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Plea for a New Open Format: Open Local Profile Format

My most-recent Locals Only [1] column just pubbed at SearchEngineLand.com, titled “A Call To Standardize Local Search Listings [2]“.

The benefactor of Open Local Profile Format would be Main Street
Open Local Profile Format

In it, I’m calling for the companies operating in the local search space to come together and agree upon a common data format protocol that would allow businesses and organizations to more easily submit their directory profile information to the great plethora of local info sites where users go to get information. The local search engines, online yellow pages, and various vertical directories should come together to reduce costs/complexity for businesses, and to facilitate improved information for consumers, similar to how the major search engines last year came together to agree on one common submission protocol – Sitemaps [3] – for submitting sites’ page links to them. Read on for more details.

This should be a sort of Sitemaps for local directory information.

I’m hoping just a few of the major players might come together to propose a common protocol, and that this might be enough to propel many of the others to cooperate. This is really in the best interest for everyone involved, I believe.

I know that some companies could be alarmed at this idea. The fragmentation of local info sites has generated a cottage industry of agencies which specialize in delivering a business’s profile data out to all the big sites. Yet, I don’t believe this concept is any real threat to that cottage industry — the Sitemaps common protocol didn’t kill the search engine optimization industry, and this protocol won’t kill off the directory information distributors either. Businesses may still need local info specialists to help them format their data appropriately, and the format would just make the process simpler and cheaper for those niche businesses to handle.

In the article, I also mention that I think it’d be cool for an open local profile format to be derived from the hCard Microformat [4]. I mainly mean that I think it would be ideal to use the same general naming conventions for the business info parameters already established for hCards – this would provide greater standardization and the two formats would then be complimentary of one another. I’ve seen the data format schemas for submission of business data to a number of major local info companies, including that of Google Maps, and the property names are all over the map, if you’ll pardon the pun. hCard is an already existing open format for representing companies, organizations and places, so I think it’d be best to use those data element names.

This is not the first time I’ve recommended use of the hCard Microformat – I previously recommended it in an article on Local Search Engine Optimization [5]. Many other search engine marketers have provided people with advice on optimizing websites for Local Search, and most had just stated “put your business’s address on every page of the site”, without suggesting how that address info should be formated. When I wrote my optimization tips, I suggest putting the location and contact info on the page in hCard formatting because I foresaw potential that the hCard standard could easily become more widely adopted and accepted by the major search engines. While I don’t know of any major local search engine which has for certain adopted hCard format in identifying and indexing businesses, I knew that the hCard format would still allow the listing info to be spidered by the search engines since the visible text of the info is not affected by the tagging. It could potentially help, and it wouldn’t hurt anything.

Anyway, please let me know what you think of the proposal!

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