February 3, 2015

On the Brink: Google Knowledge Graph + Semantic Search

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This is the latest installment of our Delucchi Plus blog feature, On The Brink, in which our Senior Search Marketing Specialist and resident Batman expert Jonathan Brinksman breaks down the latest and greatest trends in digital marketing. Whether you’re a seasoned expert or total newbie, Jonathan will be offering expert, accessible insight into the ever-changing digital world.

I know, I know. It’s the elephant in the room. You read this blog series every month and you keep asking yourself, “When is Jonathan going to talk about it?” Well, that time is now, my friends. I’ve been putting this off for far too long: It’s high time we have a conversation about Google Knowledge Graph.

It seems trite to say it, but it’s true: Search is changing. I mean, just look at a typical Search Engine Results Page (SERP) from 2010 – the year that Local Search Results were first introduced:

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(Photo: Blumenthals “Google Testing New, More Integrated Local Search SERPs”)

To contrast, here’s a typical SERP from today. My, how things have changed:

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Back in the dark days of 2012, Google Knowledge Graph was introduced, and it’s been stirring up controversy ever since. So, what is the Knowledge Graph exactly? The Knowledge Graph is a way to get the content that you’re looking for directly in your search results. It most often occurs with queries that are asking specific questions or for specific instructions.

For example, Googling “How to Tie a Tie” produces this knowledge graph in the SERP:

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If I’m a user, this is great! I just type in my question, and boom, my answer is right there in the results. And this is Google’s justification for the Knowledge Graph: enhancing the overall user experience. It’s the natural evolution of search. BUT! There’s a catch. Let’s look a little bit more closely at this Knowledge Graph. Do you see what I see? Right there at the bottom?

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That little guy right there is the source for this information. No, despite what you may think, Google isn’t omniscient. This is Google dynamically pulling content from websites and displaying it directly in the SERPs. Can you see any problems with this type of sourcing? Even though this content came from, I never actually have to visit to see it. Google is basically robbing webmasters of potential traffic. If your business is based on getting traffic to your site, this could make you understandably upset.

This isn’t the only bit of controversy surrounding the Knowledge Graph. Until recently, Google would only display social information from Google Plus – excluding the more widely adopted social networks. With the slow pulling away from Google Plus (I’m reticent to say “the demise of Google Plus”), it seems they’re finally ready to supplement this information.

This is interesting and all, but what does this mean for you and your website? Well, a lot, actually. The Knowledge Graph is probably the single most visual piece of Semantic Search, which is having search results that are now intent-focused versus being keyword-focused. Which is really just a fancy way of saying that Content is King (which I’m sure you’re all sick of hearing by now).

This doesn’t mean that keyword research will be any easier or less important – just the opposite. As digital marketers and webmasters, we have to understand not just the content on our websites, but also the intention behind users who might want to see this content. Are they looking to buy something? Are they looking for directions to some place? Are they looking for the definitive recipe for sticky toffee pudding? Sometimes these answers aren’t so easily parsed out.

At the end of the day, though, search is getting better. Users are getting their information in a much more straightforward and user-friendly manner, and semantic search as it is today promotes both website design and content curation that are not about keyword stacking (looking at you, SEO circa 2005), but about having genuinely useful content. Essentially, everybody wins.

Unless you’re Sorry,