Just today, Google announced the appearance of WYSIWYG microformats and RDF implementation. This lets you take webpages with dates and events on them, and mark them up as structured data that Google can better understand. This is a really elegant solution, to a really, really difficult problem. You see, Google has been getting better and better and better at identifying text on pages. It understands a lot of structured data without any help. For instance, when I was at Karmaloop.com, we were a search mess. Because of some long-standing tech limitations, our website had global page titles and meta-tags. When I started in search, page titles and metadata were crucial to Google understanding the content of your pages. But over time, Google has gotten better and better at truly understanding what is on the page without those signposts. Today, perhaps because of the development of low-level semantic elements, or perhaps just a decade of experience, Google doesn’t need anything quite so basic as page titles and meta-data to help it parse the meaning of the page. Google can now use things like context, site type, and structure to understand what’s on the page. Karmaloop is a traditional retail site. There was nothing complicated about it. It had a well-defined taxonomy, a well-defined navigation, and that made it easy for Google to understand it. It flowed from category page, to child pages, namely, products in that category. Because of this facility and ability to recognize a retail taxonomy, Google understood, to a large extent, what was happening on the site. Consequently, we still saw about 15% of our total traffic coming from non-branded keywords. So even without the traditional signposts that Google calls best practices, Google was still able to see and understand the contents of category and product pages. In 2005, or even maybe 2008, Google would have been clueless. They have come a long way.
But today, with the request that website owners who have structured data begin to tag that data, Google raised a white flag. They have essentially said that they can’t figure this stuff out fast enough. Because they have invested the engineering resources to create tools to make that tagging easy, Google has reached some kind of dead end in terms of their processing or capability to understand structured data.
Now this isn’t really a admission of failure, but it is a very subtle way of asking for help. Google doesn’t do that often. So today, Google has essentially asked everyone on the web to help them categorize their own content. Most marketers, will be really well-inclined to do this very thing, because these microformats help get more information into the search engine, which translates into better search rankings, which translates into more visitors, which translates eventually into more dollars. So a little tagging, can be really beneficial.
But I want to focus on the remarkable thing here – Google, the benevolent overlord of indexation, has just asked millions of webmasters to pick up the slack. Google has recognized that there is a limitation in their understanding of structured data. So rather than wait for some kind of breakthrough, Google has just asked everyone to share the load. Eventually Google will not need microformats and rich data snippets, but today those things help with relevancy and context. Google can’t grok that adequately now. I’m quite sure, that in a year or two or three, Google have such an amazing database of RDF data that they will be able to more intelligently recognize structured data when presented with it, that microformats will not be necessary anymore. But today, Google has just turned us all into data monkeys.
I’ve said for long time, that it’s really Google’s Internet and we just play in it. But today, by raising the white flag and asking for help, Google has just turned us all into unpaid web crawlers. Google will finally understand what were talking about, right after we explain it to them. Google’s mission is to categorize all the world’s information, but apparently they can’t do without our help.
Hey, Sergey & Larry, can I get some Adwords credit for every RDF I drop?