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Some Things are Hard for a Reason

(Reading time: 3 – 4 minutes)

A few weeks ago, I was working with a client to figure out why his blog’s microformatting is not configuring properly. In this case, he’s using my WordPress hRecipe plugin, but something isn’t quite right. The code passes the testing suite. Google Rich Snippets testing asserts the plugin works correctly for me. But not for him.

But that’s not the real issue here.

The real issue is I cannot give him a “solution,” because:

  1. I don’t understand his workflow, and
  2. We are not yet communicating effectively.

Applying the “5 Why’s” results in “microdata is hard to understand because it’s hard to understand.”

Context is critical

Which is ironic, because microdata is fairly simple… if you already understand something about structured content, how search engines work, HTML and CSS syntax, and probably a few contextually relevant odds and ends which slip my mind.

Know all that, microdata is trivially easy.

Our challenge, my client and mine, is finding that sweet spot where he learns just enough context to handle the issue internally (I’m expensive), and I don’t spend all his money writing a long treatise on material which is available for free all over the web.

So it’s hard. So what.

However, the impetus for this blog post came from P. J. Onori’s article “In defense of hard.” People who know me well won’t be surprised:

I agree with almost every word.

For this client, I wish I could give him a simple fix. But I don’t have one.

What I do have is potentially far more valuable: I know what’s worth learning and what’s not. Here’s what Onori has to say about that:

If a subject is naturally complex, work to make it no more complex than it needs to be, but no less. People are not naturally averse to complexity, however they need to know it is worth their time and energy. Educating them on how to do something is not enough, there should be education on why it’s important.

In this client’s case, for his business model being dependent on serving structured data to search engines, it would be smart and wise to learn as much about structured data as possible, and that includes HTML and CSS as well as the microdata.

Note that I stated “…as much about….”

I didn’t state “learn to be a designer/developer.”

I didn’t state “learn to be a WordPress guru.”

I didn’t state “master PHP programming.”

Learning about something is far easier than learning the thing itself. Learning about something is far more cost-effective and time efficient. Learning about something lets you identify and communicate problems, and maybe even fix those problems yourself, instead of paying me or J. Random Hacker to do something we probably don’t want to do anyway.

You owe it to yourself

I didn’t make the rules, and I didn’t invent the technology. I just report on it and implement it.

If your business model depends on your ranking in Google search results, I very strongly suggest you learn everything you can about microformats, microdata, schema and structured content. This technology is not a magic bullet, and it may not help you, but it’s clear that not having it will hurt you.