This new search vertical will appear as a block in the center of Google's search result pages. While it's not yet clear which queries will generate an "in-depth" results box, in their new Webmaster Tools help article on the feature Google says that searches "for a person or organization name, or other broad topic" will sometimes trigger this vertical.
I'm not yet able to produce in-depth results, but Google uses the query "censorship" as an example for both their Inside Search post and Webmaster Tools help article.
While the introduction of a new Google vertical is always notable, what makes this initiative particularly interesting is not just what will be appearing in the "in-depth" article section, but Google's advice to webmasters on how they can optimize their content to maximize the chances that it will appear in this vertical.
And most of the "how" is anchored, at the end of the day, on structured data use.
Specifically, Google makes these recommendations for "in-depth article" content optmization.
- Use schema.org/Article markup.
- Use Google authorship markup.
- Use pagination markup and avoid canonicalization errors (this presumably so that Google can figure out whether or not an article is long enough to be considered "in-depth").
- Provide Google with information about your logo (either by reciprocal linking of an organization's website and Google+ page, or by using schema.org/Organization markup).
On both the schema.org and Google authorship front, Google's explicit advice marks the introduction of a new and important value proposition to encourage webmasters to use both these mechanisms: "help our algorithms understand your pages better."
Until now the primary concrete reason that Google has provided for structured data markup and authorship use has been the generation of rich snippets – extended search engine result page snippets with additional information about an item (such as price) or visual enhancements (such as a picture of the featured page's author). Use of schema.org markup, Google has repeatedly said, does not impact the ranking of a page in the SERPs, but may make it stand out if a rich snippet is generated, leading to a higher click-through-rate from the SERPs.
With the introduction of in-depth articles, schema.org and Google authorship use may not simply result in the production of rich snippets, but may determine whether or not a page appears in the in-depth article section to begin with. As such this represents a powerful new reason for webmasters to employ these technologies.
Aside from the acknowledgment that schema.org use may percolate content directly to the SERPs that otherwise may not have appeared there, the authorship recommendation is of particular interest because it more-or-less explicitly validates the long-standing assumption that Google would use authorship to surface, well, authorities in particular subject areas. Just two days before this announcement Google authorship expert Mark Traphagen opined in a post that authorship "will help Google identify genuine subject authorities." That's virtually synonymous with Google's own observation that authorship markup "helps our algorithms to find and present relevant authors and experts in Google search results."
There's also a lesson here for early adopters of both schema.org and authorship. Until today, there was little in the way anyone could offer in the way of a concrete value proposition for using the schema.org/Article properties – headline, alternativeHeadline, image, description, datePublished and articleBody – as these did not previously result in the generation of a rich snippet in the SERPs. Now, early adopters of schema.org/Article markup are sitting pretty, while others are now playing catch-up.
For the record, here's some schema.org markup (using microdata) showing all of the schema.org/Article properties mentioned in the help article, along with rel=author authorship markup (markup for organization logos and pagination omitted):
<html lang="en"> <head> <title>On the Size of Whales</title> </head> <body itemscope itemtype="http://schema.org/Article"> <h1 itemprop="headline name">On the Size of Whales</h1> <p><img itemprop="image" src="blue-whale.jpg" alt="Blue Whale"></p> <p>Or <i itemprop="alternativeHeadline">Whales Are Big</i></p> <p itemprop="description">Aaron asks, just how big <i>are</i> whales?</p> <p>By <a href="http://www.seoskeptic.com/aaron-bradley/">Aaron Bradley</a> - <meta itemprop="datePublished" content="2013-08-06">August 2, 2012</p> <p itemprop="articleBody">Whales are bigs. And blue whales are especially big.</p> <p><i>Find Aaron on <a href="https://plus.google.com/106943062990152739506?rel=author">Google+</i></a> </body> </html>
(The only schema.org/Article property I used that wasn't listed in Google's help article on in-depth articles is "name", simply because I consider "name" use good to be a good practice.)
This is how the article looks in a web browser:
And here is Google's preview of the article's data, as provided by Google's Structured Data Testing Tool (some of the preview omitted for clarity):
All in all this is excellent news for those who have been employing schema.org and/or Google authorship markup and looking for a reward beyond rich snippets, and it may well see another wave of schema.org and authorship adoption (particularly on newspaper and other news websites, where such adoption has been slow).
On a personal note I feel vindicated by the advice I've given about schema.org use for some time (which you'll find here and elsewhere on this site): marking up your resources with schema.org helps the search engines better understand your content.