BREAKING: Google Makes Search Smarter And SEO Harder

Earlier today Google began rolling out a huge update to it’s search engine – the Knowledge Graph. This is a step toward what Google considers the next evolution of search – to understand what we’re searching for and return the relevant information. While I applaud this update as an improvement for searchers everywhere, this is another step toward a much more difficult world for any business operating online.

Here’s why…

Humans are amazing. Our brains are the most powerful pattern recognition machines on the planet. Our subconscious minds have the ability to piece together disparate bits of information and deliver an a-HA moment when we least expect it. We are able to apply context to everything we see.

It is this capability that, to this day, eludes machines, and is the largest challenge facing Google, and every other search engine.

Today’s Google update, the Knowledge Graph: things, not strings, begins to take Google closer to an understanding of what we mean by the words we use to search. It is this update that brings a brand new challenge to marketers, and all small businesses operating online.

The best way to explain this is using an example. So let’s take a look at this one:

Taj Mahal example

Taj Mahal example

What you see there is the Knowledge Graph in action. Someone is searching for “taj mahal”, which could be one of many things, including:

  • The world famous landmark
  • A musician
  • A hotel in Atlantic City

Without your help Google doesn’t know which of these you really want. Per the ranking of the results, we are safe assuming that most people look for the landmark. However you might not be “most people.”

Well not to worry – now Google understands that one is a building and another a person. Rather than wading through multiple pages of results only on the Taj Mahal building, they show you additional links to content on the landmark, the musician, and the hotel. Clicking on one of those links will then automatically filter your search results to that one more specific query.

As someone who uses a search engine close to daily I think this is fantastic. If I can get to what I really want faster, I’m all for it.

Two other additions that come with this, which I urge you to read more about using the link above, are:

  • Summaries – Google can better understand some searches and provide additional summary content.
  • Unexpected discoveries – run a search for Matt Groening (the creator of the Simpsons) and you’ll see a few facts that tell you how a few of the characters were named

Here are screenshots of each example provided by Google.

Marie Curie Example

Summary information

and the other…

Matt Groening example

Unexpected discoveries

Now Here’s How This Affects You

Where Google is headed is into something called the semantic web. I’ll spare you the geekery and give you the executive summary.

A lot of what we put in writing on the web can be classified. One such classification system is This system includes things such as:

  • Creative works like books, movies, music recordings, recipes, tv series
  • Events
  • Organizations
  • People
  • Places, local Businesses, restaurants
  • Products, offers
  • Reviews, aggregate ratings
  • And much more

This classification system has been translated into tags you use in the code of web pages to specify each type of thing. For instance, you might put “organization” tags around your business name and contact details. You could go a step further and add “address” tags around your address to specify that it’s an address, and not just random information.

Using these tags tells the search engines, like Google, what type of thing it’s finding out about.

It’s this information that Google needs in order to know if a web page is talking about Taj Mahal the famous landmark, or Taj Mahal the musician. The tags in the web pages would be different.

I wrote about using tags in a previous post so I won’t rehash that. However, I will repeat that it took me two days and working with a developer friend of mine to add just a few tags to my blog (yes the one you’re reading now). Two days, and I have a CS degree, have been building web apps for more than 7 years, and know my way around WordPress.

What about all those websites out there that don’t have a geek to figure out how to add all the correct tags?

The NY Times doesn’t have to worry. They have semantic tags out the yin yang on their site. Melt your brain a bit with this screenshot of code from one of today’s articles:

NY Times Semantic Markup

Holy steaming monkey nuggets Batman! And that’s what you see without scrolling. There’s more brain-melting markup to be seen – just scroll down!

So where does this leave you?

The SEO of old (a year ago) is dying at a much faster pace than expected. Over the past year-and-a-half Google has released more than 12 major updates to its algorithm, each one smacking websites down in the rankings like it’s going out of style. The hand of the big G is coming down, hard. In addition we’re now seeing double-digit percentages in the amount of search traffic where we aren’t provided the keywords searchers are using.

Why is Google doing this?

It is because of their competition with Facebook for advertisers?

Are they beginning to believe they're in a bad position against Apple because Apple “owns” their customers and Google doesn’t?

It is because an increasing number of site owners are using real-time analytics tools like HitSniffer in lieu of Google Analytics, giving Google less data to work with thereby impacting their ad business?

It is because in order to make more money (and keep shareholders happy) Google would have to do something, with all the data it has on us, that is not viewed as “above board” by the public-at-large, violating the trust it’s built up over the years?

Or perhaps it’s simply because they are truly attempting to make search work better for everyone?

It could be all of the above for all I know. We can't know for sure. But what I do know is that as a business owner, you need to become much more proactive in defining your ideal client, finding where (and if) they live online, starting the conversations with them and building relationships. Focus on the value that you can bring for them, and help them bring for their clients.

Don't wait for them to come to you thanks to using Google.

The days of optimizing content and building some links to rank content are coming to a close. Today’s update is another nail in that coffin. Hop on this rocket my friends, because progress in search is here whether we like it, or not.


  1. The knowledge graph has already been prefaced to English speaking users in the United States. It’s a user facing sidebar that aids “the basic human need to learn and widen your horizons,” according to the original Google blog post. In a design likened to some Wikipedia applications, the knowledge graph aims to improve a typical search by presenting a side bar of additional information.

