In an effort to provide users with the best possible experience, Google recently began rolling their controversial “knowledge graph” to a greater number of common search queries as many webmaster wait to see how this latest change will impact their organic traffic.
When the service first launched, Wikipedia saw their traffic drop nearly 21%. Other sites, such as those that optimized around quick answers instead of in-depth information saw their organic traffic plummet, causing several sites to shut down entirely.
The knowledge graph can also provide a boost for your website, however, as it will (usually) cite where it is pulling the information, providing an easy, trusted link to customers looking for information. If you operate an eCommerce site, you should embrace the graph and not fear it.
What Is The Knowledge Graph
The knowledge graph, which initially debuted in 2012, is one of several updates the search giant made to their algorithm in an attempt to provide relevant information in a format tailored for mobile devices. At launch, the service pulled from a limited pool of sources, such as Wikipedia, Freebase, and the CIA Word Factbook and focused on common answers.
Currency and unit conversion, capital cities and stock prices were some of the first answers available in the new service. Instead of forcing users to load a full website or Wikipedia article, Google offered the information in a large white box above or to the side of the search results.
Recently, the search engine started providing answers for more complex questions, such as recipes, song lyrics, and step by step guides. To offer this information, they also expanded the sites they pulled information from, relying on their page rank algorithm to find reputable sites to get the information, “scraping” the useful information and placing it in the search results themselves, which can deprive these websites from valuable organic traffic.
For companies that relied on answering these common long-tail search terms, this change can be devastating, particularly if they offer very little value to visitors beyond these answers. In fact, for everyday inquires like unit conversion, Google will not cite the website this information was pulled from, since they consider it common knowledge.
For companies that provided more complex information, they saw their answers appear above the search results with a link to the relevant page, effectively giving them the top spot for those terms.
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The Knowledge Graph Could Increase Organic Traffic
Rather than trying to find ways to “protect” your information, developers can use the knowledge graph to drive traffic to their site. Google will often (though not always) pull these information from one of the sites that already ranks in the top position for the customers query. This means that an informative, trustworthy site could have their results appear twice on the first page, increasing the likelihood that a user will select your link.
More importantly, customers are already familiar with the knowledge graph and most will instinctively trust sources Google “cites” more than they might otherwise. Remember, knowledge graph used to pull exclusively from “high trust” sites like Wikipedia. If your website ranks highly for several terms a user enters, it’s likely that they’ll come to see your website as a trustworthy one, and they’ll be more likely to select it when they go to make a purchase.
How To Appear In The Knowledge Graph
At the moment, it appears that Google pulls the information almost exclusively from one of the top organic search results. This means that unless you’re already ranking for those high volume terms, it’s unlikely that you can jump over your competitors to gain the number one “knowledge graph” spot. SEO best practices such as link authority, site structure, and optimized content are still your best bet to get on page one in these instances.
Make sure your content is informative, authoritative, and presented in a user-friendly format. While it is possible for the knowledge graph to display inaccurate information, this is generally quickly reported by users and the offending content removed. Google’s knowledge graph also draws on an expanding database of facts and information that the company uses to power their popular “Google Now” service. If your content contradicts this resource, it likely will not be displayed.
If you are already ranking well, make sure your content takes advantage of Schema markup. While this might not have a direct impact on your rankings, the language will make it much easier for Google to parse the information you’re offering, allowing them to easy restructure it for the knowledge graph.
TrustRank Could Be More Important In The Future
Recently, researchers in Mountain View released a study where they attempted to rank websites based off of what they are calling knowledge-based trust. Rather than relying on how many websites are linking to the content, Google will instead compare the information found on the site with it’s internal knowledge graph and boost the ratings of pages that provide accurate information.
Still in the early stages, this could become the basis for a radical shift in the ranking algorithm. While other developers are looking for creative ways to block the knowledge graph, their efforts will likely also have a negative impact on a websites organic ranking.
It’s likely that Google will continue rolling out the knowledge graph to search terms as the company becomes more familiar with the intent of their users. After all, engineers in Mountain View list the Star Trek computer as the ideal interface. Instead of having to rely on traditional search terms, this future google will use contextual search, similar to what you find in Siri, Cortana and Google’s own “Now” program, allowing you to ask questions in natural language.
Search is a constantly evolving field. As search engines get better at reading the intent of their users, the value and quality of your content and user experience will begin to matter more than they already do. The knowledge graph is just a small step into the realm of contextual computer, but it’s not the last.