Improving User Experience – Google’s Way

Google often use a big news story to slip out a smaller, but often more profound change within their company and the way in which they present their results.

This week’s big anti-spam change was publicly launched just after another blog post in which the company launched Google Recipe View as an enhancement to their search results.  Essentially, this is an extension of their previous changes with Rich Snippets, albeit one with slightly more profound implications.

Rich Snippets are cool.  They provide  a user with more information about a website that they are going to visit, and thanks to them providing a more eye catching listing in the SERP, will typically result in an uplifted CTR for websites that have earned them.

Rich Snippets are all about semantic HTML.  About explicit declarations at a machine level about what certain aspects of the page actually are:  They are simple to implement, and the microformats that you need to use to implement them are publicly available at a number of websites.

Until now, Google simply used this microformat data to create the Rich Snippets, which were then displayed as part of the standard search results like this:

Rich Snippet in Google
Rich Snippet in Google

The new Recipe Search goes further, and compiles the whole SERP from websites where the content has been appropriately marked up using microformats.  It looks like this:

Recipe Search Results
Recipe Search Results

The highly structured underlying code of these pages means that it becomes very straightforward for Google to slice and dice the data and for users to refine their search to find exactly what they’re looking for:

Scone Options
options for making scones

Microformats like hCard or hReview are a transformative technology that provide a huge additional layer of information to search engines and other machines about the context of data, and they are something that should become the default means of describing content.

There is a big recognition of the importance of semantic data in HTML5, and a slightly more elegant RDF based model is being accepted as the standard for describing elements within the page.

Next Steps

It is interesting that  Google chose to launch a recipe view of the search results when instead they could have chosen people or movies – both of which are also frequently marked up in this type of way: LinkedIn and IMDB use microformats extensively.

There has clearly been enough growth in the use of this formatting within the recipe vertical to ensure that Google were able to find enough data to populate their results correctly, and this is reassuring about the take up of microformats, and the launch of the new specialised results should be all the incentive that publishers in similar content based verticals need to start to modernise their content in order to improve visibility and have a strategy in place ahead of more Google niche search engines being launched.