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Google Prayer Time Markup Gets Muddled

While religion is certainly a territory where new technology should tread carefully, it’s also a subject that modern resources have contributed to greatly. There are countless online resources for learning about religions, joining in a spiritual community, or sharing your beliefs. Even the most mainstream resources are throwing in their two cents. Case in point: Google has added a “snippet” for denoting prayer times. This rich code markup hypothetically allows sites to tell Google what its prayer times are, allowing the search engine giant to display those times directly on the search engine results page. The only problem is that Google can’t seem to keep its religions straight.

The markup is fairly advanced, allowing for users to input the calculation methods for the prayer meetings or prayer times, and thus allowing sites for any number of denominations to customize the markup for their specific scheduling. There’s one conspicuous absence from the list of markup fields, however: the name of your actual religion.

The rich results are provided when users search for the name of a religion, the phrase “prayer times” (or a related phrase), and the name of the city. In theory the sites that are of the appropriate faith will be the ones that naturally float to the top page of the Google search results, removing the need for specific denotation of your religion, and even allowing for search results in related religions or sects (a search for “non-denominational Christian prayer times New York,” for example, may populate a variety of prayer times for Christian churches).

Testing by Search Engine Land’s Barry Schwartz, however, demonstrates that Google’s results aren’t always so cut and dry. Beyond having to go through a white-listing procedure to get rich results to display at all, Google’s SERP sometimes displays results for the incorrect religion on the top page – even for major cities.