Trust me when I say this is BIG and if you want to be on the leading edge of local search, you’ll read it, digest it and put the info into action. (I haven’t totally absorbed it all but am working on it!)

Trust me when I say that if Google developed this new site IN CONJUNCTION WITH THEIR TOP COMPETITORS, Bing AND Yahoo, in order to create a common set of schemas for structured data markup on web pages – this is important!

I’m going to attempt to make a new, extremely complex concept simple – try to boil it down to the point where it becomes as easy and important to you as knowing HTML formatting.

Does it make sense that you could improve your rankings if you included critical new tags on your site that helped Google better understand your content?

Does it make sense that if YOU used these new tags on your site, before your competitors do, it could help you leverage your local search rankings?

Have you ever heard it said that it can boost your Google Places ranking if your name, address and phone on your website uses hCard, instead of just HTML?

Have you ever been confused about the following terms? Structured data markup, microdata, microformats, RDFa, rich snippets, hCard, hReview?

These are all types of “tags” similar to HTML tags that that can help search engines better understand your content. Google has finally decided which format to focus on and is trying to standardize the format across ALL search engines. The new format that Google has chosen is microdata and Schema is the new “language” so to speak.

Read today’s announcement from Google, then important notes/links below to learn how this relates to local search and Google Places optimization.

Official Google Webmaster Blog – Most important snippets

Introducing schema.org: Search engines come together for a richer web

Today we’re announcing schema.org, a new initiative from Google, Bing and Yahoo! to create and support a common set of schemas for structured data markup on web pages. Schema.org aims to be a one stop resource for webmasters looking to add markup to their pages to help search engines better understand their websites.

…today we’re able to show rich snippets in search results more than ten times as often as when we started two years ago.

We know that it takes time and effort to add this markup to your pages… (Linda says: hence, the opportunity since it will be another 2 years before the average business owner catches on to this!)

Historically, we’ve supported three different standards for structured data markup: microdata, microformats, and RDFa. We’ve decided to focus on just one format for schema.org to create a simpler story for webmasters and to improve consistency across search engines relying on the data. There are arguments to be made for preferring any of the existing standards, but we’ve found that microdata strikes a balance between the extensibility of RDFa and the simplicity of microformats, so this is the format that we’ve gone with.

Following are a couple of important answers to the new FAQ Google just added at Webmaster Central. As you know if you’ve been doing SEO for any length of time, Google never comes out and says “this is what you need to do to improve rankings” so you need to read between the lines. IMHO if YOU are doing something that helps Google better understand and qualify your site, your location, your business type AND helps improve relevancy AND it’s something most of your local competitors don’t know about or use yet it can only help. 😉

New schema.org FAQ at Google Webmaster Central

Why should I add markup? What will I get out of it? How will the data be used?
Search engines are using on-page markup in a variety of ways—for example, Google uses it to create rich snippets in search results. Not every type of information in schema.org will be surfaced in search results but over time you can expect that more data will be used in more ways. 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.

Will using schema.org improve my site’s performance in search?
Google doesn’t use markup for ranking purposes at this time—but rich snippets can make your web pages appear more prominently in search results, so you may see an increase in traffic.Why should I add markup? What will I get out of it? How will the data be used?
Search engines are using on-page markup in a variety of ways—for example, Google uses it to create rich snippets in search results. Not every type of information in schema.org will be surfaced in search results but over time you can expect that more data will be used in more ways. 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.

Will using schema.org improve my site’s performance in search?
Google doesn’t use markup for ranking purposes at this time—but rich snippets can make your web pages appear more prominently in search results, so you may see an increase in traffic.

Read these resources in detail, then this will all start to make sense.

Why use microdata? “Your web pages have an underlying meaning that people understand when they read the web pages. But search engines have a limited understanding of what is being discussed on those pages. By adding additional tags to the HTML of your web pages—tags that say, “Hey search engine, this information describes this specific movie, or place, or person, or video”—you can help search engines and other applications better understand your content and display it in a useful, relevant way. Microdata is a set of tags, introduced with HTML5, that allows you to do this.”

Read the overview: Getting started with schema.org

Important markup types for LOCAL search:
Place | LocalBusiness | Restaurant | Product | Offer | AggregateOffer | Review | AggregateRating

I’m sure I’ll have more to share about all this and have some ideas brewing, so stay tuned to the Catalyst channel. 😉

UPdate 12:21: Will add other local search blogs that cover this topic so you can see what they have to say

Rich Snippets Get Standardized At Schema.org – Andrew Shotland, Local SEO Guide is