The Google Knowledge Graph is a feature that started rolling out back in 2012 in order to improve the amount of information available online and the speed at which users could find it. It sounds like an amazing initiative—after all, the faster users can find relevant information, the better online experience they’ll have. However, the future of the Knowledge Graph could completely disrupt the world of search engine optimization, and decrease the value of the strategy altogether.
Today, the Knowledge Graph exists in a relatively straightforward form. When a user sends a search query for a specific entity, Google will scour the web to pull and analyze properly formatted information about that entity, and display it in an organized fashion on the right side of the screen. For example, if a user searches for “Barack Obama,” the Knowledge Graph will display important biographical information, such as his birthday, full name, and of course, the fact that he’s the 44th president of the United States.
Google gathers this information by dissecting and interpreting information found on external authoritative sites. This information is efficiently readable if it is entered in a specific microformatting template, like those found at Schema.org for various categories. Currently, the Knowledge Graph only covers a handful of categories of information, but as it expands, it could offer more information on more topics.
The Knowledge Graph doesn’t have much impact on search as it stands today, but as it grows in both sophistication and user acceptance, it could have significant consequences for search marketers:
Google is trying to simplify the process of obtaining information. In the old way of searching, if you wanted information on a subject, you would type the query into Google, then sort through the results until you found what you were looking for. The Knowledge Graph immediately cuts out the last step of that process by providing such information directly to web searchers.
That’s a good thing for most web users because it ultimately saves time, but many companies have fought hard to earn the top ranks for those search results, and they depend on the information-seeking traffic as a huge component of their overall web traffic. Their content strategies are based on providing information and positioning themselves as an authority, and as a result, they get thousands of visitors seeking information. Theoretically, the Knowledge Graph could dramatically reduce that traffic.
There is a positive side to that dramatic traffic reduction. Let’s say a user is intentionally searching for information on a specific movie, and your site provides that information. If the user reaches your site and finds the information he/she is looking for, he/she will likely leave immediately afterward. You may be getting a thousand hits from people looking for information, but those thousand hits are leaving after they get what they wanted out of you.
The Knowledge Graph will filter out that traffic by providing them with that information right away. You’ll be left with more specific, targeted traffic—the people who want to visit your site for reasons other than basic information. The Knowledge Graph will also force users to type more specific queries, bypassing that initial wave of information in order to dig deeper and get more specific results. That means as long as you provide niche content to meet those queries, your conversions could actually increase.
In order to attract more targeted traffic, your blogs and web pages will need to become more specific. It’s no longer enough to write posts that cater to specific keywords—like “Barack Obama.” Instead, you need to do more to ensure that the specific topic of your post is easily understandable to Google. For example, if your blog post is specifically about Barack Obama’s greatest accomplishments, you should spend less time covering background information on the president and more time showcasing the specifics.
Doing so will help you avoid the problem of overcrowding in search results pages and rank for the hyper-specific pages your users will soon demand. It’s a less predictable strategy, but if you’re consistent, you’ll be rewarded with a greater, more relevant flow of users.
I covered this partially in point two, but the demand for information will rapidly decrease once people get used to the Knowledge Graph. If information is immediately available after briefly typing the topic into a search bar, why would users need to rely on the authority of a specific blog to get their information?
All information-based content strategies will require a major overhaul. While it’s fine to provide some baseline information about these topics, your users will demand something more from you, and if you want to stay relevant in search results as well as with your audience, you’ll have to step up your game. More interactive, personalized content with walkthroughs, guides, case studies, examples, and engaging collateral features are all going to become more important, especially as Google starts adding more categories to their already-impressive Knowledge Graph repertoire.
The Knowledge Graph will likely attract considerably more attention than the remainder of the SERPs, and Google realizes this. While right now, the Knowledge Graph is dedicated only to providing accurate, relevant information to the searcher, don’t be surprised if Knowledge Graph ads emerge as a Google products offering in the near future.
It’s not certain how much these will cost in comparison to traditional PPC ads, but their visibility and click through rates will probably be superior. If you want to guarantee yourself some search visibility, consider investing in the strategy when it starts to emerge.
It’s difficult to make yourself stand out as an authority on anything, but Google has already made its mind up on the authoritative influencers for most Knowledge Graph categories (such as people and places). Most of its entries are heavily based on information found on Wikipedia and Freebase. At this point, it’s highly unlikely that the most authoritative sites on the web will ever be overthrown, meaning it will eventually become nearly impossible to emerge as an informational authority. Experience will matter more than information, but the inability to cultivate authority from information is a serious blow to some strategies.
The Knowledge Graph will likely tie into wearable technologies like Google Glass and smart watches to give users immediate results and information. As a result, users will start to demand even more immediate experiences, losing patience for any system that requires hunting and analyzing to find something they need. As a result, the winners of the search war will eventually be the ones who can provide that immediate experience, whether that’s in the form of an incredibly specific and helpful website, an integrated app, or an affiliate partnership with Google. Eventually, people may no longer rely on searching for traditional websites.
It might be a little too soon to start worrying that the Knowledge Graph will destroy SEO as a strategy, but it is important to be wary of its potential impact. For now, implement microformatting throughout your site, work on providing the most relevant, accurate information for your customers, and hedge your bets by investing in inbound strategies other than basic SEO, such as social media marketing.