Optimize Local Events with hCalendar Microformat

March 11th, 2008


Originally published in Search Engine Land

I’ve run across a number of local business sites which offer event calendars of some sort, and many of these companies may not be aware that they can and should add hCalendar Microformat to their pages to further optimize them for both search and user experience. I’ve previously recommended hCard Microformat for optimizing local business sites, and hCalendar can offer similar advantages, particularly as the evolution of blended search results continues.

I’ve seen store locator pages which list all the events happening at all of a company’s outlets, as well as smaller scope events such as custom wine tastings or special holiday meals at restaurants. Even otherwise staid companies often participate in charity events in their areas. When you think of optimizing for local events content, the concept can apply to many types of businesses in addition to obviously event-oriented businesses like theaters and sporting event centers.

The direct advantage of tagging this date-driven content with Microformatting is that it allows visitors to harvest that information, save it, and take it with them to other systems they already use for planning. Users who have browser toolbars like Operator can easily click on a button in their browser when they are visiting a page containing hCalendar data, and save the event to their Outlook Calendar, the Google Calendar, the Yahoo! Calendar, or elsewhere.

The indirect advantage of the hCalendar formatting is that it normalizes how events data is presented on your site, allowing that data to be easily harvested by humans and bots. People who harvest your events data either want to attend the event themselves, or may be linking to it from other news or events websites â?? and they typically may link back to your site when they list such content, improving your site’s PageRank.

Search engines and other events application developers might also prefer this, because it makes a standard for delivering event data – it can make it easier for them to absorb event data across many sites. In of itself, this would never really be used as a ranking signal, though it could allow search engines to easily identify sites which contain events content.

hCalendar Microformat is invisible â?? it’s semantic markup behind the scenes of the event information you’re presenting. If the event has a location, the address can be marked up in hCard Microformat and nested within the hCalendar formatting. If the grouping of the hCalendar info isn’t to your liking, you can use styles to suppress the display of the data that’s tagged for Microformat.

A good example of an events site which is using hCalendar in the real world is Zvents. On a current event listing for a Big Bad Voodoo Daddy concert coming up at the Bass Performance Hall in Fort Worth, you can view the source to see the following markup:

<div class=”vevent” style=”display:none;”>

<a class=”url” href=”http://www.zvents.com/fort-worth-tx/events/show/79634462″></a>
<span class=”summary”>Big Bad Voodoo Daddy</span>
<abbr class=”dtstart” title=”20080309T200000″ />
<abbr class=”dtend” title=”20080309T200000″ />
<span class=”description”>Musical Performance featuring Big Bad Voodoo Daddy</span>

<span class=”location vcard” style=”display:none;”>
<a href=”http://www.zvents.com/fort-worth-tx/venues/show/35132″ class=”url fn org” only_path=”false”>Bass Performance Hall</a>
<span class=”adr”>
<span class=”locality”>Fort Worth</span>
<span class=”region”>TX</span>

<span class=”street-address”>4th and Calhoun Streets</span>

As you can see, this entire section is within a DIV that has a STYLE applied of “display:none;”, since they apparently desired to have the visual presentation of the event’s name, description, date, address, and such arranged in different orders and placed around on the page separately from the arrangement of the same info within the hCalendar.

This is not rocket science! It’s not a hard thing to add to your site’s HTML coding, so there is very low barrier to entry in adopting this protocol.

As adoption of Microformats increases, it’s more and more valuable as a strategy for optimization. It improves user experience, increases participation with your site, and potentially can help in promoting your business by enabling easy distribution of your events.