Rich Snippets and the Semantic Web
January 26th, 2012
Semantics are the study of meaning and the relation between words, phrases, signs and symbols, and what they stand for. Semantics can be frustrating when debating with a friend, but for the web they are incredibly important…but incredibly absent!
To a computer, a website contains data. To a person, it contains content. Rich Snippets are a step forward in enabling the computer to read data the same way a person reads content…or in other words, giving the data “semantics” or “meaning.”
Out of the box, a search engine has no idea what your website’s content really means. It reads your site and then takes it’s best guess, using it’s large vocabulary and relative information, working backwards to understand your website’s content. But that’s all changing with rich snippets.
Cracking the Code
Rich Snippets have been around for some time, but they were highly underutilized. This is mostly due to a lack of a standard practice in implementing these new tags. Recently, Google, Yahoo and Bing got together and formed http://www.schema.org, and developed a set of standards (or “schemas”) that would help standardize this new way of (looking at a website’s code) marking up our website’s code. In essence, using these new “schemas”, we can now tell a search engine exactly what it’s seeing right off the bat. Let’s look at an example…
We ran a test on one of our client’s sites, EcoNest Co. They host several natural building workshops every year. Without the Rich Snippets applied, the search engines return their site in a search, but there’s little to no details about the current events going on:
We went through their site and applied the Rich Snippets (using the Events schema). In just a few short weeks, here is what the search engines show when you run the same search:
It’s not hard to see why this is a huge leap forward for closing the gap between data and content. We’re getting closer and closer to making sure that what a computer reads on the web is the same thing that we’re reading. And perhaps that will give a whole new meaning to the web.