12 September 2012

The good folks at Google tell us over and over again that Search is about Discovery. Those of us who work in SEO may feel that search is (or at least can be used as) a powerful marketing tool, but the kids who hang out on the Google Campus would rather think of the Internet as a sort of huge encyclopedia that we can thumb through any time we want, simply for the joy of learning things. Both visions of the World Wide Web are essentially correct, even if they do view the online world from different perspectives.

When the first search engines were developed, they were essentially lists of web sites, possibly grouped by words included in the site title. Essentially, this is like standing at the main desk of the University of Washington Library, and being allowed to ask the librarian a question. When she hears the question, she will smile at you and tell you that the answer to your question is “over in that direction”, which is when you realize that the tags on all of the bookshelves have been removed.

When Google came along, they rewrote the rules of search by ranking web pages by relevancy”. Suddenly searchers had a chance of actually finding useful answers to their questions. As amazing as it is, the Google algorithm is essentially a robot. Robots are wonderfully useful, but actually, not very smart.

Humans are pretty smart. When you ask the librarian your question, rather than simply point in a general direction, she will interact with you to arrive at the specifics of your question. Let’s say you want to know about planes; the librarian (or the search engine) doesn’t know if you are asking about geometry or aerospace, but a human can figure it out pretty quickly.

Google’s latest effort to “humanize” their search results is called the Knowledge Graph. The Graph appears on the right side of the Search Engine Results Page (SERP). The Graph will include snippets from several different “relevant” sites, as well as links related to the search.

Take for example Renaissance Painters; say that the only one you can think of is Leonardo Di Vinci. The Knowledge Graph on Leonardo’s SERP page will tell you his vital statistics, plus show his famous paintings, as well as other Renaissance Painters. There is also a “social” aspect to the Knowledge Graph. Google will record the sites that previous searchers found useful when they did a search for Leonardo.

Google’s intent is to make their search engine more useful in helping searchers find what they are actually looking for. The Knowledge Engine may actually change the way that people search. This may be good for searchers, and good for Google, but it will mean that SEO will have to change the way it does business.

The first thing to notice about the Knowledge Graph is that it contains a lot of information in a compact space. If your site is just a long version of the same information, Google has just made you irrelevant. The Knowledge Graph will be recommending alternate searches, which means that branding, building trust, and popularity are going to be more important than ever.

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