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.
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:
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.
and the other…
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 schema.org. This system includes things such as:
- Creative works like books, movies, music recordings, recipes, tv series
- 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 Schema.org 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:
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.