MicroData & Retail Products: Not Ready For Primetime?

If you are in the search engine business, the functionality in the Microdata specification sponsored by Google, Yahoo and Bing is a very attractive way to theoretically improve search results.

Enterprise search engines are well-versed with named entity extraction tools and techniques, which is how this information has been generated in the past decade.

The major search engines are essentially telling content providers that if they name all their entities in their content, they can do a better job of extracting meaning from them to help improve search results. This is a win-win proposition, right? Maybe!

Other similar initiatives known as the Semantic Web and RDFa have not made much inroads in the mindshare of business owners yet. In fact, business owners have a hard time staying on top of current SEO markup practices associated with standard HTML tags.

Will this format gain traction among businesses? I hope so, but there are a number of hurdles that stand in the way at the moment.

Here are some challenges for moving this technology forward. Some are technical, some are not.

  • This technology represents a real cost to implement, and the decision to spend those dollars are usually made by the senior marketing executive. In fact, it is very likely that most marketers at any level do not understand the relationship between the various micro-tag technologies and improved search results. There is no real educational strategy in place to promote this specification, and the PR machine is not going to get the job done.
  • A second hurdle is the enormous amount of content that is currently deployed on the Web. It would be a herculean task to go back and reprocess this content. Since the value proposition is not well understood by marketing executives, this reprocessing is not going to happen in any meaningful way for some time. In fact, even if the value proposition was well understood, it’s not clear that the cost of processing hundreds of millions of documents is worth the cost.
  • The presentation of information at Schema.Org was written by technologist for technologists. Nowhere is there a clear statement of benefits, or a call to action targeted at the real decision maker who happens to be the CMO – not the CTO.
  • The hierarchal presentation of entities and related information is hard to review at Schema.org – it’s not apparent that there are only two parent nodes (level-1) with seven child nodes (level-2) at first glance. This information really needs to be repurposed to make it easy to access, and understood by non-technologist decision makers.
  • The sale of products and services is at the heart of every B2B/B2C website doing business on Internet. I was surprised at how few product properties there are and that there are no sub-categories at all for the Products category. Maybe this is being worked on, but it is a serious flaw in the MicroData specification. There is a well developed set of business categories, but in most cases these will be too high-level.

For example, a site tagged as an Office Equipment Store implies that it sells office equipment, but this category does not have properties to describe a primary product or multiple products.

Further, the Product category does not have a defined product taxonomy such as those found in the office supplies category at Amazon.

Going forward, I think business owners can be motivated to start marking up new content if they are presented with real examples of why this format is important. But first, the product category needs to be fleshed out to meet the needs of business owners.

Both Yahoo and Google are using similar in-house technology (SearchMonkey and Rich Snippets) to enhance search results in very meaningful ways – this is an excellent use of the technology, but most marketing professionals do not make the connection between these enhanced search results and the new Microdata initiative.

The bottomline is that businesses sell products and they want to sell more products. Their ability to markup their products is limited with the current specification.

I think this is a great idea, the specification needs to be fleshed out, and the sponsors of this initiative need to do a better job of explaining this technology and its benefits to marketing executives. Perhaps these are improvements that are in the works.

Next time, in part two of this article, I will provide a detailed review of the functionality, and how the MicroData specification can be of practical use to marketing executives when thinking about their website strategies.

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