The Business Case for Microformats

There is so much that happens with web design it is easy to miss important pieces of technology. After all there are new technologies introduced all the time and a lot of the time they are never adopted (*cough* silverlight *cough*). I hate to say it that Microformats was never high on my radar. Over this past week I was fortunate enough to attend the Voices that Matter conference which included a full schedule of excellent speakers and exciting topics. While almost all of the presentations left me inspired I was reminded of the value of Microformats by presenter and web designer Emily Lewis. Microformats have been so under my radar that I have never thought to include them into our normal coding standards for 3.7 DESIGNS.

I always dismissed microformats as a “tool that had no real place yet,” and with HTML5 and a whole new layer of semantics becoming available it just became easier to ignore them further… buuuut in reality a lot has evolved with Microformats and there are plenty of business cases for them.

We Set the Standard

If for no other reason, I am embarrassed to have let Microformats go so long because as designers and developers we should shape the web through practice. That is to say that if people use Microformats, tools will be built to take advantage of them. With more tools and greater usage they will gain popularity and reach. We shouldn’t ignore a great concept because it “isn’t ready yet,” after all aren’t we supposed to be the earlier adopters?

Now I realize that you selling microformats to your boss or client with “We can be the cool earlier adopters” might not be the most effective approach. So here are some other business cases:

Microformats Encourage Engagement

We are now all hunting for that magic way to engage users with our sites. Some try and do this with design, others with content and some with interactivity. Now these are all great ways, don’t get me wrong… by why pass up an opportunity to build more engagement?

If a user browsing your site has software that is capable of interpreting microformats you are instantly making your site more engaging. A user can now easily take the information from your site and seamlessly import it into their desktop software with less time, effort and hassle. This increasing the likelyhood that the user will actually download your data.

If you look at what Microformats are available there are plenty of great ways to use them to build engagement.

OK yes, not every user has this software on their computer but it is growing and think about how much of an impact your site will have on them if they do.

Microformats Benefit Search

There are very few websites out there that can ignore the search engines. Free targeted traffic? Yes please. Google recently announced “Rich Snippets,” the inclusion of extra data about a search listing that is populated by Microformats. While they have not claimed that it will actually make your site rank higher it will help the site stand out from the crowd. The more attention your search listing commands the higher your click through rate (CTR) will be. That is to say all other things equal you will get more traffic with a rich listing compared to a standard one.

While currently there are only select sites that Google is using for microformat results, Google is including new sites all the time. Now is the best opportunity to be one of the early adopters (there is that term again!) who takes advantage of the first wave of a new technology.

If you are currently using Microformats or plan to add them, make sure to let Google know. They do let you apply to have your site included as a rich snippet website.

Microformats Establish a Framework

Better code, in less time? Doesn’t sound like a “css framework” does it? I continue to avoid using “standard” CSS Frameworks because of the non-semantic naming conventions. But don’t dismiss the idea of frameworks yet, they actually can increase the quality and reduce the time of your development.

Rather than reinvent the wheel every time you are coding contact information, events, reviews, etc… you can simply throw your prebuilt code snippets based on microformats and fill in the blanks. Additionally every time you need to make a change, style or work on your frameworked content it will take less time to look up and recall class names, formating, etc… It may not be huge blocks of time but it will all add up.

Microformats are Extendable

It might be hard to believe but there are times where you either want to aggregate or distribute some content. All jokes aside the aggregation or distribution of content is what has made RSS so popular and useful. In the last few years we have seen a huge surge of Twitter feeds on websites, blog posts on Facebook pages and the aggregation of several news sites into one. Microformats, like RSS makes this possible. You can now write scripts that look for the mark-up designated by Microformats and use that to extract or distribute data.

Microformats are Quick and Easy

I know what you are thinking at this point “sure that all sounds nice but they are probably difficult to implement.” When in reality they are actually really easy, often times it won’t take more than a minute or two to change existing high quality mark-up into Microformats. Look through these quick tutorials to learn how easy it is.

I encourage you to start adopting them in your own process. Know of any good examples of Microformat usage and benefits? Post them in the comments…