine what the business name is, versus street address versus city, etc. Without a clear tag on the data, search engines have to use clues like commas, line breaks, spaces and such to try to parse out all this info to match their business directory listings, and there’s such a range of formatting possibilities that a large degree of potential error is introduced. Using semantic labels reduces chances for interpretation mistakes.
Is there a risk to using the hCard microformat?
No. First of all, even if no search engine were specifically supporting the hCard microformat for identifying address info on webpages, this wouldn’t break their ability to read and use the address info in the visible text of the page. The cool thing about (X)HTML’s extensibility is that the data labels can be added in without altering the validity of the markup code. If a search engine doesn’t recognize the hCard labels, it just ignores them and uses the text as it normally would.
Which search engines use the hCard as local signals?
Yahoo has supported the microformats movement for quite some time, though it’s unclear if they are reading hCard tags when spidering pages. A few speakers at the conference stated that Yahoo “supported” the hCard microformat, but I think how they’re supporting the format may have confused people.
Last June, the Yahoo Local Team reported that they now support microformats, but what they were specifically stating was that they had started tagging the listings data they delivered up with the tags on the Yahoo sites. This was done to make it easy for users with microformat browser extensions and such to copy listing info off Yahoo! Local pages into address books and other apps for use (also, they’ve implemented hCalendar and hReviews tags).
So, Yahoo might be reading hCard from local web pages, but they’ve never stated this and I suspect they might not be yet. If anyone out there has actually tested this in some way, I’d be interested in hearing about the results. What Yahoo has definitely done is put hCard and other microformats into their local results page code.
In July, Google Maps also followed suit by adding hCard microformatting into their search results. But, as far as I can tell they are not yet reading hCard tags on web pages. Some months ago, one of Google’s engineers told me that they might consider recognizing it if they found more sites using it. But they already considered themselves pretty effective at parsing out address info from webpages.
Now, I’d love to report that local search engines are recognizing the hCard, but there’s not any indication of this yet. Obviously the local search engineers at both Yahoo! and Google see value in the protocol, but there’s perhaps not wide enough adoption by webmasters to make it worthwhile to use it as a signal for local search. If I’m off-base here, I’d invite the local search engines to speak up and update us all.
If the search engines aren’t recognizing hCard, why should I use it?
I still believe this could become much more of a standard for locally-oriented sites. I see a lot of instances where search engines make mistakes in interpreting address info from web pages, and in trying to automatically associate web sites with business listings in their databases. So, this would be valuable to the local engines if the signal were more available to them.
Aside from local search optimization, there’s another compelling reason to use the protocol: do it for your users! This is the local info version of a “bookmark this page” link. If you have the hCard formatting your address and contact info on your page, it makes it easy for some users to click and save the data to their address books and other applications.
This is pretty easy to add to a page, so it shouldn’t create much extra work to introduce. Do it for your users, do it as a best practice, and do it to be prepared for the day local search engines may eventually recognize the tags.
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