May 20, 2009, 12:00 AM

Get ready for Google’s Rich Snippets to optimize search, experts say

To help Internet searches find specific kinds of information, such as online customer reviews of products, Google last week introduced Rich Snippets as a method of identifying particular categories of web content in Internet search results.

To help Internet searches find specific kinds of information, such as online customer reviews of products, Google Inc. last week introduced Rich Snippets as a method of identifying particular categories of web content in Internet search results.

To participate, web site operators will have to use new microformatting techniques for tagging content. As part of the Rich Snippets program, Google is starting to develop the hReview microformat for tagging review content, the hProduct microformat for products and the hCard microformat for content on people, says Alan Rimm-Kaufman, president of online retailing consultants Rimm-Kaufman Group.

Online retailers have time to get on board with the new microformatting, but should start planning for it, Rimm-Kaufman and others say. “This isn’t a big deal for online retail yet, but it will be in the next six to 18 months,” he says in a recent blog posting.

Retailers who are the first to tag their products with the hProduct microformat, for example, should enjoy an early sales advantage because Google will present tagged information higher in natural search rankings, Rimm-Kaufman says. But the advantage will be short-live, he adds, as microformatting becomes standard practice.

“This helps to classify reviews so searches can find them,” says Pinny Gniwisch, executive vice president of marketing at Ice.com, which recently started preparing for the microformatting. Ice.com is No. 166 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide.

Google says in a posting this week on its Google Webmaster Central Blog that Rich Snippets will make it easier for consumers to find what they want through Internet search and increase click-through rates. When searching for a product or service tagged with microformatting, Google says, “users can easily see reviews and ratings, and when searching for a person, they`ll get help distinguishing between people with the same name. It`s a simple change to the display of search results, yet our experiments have shown that users find the new data valuable-if they see useful and relevant information from the page, they are more likely to click through.

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