Google are always experimenting with the search results snippets they show in their search results. These are the little boxes that appear for each result for a given search. We’ve seen site links, breadcrumb trails and up to 3 sub-results appearing, and now Google are playing with ‘rich snippets’. These incorporate further information about each result, such as a review or video or, just announced, events.

Here’s an example (courtesy of Google) of how a single entry in the search results may appear:

As you can see that’s a lot more comprehensive than the usual heading and two lines of text.

To do this they have introduced the concept of microformats. A microformat is just a predefined way of ‘marking up’ the data on a page to add some intelligence which Google can then interpret and feed into its incredible search databases to show in a result like that above – if it deems it appropriate.

So, using the example of a page displaying a course (or a series of courses), this may appear on a web page as follows:
Finance for Non-Financial Managers
1 day

Technically this may be implemented (excuse the HTML code) as follows:
< h2 >Finance for Non-Financial Managers< /h2 >
< p >London< br/ >
1/2/2010< br/ >
1 day< /p >

However, with microformats we add intelligence to this information:

< h2 >< span class=”description”>Finance for Non-Financial Managers< /h2 >
< p >< span class=”location” >London< /span >< br/ >
< span class=”dtstart” >1/2/2010< /span >< br/ >
< span class=”duration” >1 day< /span >< /p >

Now this will look the same to the user BUT it gives Google information so they MIGHT then display this in a rich snippet in the search results.

Apologies for the technical diversion but I wanted to show how microformats work – because they are going to be of ever increasing importance: its one of the few ways that a search engine like Google can wring more information and intelligence out of the web. We’d recommend that people start asking their web developers to consider applying this to any of their data for which there is an appropriate microformat (video, reviews, events at the moment). We shall certainly be keeping a very keen eye on new microformats as they are announced by Google – I think this could well grow to be one of the most important developments on the web we’ve seen for a long time.