Microformats – Web 3.0? Really?

May 10th, 2011 by Search Influence Alumni

Microformats, an extension of the concept of the “semantic web,” are renewed again for SEO. While they’ve been around since at least 2005, microformats use XHTML to build upon existing standards to make it easier for people to be able to use normal-looking content and for search engines and other inhuman web site visitors to parse information to connect disparate pages like Google Places and review sites.

Just Semantics

Semantic web design is nothing new to the SEO community. We know the difference between span style=font-size:30px and an H1 tag or strong and b, and we’re clear that Google and other spiders read the two tags differently. But with microformats, the intent is not to (necessarily) change the presentation along with the meaning, as most HTML tags do, but it integrate metadata for spiders and other programs.

Three microformats are clearly worthwhile for the search marketing community: rel=nofollow, hCard, and hReview. There are other microformats that are for events, syndication, or denoting a more personal relationship between people, but these are of particular, niche uses. Most microformats can be tested using the Google Rich Snippet Tester, which will also alert you to some of Google’s peculiarities about microformats.


Nofollow is an “elemental microformat,” one that is a “minimal solution to a single problem,” that is pervasive throughout the web thanks to Google’s endorsement from 2005. Every blog owner knows about nofollow. It’s the key to making comment spam not hurt your site. Put simply, making a link be nofollow-ed keeps your “link juice” from reaching that site, effectively taking away your endorsement of the link.

While it was a common practice to “sculpt” your link profile using nofollow, 2009 brought about an announcement from none other than SEO dominatrix Matt Cutts, changing how nofollow is treated, effectively eliminating sculpting as a highly effective technique.

Nevertheless, nofollow is a necessary part of any comment or signature system.

hCard 1.0

“hCard is a simple, open, distributed format for representing people, companies, organizations, and places, using a 1:1 representation of vCard … properties and values in semantic HTML or XHTML.” Uhhh… What?

vCard is the electronic equivalent of a business card, saved in a .vcf file. It’s a file you send or have for download that includes information like name, company, telephone, or even logo and photo. hCard puts that kind of functionality onto a website using a “compound microformat,” allowing spiders and even some browsers to parse out the information.

hCards can be downloaded directly to a vCard using bookmarklets, on-page links or browser plugins for Safari, Firefox, Chrome, or IE. This could be the new way to give someone you’re meeting for the first time your card.

hReview 0.3

hReview is similar to hCard, described as “a simple, open, distributed format, suitable for embedding reviews (of products, services, businesses, events, etc.) in HTML, XHTML, Atom, RSS, and arbitrary XML.” hReview works in the same way as hCard, using classes to mark text as metadata. However, fields in hReview can be hidden for better presentation, using a class of “value-title” and putting the content in a title attribute.

hReview isn’t as immediately applicable as hCard, though it can connect reviews with a places page. We’re currently testing how best to do this, and what it really takes to make that connection — let us know if you’ve found anything!

Web 3.0

Is this really the next step in the Internet’s evolution? Certainly, the term Web 2.0 has been bandied about, referring to the social sphere, where everyone networks with and talks to random people, trying to raise awareness of their pet ideas and projects. But with the “death” of the first round of social networks like Friendster and MySpace, and the utter ubiquity of others like Twitter and Facebook, could the web be going through its next iteration by making every page be “semantic” to better provide meta-information?

Well, the social web was just the effective monetization of old ideas like BBSes, forums, and chatrooms; similarly, the semantic web is just further specializing the strides in separating presentation from content that began with the deprecation of the <font> tag with the rise of CSS.

Are microformats the future of the web? Are you using them right now?