Google Knowledge Graph: The Next Evolution of Search
In mid-May 2012 Google once again changed the face of search. What it calls the “Knowledge Graph” changes how users get results to certain rather common queries on the web. Google believes it is smarter than ever at understanding and delivering exactly what users want when they do a search —even if they didn’t effectively ask for it.
Google says it is moving away from simply relying on keywords and toward knowledge of real-world entities and their relationships (according to a tweet by Matt Cutts, Google head of Webspam). However, with a multibillion-dollar industry reliant almost entirely on people typing in those keywords millions of times every hour around the world, keywords aren’t going away.
This is nothing new for Google. As search has evolved, Google has consistently worked to be smarter. In fact, some elements of the Google Knowledge Graph have been seen in search results for quite some time. As of late May 2012, these types of results will be seen more frequently for more types of searches.
What does this mean for users?
The initial rollout of Google Knowledge Graphs will be focused largely on queries with fact-based results and will be shown alongside (to the right of) the search results Google has always shown. Additionally, Google will show related information. So if you search for Leonardo da Vinci, you will get the results you are used to on the left, but on the right you will now see a photo Leonardo, a quick summary about him and biographical information and you’ll also see his famous works of art with links to more information. You will likely also see information about other famous artists from history.
Instead of automatically and only sending you to another website to get information about the person, place or thing you searched for, Google now gives you the answers without ever taking you from the search results page. It’s an extension of Universal Search that we’ve seen for years: Type in the name of your favorite team and you get standing, scoreboards, etc., right at the top of the results. Type the word “weather” into Google and at the top of the results page is the current temperature and a four-day forecast. Yes, there are links to more detailed forecasts and a full page of additional results, but in most cases you already have what you wanted. Type in the name of a current movie and right on the Google results page are theaters near you and showtimes alongside a synopsis; with one click and without leaving Google.com you get a trailer, more theaters, photos and reviews.
Google no longer wants to just be where you start your search; it wants to be where you end your search.
What does this mean for websites?
The most apparent immediate impact is to sites that provide answers to questions that Google now gives you right on the search results page. If Google tells you that your favorite movie was released in 1982, starred Drew Barrymore, was a best picture nominee and was directed by Steven Spielberg, why would you need to go to IMDB.com? The answer is (and this is what Google will argue when challenged about scraping or repurposing content from other sites) that results pages still link to IMDB for users who want even more information.
Because the typical search results don’t appear to be changing and the new Knowledge Graph is complementing existing results, the impact on visibility in organic search shouldn’t be significant for sites well positioned now. However, if Google’s knowledge panel is giving users results, the click-through rate for sites will go down. The key to taking advantage of this new way of showing results is to become a source for the information in the knowledge panel, or at the very least remain a strong result in the traditional results so when users want more information than the Google knowledge panel is providing, they visit your site. Doing this is easier said than done. It requires being the authoritative source for high-quality information — just as getting top rankings in organic search has always required.
What this means for brands
For brands, it seems they can own the knowledge graph real estate with an active Google + business profile. When brand name searches are done, we are commonly seeing brands show up in this upper right location on the results page with the Google+ activity and profile photo.
Personalized results are certainly influencing the likelihood of brands appearing in the Google knowledge graph space as a company your follow on Google+ is much more likely to show up here in your search results. Additionally, having a brand name verified by Google (http://support.google.com/plus/bin/request.py?hl=en&contact_type=page_verification&rd=1) increases the frequency the brand will take over this valuable real estate for a targeted brand search. Having recent activity on a Google Plus page is most certainly a factor used when Google determines if and when to use the knowledge graph space for a brand.
Google has made having a strong presence on Google Plus with a brand an important aspect of any online marketing strategy. The potential negative of this exposure is having users visit your Google + page only, instead of your website, since this is where the knowledge graph links takes users. This is another effort by Google to incentive brands and businesses to maintain a high quality, active presence on Google Plus. Despite the possible cannibalization of some organic search traffic shifting from the website to Google Plus there is no question that there is an excellent opportunity for brands to increase their visibility in search through Google Plus.
What does this mean for search marketing?
What doesn’t change is that websites need great content to rank highly in search results. What does change is the balance of what’s important to become highly relevant and trusted. And this has been evolving for many years.
Providing rich snippets through schema.org markup in your code looks to be a primary factor in improving search results, not just because this formatting of data may make it easier for Google to show key facts to users but because users will shift expectations on what they get from search — short, quick, simple information at a glance. This is what rich snippets in search results have provided since early 2011.
The importance of Google+ continues to grow and, along with author relevance and author citations, will be a key driver when Google uses the right-side knowledge panel to show people and content related to their search impacted by your circle of influence. This is the next step in the ongoing evolution of personalized search results.
Another significant impact will be the effect on the paid search landscape. At first glance Google is using the right side of the search results for its new knowledge panels. This space has always been populated by paid advertisements. But don’t expect paid ads to go away; they will remain. A potential opportunity for expanding paid advertising will be to take advantage of the graph aspect of this change — understanding when Google shows related content, what it shows and setting up paid campaigns for this related content.
Changes from Google are nothing new, and this won’t be the last change we see. And despite the headlines about the official rollout of the new way Google shows results, this is not a complete revamping of how search works. Search has certainly continued to evolve, and this is perhaps a bigger step forward than some in the past. Google is getting smarter and delivering better results, but in doing so is keeping users at Google.com more than ever before.
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