Too many marketers and businesses are complacent when it comes to their SEO. They believe that they understand how SEO works and as such, they don’t see the need to adapt or alter their strategies. If that describes you, then you may have missed the importance of Google’s knowledge graph. Time to catch up.
If you have ever done a search for the birth date of a celebrity, for the ingredients of a recipe, or for the date of an event, then you might have found Google presented you with the answer in a different way. Rather than giving you a link to click on, it might simply have told you the answer. You may have seen information presented right at the top of the SERPs (search engine results pages) and this is what is known as Google’s Knowledge Graph. The idea behind the knowledge graph is to share information with users directly that has been scraped from the web, giving them no reason to leave Google at all. This is all possible thanks to another concept you should familiarize yourself with: rich snippets.
Google rich snippets as most webmasters probably know by now are small amounts of code that allow Google to present more information regarding a website in the search results. The most common and obvious application of this is with reviews. Here Google hoped to allow site owners to include star ratings for products and services with the intention of giving the viewer more information to base their choices on.
So, for instance if you were to search for a specific type of product, you would then be able to see a star rating next to those products giving you a quick consensus of what people think about them. For the visitors this is useful allowing them to quickly skim through the results, and for the webmasters it would potentially result in a better click through rate according to Google as people would quickly spot which products they wanted and which they didn’t, and as they were attracted to shiny five star ratings.
Of course, webmasters cottoned onto this potential pretty fast, and it wasn’t long before every single product and service had a five star rating – of course written by the site owners and not really providing the viewer with much insight. (Note to web browsers: if you can’t click to read the reviews, they probably aren’t real). And of course this is also what makes the Knowledge Graph possible.
The Downside of Google Rich Snippets
For the most part then, these snippets are good news for webmasters and just another system for them to take advantage of in order to get a stronger foothold on the net. However could it be possible that in some cases the rich snippets do more harm than good? Is this something that is suitable for every kind of online business?
The obvious answer for companies that are doing this the honest way is that rich snippets won’t always be good news – as they will sometimes include bad reviews. Of course, most savvy web owners will just alter this with a little code or by writing some dummy reviews, but even in other cases will this always increase CTR?
Now I’m not the kind of person that trusts critics when it comes to film reviews, but I know plenty of people who will base their viewing habits entirely on how many stars a film has. So, if they can do that without even reading the review, you better believe that’s what they’re going to do. When you consider that all Rotten Tomatoes does is to provide an aggregate score, then really this is no different from just typing in ‘The Hangover 2’ and then scrolling down to see all of the star ratings.
The Wider Problem
This of course isn’t just a problem for film review sites, but for any sites that provide aggregates and reviews as their main value. In such cases it might be worth simply removing those rich snippets from your site.
But could it also be possible that something even more sinister is at play here (cue organ music)? Seeing as Google is aiming to start providing direct answers to questions via its semantic search algorithms, might it not be just a matter of time before they start taking the aggregate scores from all the rich snippets themselves? Google could theoretically become a MetaCritic for everything giving you a crowdsourced review of everything from restaurants to toys – leaving little need for people to visit the sites that publish the reviews at all. Good job Google promised not to be evil…
The Future of Google
Whatever way you look at it, rich snippets have been around for a while now and it’s clear that they aren’t going anywhere any time soon. And anyway, Google’s plan likely has a lot less to do with steeling your web traffic than you might think.
More likely, Google is interested in being more easily able to scrape the web for key information, because this will make it more effective as an AI. Google has described itself now as an ‘AI first company’, which means that AI technology is now at the forefront of everything it does. Google Assistant is now more important than Google the search tool and if that tool is going to be as useful as possible, then it will need to be able to answer questions in a conversational manner, rather than just reading web pages out verbatim. In short, webmasters are now teaching Google’s AI to become more knowledgeable. The knowledge graph is only the first step…