Google Wants YOU to Use Markup. (They’ll Pass.)


Despite Google’s oft-mocked resolve to be “not evil,” the company manages to draw lots of resentment. Perhaps it’s unavoidable for an entity so rich and powerful and dominant in online media that it holds total sway over the fortunes of others.

But resentment of Google is usually tied to practices that seem exploitative or betray the corporation’s self-serving or profit-centric motives, such as its perceived disregard for copyright, its perceived disregard for privacy, or — in our little corner of concern — its insistence on privileging the reviews of those who use its social media product.

This little rant, though, is devoted to a minor but blatant bit of Google hypocrisy: on markup.


Google Prefers Microdata

As SEOs well know, Google has long encouraged website operators to use semantic markup, specifically supporting microdata formats via its standard-setting collaboration. The argument is compelling: Help search engines better digest the data on your site by better identifying it — as a local business address or a song in an album or a product review, for example — and the search engines can make it more visible to relevant searchers by better “understanding” it and by creating richer search results.

Always ready to reassure us with a feel-good mantra, Google elaborates: “In addition, since the markup is publicly accessible from your web pages, other organizations may find interesting new ways to make use of it as well.”

Right, because there is a “public good” component to the content we create and share online, and unlike other commodities, the more we share, the more we gain. Got it. Great.

So Everyone Uses Microdata, Then?

Major review sites are among those who have bought into the vision, with companies like Yelp and TripAdvisor marking up their review content heavily in microdata so that Google can better index and use it — for example, by showing star ratings right in search results.


Surely, then, Google’s own review content would follow the same spec? Surely, Google isn’t just paying lip service to this “public good” idea in order to exploit our content for its search business while keeping its own content wrapped up in arcane, unsemantic markup and AJAX calls that make it difficult or impossible to access programmatically?

Witness, the markup of the Google+ review:


It wouldn’t be so bad if Google simply neglected to make its review content more accessible (even though they could hardly argue they don’t have the resources). But this markup appears intended to make the data unintelligible, even as the rest of us bend ourselves over any available barrel to make our data intelligible to Google.

In any case, it’s a small matter unless you work with vast volumes of review data like we do. Let’s just add it to the pile of sour grapes then, shall we?