  2. ivan_temelkov says:

    Awesome article.  I was only able to scan thru the major points however will revisit to check out the full content.  Personally i’m against some of the changes that Google has made.  Particularly ones that involve restrictions to organic traffic in GA.  Additionally the Penguin and Panda updates created an army of extremely agitated site owners.
    Nonetheless, thanks for taking the time to outline some of the highlights.

  3. mediadarlingkm says:

    Fantastic read. I seldom read articles like this over and over again – I read this one several times. Thanks for such insightful writing!

  4. Very interesting post, Dempsey, for reading it more than once and bookmark it. Google is the king (and in Europe with more than 90%) and people have to understand how they earn money. This is the way for them, “improve” what they consider is the best for their interests.
    I agree a lot with your words about “content”. We are in a new world, where content is not the king.

    •  @Abel Pardo great point Abel. Content used to reign supreme. Now it needs to be wrapped up with a nice bow, shared, and more for it to rank.
      Overall I see these moves as good. However I also see them as a greater challenge for small businesses.

    •  @Abel Pardo The problem is that if content is not the king then fluff is, or paid results which Google slaps just if done by others. While it’s perfectly right that Google does its own business it should be clear about it and not fake itself for a service or a kind of above the parts judge because it is not. It’s a matter of honesty but probably if Google admits that it just push big dogs with big wallets than it will probably lose its users.
      I don’t think I’m the only one who moved to Bing and DuckDuckGo to get reliable results though. 🙂
      Anyway it’s just a temporary problem, Google will get its own Linux as Microsoft got.
      Have a great weekend!

  5. This is all part of Google strategy to kill small businesses and concentrate the power and the web in the hands of those who can afford to pay big sums of money for AdWords and similar stuff or those who owns G. Imho. The fact that they have these updates always going on simply means that they have no hint about what they are doing or that their algorithm is a crappy tool. If you have always to fix it then it’s rubbish. Or these updates are just meant to direct traffic where Google wants. It’s like PageRank, is there a Google service having a rank less than 8?
    I mean who said that Google has the right to decide how the web has to be?
    Everything Google does is driven by its thirst for money and power and these are things that small businesses can’t give and this is why there are always big players in the first page whatever the content and the relevancy. Well, this is also how corporations work, as we say in Italy Dogs don’t eat Dogs. Also who can afford to pay a SEO consultant full time to keep pace with all these updates?
    What Google doesn’t take into account is that the web is made by small businesses and websites so its strategy in the long run will kill Google itself and it’s fake Don’t be evil lie. Which is good for freedom.
    But what I find really funny is that these days Bing is doing what Google did, providing sound results with a clean layout uncluttered by ads and by always putting YouTube videos in the first place.
    Probably it all goes down to a question, but not everyone in the web has the knowledge to answer competently: Do we really want a web dominated by Google? And FaceBook? Is this really the web we want?
    I don’t. Imho. 🙂
    And yes I’m continuously beaten by Google and its updates but I won’t surrender to this dictatorship, whatever the cost. 🙂

    •  @Andrea T. H. W. many interesting points Andrea. This is why I advise all of my clients to have a very pro-active strategy. About 2 years ago when I was launching affiliate sites SEO ruled over any other source of visitors. Today it’s part of a mix made up of SEO, social media, paid ads and other media.
      I think the days of a purely SEO strategy are quickly coming to an end. All businesses need to become more proactive and more social, otherwise they’ll be paying more for ads, and those aren’t working out too well nowadays either.

      •  @RobertDempsey The problem is that the real ROI of social media is still to be demonstrated at least as regards blogging. As I said today on another site those who dig being social are different than those who dig blogs and comments, imho. Different tastes and different interests so it’s not that easy to move from one group to the other as well as knowing how much real money can be made with social media as even FaceBook has discovered. Well this is probably the business of marketing experts together with separating sound facts from fiction or legends. 😉
        Also if I remember well it has been Google throughout the years to push seo, keywords, links and so on. And now it’s always Google who punishes seo, keywords, links and so on. I’ve already went with Being and DuckDuckGo.

  6. I think one of the main reasons Google keeps changing things is they are really trying to get rid of straight SEO writing. You know those articles you will see sometimes that are just garbage, but for some reason they show up in Google.

  7. LauriFlaquer says:

    I’m not sure that this is not an attempt to give big business even more opportunity to rank higher than the average small business owner. I’m curious about the make-up of the Board of Directors at Google. They might not be small business owners….  Just sayin
    Thanks for keeping us up to date on this stuff.

    •  @LauriFlaquer despite what most small businesses are told by SEO firms, SEO fundamentally hasn’t changed much over the past few years. I know guys that rank content using the tried and true methods, that have been working for years.
      The panda/penguin/badger updates (I made up that last one) and today’s big update are changing the game. Whether they mean to or not, Google is now enforcing a certain type of behavior, one that includes giving them more information about the information we put online (namely content). I’m all for it and it’s been helping me a bit already.
      SEO is being dragged, or I should really say forced, into the future. I’m cool with it, however I think it will be harder for small businesses to keep up.

  8. markjuk says:

    Great post that should give all SEO’s a wake up call and all business owners a clear picture of where their online efforts need to be focused.

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