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SemTech 2011 Coverage: The RDFa/SEO Wave – How to Catch It and Why

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SemTech 2011 Coverage

Barbara H. Starr

Barbara H. Starr

In Barbara Starr’s (Ontologica) session this week at Semtech 2011, San Francisco, she presented a detailed timeline outlining the adoption of RDFa and semantic search enhancements by the major search engines.  In addition to mentioning the rapid growth of the Linked Open Data (LOD) cloud, she showed a movement by the search engines, in particular Google, to support semantic search. The movement is going away from a web of documents with hyperlinks to a web of data and semantic links. Her timeline showed the evolution from search engine support for structured data formats such as Resource Description Framework-in-attributes (RDFa) through last week’s announcement of the Schema.org alliance.

In her talk, she demonstrated how the use of semantic technology in commercial searches can be accomplished by doing a query for “Barack Obama Birthday” on both Google and Bing.  Google returns answers from typical sources like answers.com and Wikipedia, as shown below in Fig. 1.0.

Figure. 1.0 – Search Results for “Barack Obama Birthday” on Google.

The same search performed  on Bing, see Fig. 1.1 below, returns the same answer, but the information is reported as being sourced from Freebase. Freebase is a semantic web company recently acquired by Google.

Figure 1.1 – Search Results for “Barack Obama Birthday” on Bing


Google has since surpassed all other search engines in the development of products that support structured markup. Starr presented a series of slides that outlined a timeline for Google, Yahoo!, & Facebook’s support for rich snippets and structured data. Her timeline, shown below, is a good outline of important semantic search adoptions since 2008.

Yahoo! opens Search Monkey:  February 2008
Google introduces reviews and aggregate reviews using rich snippets: May 2009
Google introduces specifying an image’s license using RDFa:  August 2009
Google introduces RDFa support for videos:  September 2009
Google encourages webmaster to “help us make the web better” by using rich snippets: October 2009
Google announces use of structured data to describe an organization: March 2010
Google announces rich snippets for recipes: April 2010
Google announces Rich Snippets Go International: April 2010
Facebook announces open graph protocol based on RDFa: April 2010
Google Acquires MetaWeb: July 2010
Google refined is announced: November 2010
Google announces rich snippets for shopping sites: November 2010
Google, Yahoo!, and Bing announce Schema.org: June 2011

The recent Schema.org announcement further illustrates Starr’s point about the importance of web developers learning to implement structured data into their websites and to consider the optimization value of doing so.

The presentation concluded with a list of useful resources for developers to validate RDFa and demo of a tool called Gruff, from Franz Inc., that allows developers to visually analyze RDFa markup in a triple store.

Developers can verify their structured markup and learn more about RDFa at the following URLs:

Starr’s presentation clearly demonstrated the recent increase in adoption of structured data by major search engines. Developers have plenty of resources and opportunities to include different types of structured data in their web pages. The choice of types depends on the application and the long-term goals of the developer.

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