Back in March, The Wall Street Journal reported that Google would soon give its organic listings a semantic “makeover.” On May 16th, Google announced some enhancements to the search engine results page (SERP)—particularly the “direct answers” box—that are powered by the Google Knowledge Graph. The Knowledge Graph helps Google leverage collective search wisdom (i.e. how people search) to transform Google from an “information engine” to a “knowledge engine.”
For fact-oriented searches, the Knowledge Graph uses semantic analysis to adjust search results and provide direct answers on the SERP. For instance, the direct answers box for the below “Marie Curie” query shows a short bio, birth and death date, spouse, children, discoveries, education and related searches. Google stated, “We can now sometimes help answer your next question before you’ve asked it, because the facts we show are informed by what other people have searched for.”
Users will see these direct answers starting on May 16th, and Knowledge Graph will roll-out to mobile and tablets soon after. Direct answers currently only apply to searches on people, places or things—primarily landmarks, famous people, cities, sports teams, buildings, movies, art and books. The Knowledge Graph combines facts from Freebase, Wikipedia and the CIA World Factbook with Google’s own data on the relationships between different queries. According to Google, the Knowledge Graph currently contains over 500 million objects and 3.5 billion facts about the relationships between these objects.
IMPLICATIONS for BRANDS
Because Google searchers can now get their facts right on the SERP, direct answers may impact traffic to answer sites like Wikipedia. But because direct answers currently only affect fact/research-oriented queries (like landmarks or historical figures), most brands won’t be impacted for the time being. However, as Google continues to develop semantic search and the Knowledge Graph, there are a few things that brands should keep in mind:
The direct answers search box contains information on related content. For example, the below search for “Matt Groening” shows (1) facts like his education, parents, siblings and awards, (2) books related to Matt Groening and (3) “people also searched for”:
To determine this related content, Google studies its users to understand what they’ve been searching for and what they might want next (i.e. “Matt Groening” searchers want to know his parents’ names (Homer and Marge)). As the Knowledge Graph better understands the actual intent behind each keyword, there could be implications for SEO:
- Focus on Content, not Just Keywords: The Knowledge Graph considers how content relates to other content. Thus—on the semantic SERP—SEOs should approach keyword research and copywriting in a way that considers not only keywords, but word relationships. And, as semantic search moves beyond people/places/things, brands should create factual content on their sites. For instance, factual information about your brand could soon appear in a direct answers box (i.e. Brand X was founded in 1873, sells widgets, has X number of stores within 10 miles and relates to people who like to do X).
- Mark up Your Content: Markup language allows your site to tell Google exactly what a piece of content is. For instance, a brand could use rich snippets like microformats, microdata, RDFa or Schema.org to tell Google that a certain piece of content is a person, place, thing, user review, etc. Google can then more easily construct the direct answers box. Schema.org is the default markup used by the major engines; visit Schema.org to learn how to most effectively mark up your content. Once your content is marked up, Google’s Rich Snippets Testing Tool can show you exactly how Google would structure your metadata.
- Continue Best Practices: Google makes hundreds of algorithm changes each year, so it’s important not to go overboard in chasing the algorithm. Best practices (i.e. creating rich, relevant content and ensuring that the engines understand that content) will produce the best long-term results.
In the future, the Knowledge Graph could also influence paid search results. For instance, if Google knows that a person searching for one movie is likely interested in another movie, it could serve an ad for that other movie, perhaps sparking the searcher’s interest. Additionally, Google is already expanding exact and phrase match types to allow ads to show for close variants—misspellings, singular/plural, stemming, acronyms, abbreviations and accents. The Knowledge Graph could play a role in determining that these close variants are related to the original keyword.
The “Find the Right Thing” Feature
The Knowledge Graph also helps searchers narrow down results for ambiguous queries. For example, the screenshot below shows the results for the “Taj Mahal” query, which has different meanings. The searcher can click on the correct box to get results for the Taj Mahal he wants (i.e. the singer or casino):
Many brand names are also ambiguous. For example, does a “Delta” searcher mean Delta Airlines or Delta Faucets? Does a “Rosetta Stone” searcher mean Rosetta Stone language learning software or the actual Stone? If the “Find the Right Thing” feature expands beyond people/places/things, it could help searchers find your brand faster, especially if another brand with your name ranks above you in paid or organic search. “Find the Right Thing” could also become a new optimization frontier for SEOs—i.e. how do we get Delta Airlines to appear before the faucet company or the landform at the mouth of a river?
Google’s enhancements come on the heels of Bing’s new three-column interface, which integrates searchers’ social connections to help them quickly find answers. Google and Bing are both squarely focused on helping searchers find answers faster by using the collective intelligence of people to refine results. Google commented that the Knowledge Graph “taps into the collective intelligence of the web and understands the world a bit more like people do . . . so you can spend less time searching and more time doing what you love.” Similarly, Bing—in announcing its enhancements—remarked, “The 10 blue links that search has been predicated on for the last decade no longer makes sense. Simply put, that’s not how you get things done.”
Google’s recent changes are just the tip of the Knowledge Graph iceberg. Semantic search has the potential to fundamentally change search by tapping into the collective intelligence of the web to help searchers get things done. As the Knowledge Graph continues to influence the SERP, Performics will pay close attention to the impact on paid and organic search.