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Microformats – What are they, and why are they important to my website?

In a perfect world, search engines would have human-like intelligence. You could ask them a question, and they would actually provide results with the perfect answer. They could look at a website, and understand exactly how the images related to the words, or what every element on every webpage is.

Unfortunately, we don’t live in a perfect world. Search engines have to guess about a lot of things. After all, that’s why SEO is such a big business – because search engines need us humans to tell them what they’re looking at… and sometimes aren’t smart enough to tell if some of us sneakier humans are trying to trick them.

So we all add our metadata to the head of our websites, add keywords to our pages and posts, and all that. But that isn’t all you can do, you know.

Well, there are lots of other things you can do to give the search engines a better chance at finding your website. Not all of them are good. Some might get your website blacklisted forever.

I most definitely don’t suggest using those sorts of SEO tactics.

But lucky for you, there are these things called microformats that are completely on the up-and-up… they’re even recommended by Google.

The surprisingly human world of microformats

Essentially, microformats are simply attributes that you add to your existing HTML. Most of them are simply additional classes that you put in the elements surrounding whatever it is that you want to identify… like the ingredients in a recipe, or the location of an event.

Wikipedia has some pretty good articles explaining the different formats you can use, and has two lists about all their microformats specifications, if you want to read more about them.

Okay… so why should I care?

Not long ago, Google announced their new Recipe View… which – you guessed it – makes a big use of microformats to determine what sites have recipes on them.

So now, for food bloggers like me? Yeah… microformats have suddenly become very important. (So much so, that I developed a WordPress plugin and a web application that help other food bloggers format their recipes with microformats.)

But don’t think you’re off the hook if you don’t write about recipes. Google also currently uses microformats in their Reviews, People, Products, Events, and other searches… and future specialized searches they roll out will surely involve microformats as well.

But that’s not all! There’s also microdata (instead of microformats) if you use HTML5 on your website… so stay tuned, because there will surely be another post about that coming soon.

8 Responses to Microformats – What are they, and why are they important to my website?

Hi Allison! I downloaded and activated RecipeSEO but can’t get it to work properly. I’m very non-techie so it wouldn’t surprise me if I did something wrong, but I can’t figure out what. I entered the recipe and hit “update,” but the formatted recipe won’t show up. The recipe that IS there is one I inserted manually into the text section of the post. Here’s the link so you can see what it’s doing:

Can you help?

Hi Amy, what version of WordPress are you using? I’ve only tested it for version 3.1, so if you’re on an older version I can’t guarantee it will work. (Plus it’s probably a good idea to upgrade anyways. 🙂 )

If you’re up to date with WP upgrades, try reentering the recipe? It looks like something went really weird, and is somehow messing with the RecipeSEO plugin. Hopefully redoing the recipe will fix that.

Let me know how that works, or if you’re still running into problems once you’ve tried that.

Hi Allison,

First, thank you for the plugin! I am a techie person, but not a developer. I work as an Unix sysadmin. And, I do have a foodblog (in Portuguese). So, for me is great to have a plugin that generates the code.

I have installed and tested the plugin. I would like to ask some questions and give some feedback.

The plugin created the recipe, but I can’t edit it. I’ve seen that the plugin created a call for a png file. Is that correct? Is it supposed to be like that? I think would be nice to have access to the generated code and be able to edit it, or, be able to edit it through the plugin. Sometimes we can make a mistake in the recipe and have to retype everything again is not very practical.

I have also a suggestion. It would be nice to have a configuration page, where we could customize the words that go in the recipe description, as “Ingredients”, “Instructions”, “Rating”, etc. In my case, I wrote in Portuguese, so I would like to be able to adjust the names to the Portuguese version of them. I can edit and change the php file, I know how to do that, but a configuration page would be helpful to much more people.

Thank you again! 🙂


Hi Alison, First thank you so much for creating that web application. I am on Blogger and it surprises me that Google does not provide something for us. I used the Recipe SEO on my latest post herer:

However when I run it through the Google Rich Snipets tool it finds errors and cannot generate a preview. I am not the code Guru so I was wondering if you can help me. I’d be so grateful.

Warm regards,

Thank you Alison, thats article is really great. I never heared of microformats before. Will try that on our homepages.


This looks like a really cool plugin for a food blog! Just a couple of questions:
Does this plugin do more general SEO things, or is just specifically for the recipe microformats etc?
If it’s just for the recipe stuff, will this plugin play nicely with other, more general SEO plugins, like say the All-In-One SEO Pack?

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