Is Google Preparing for the First Major Knowledge Graph Update?
The Knowledge Graph has been a rising star in the world of online search. For users, it’s helped to streamline and simplify the information retrieval process. For search marketers, it’s taken away some of our potential traffic. By providing users with direct answers, the Knowledge Graph forgoes the need to seek out external websites, reducing the value of a “top ranked” position by instantly usurping the most visible position with instant information.
Since its inception in 2012, the Knowledge Graph has evolved gradually, drawing in more types of information and presenting more accurate answers for a greater percentage of queries. A user in 2012 might have seen a Knowledge Graph entry 10 percent of the time, but a modern user sees an entry for the majority of his/her queries. Now, it looks like Google is about to push out the first major overhaul to the Knowledge Graph’s functionality, and it could hold valuable clues to Google’s plans for the future of the Knowledge Graph.
How the Knowledge Graph Works Today
Today, the Knowledge Graph is fairly comprehensive when it comes to people, places, events, and statistics. If you type in any query that can be answered with a couple of sentences, chances are Google will find those two sentences you need and present it to you immediately. Even general queries, like the name of a film, can generate a box of information related to common questions about that subject. Typically, these boxes reside at the top of the SERPs.
The Knowledge Graph works by drawing in information from various sources around the web that use a Schema-style markup to make that information easily “digestible” for Google’s algorithms. Google checks this information against other sources on the web to ensure its accuracy, then stores that information for any queries that can be answered with it.
Knowledge Graph entries also allow users to submit feedback to the application, rating an answer and submitting any corrections they may have. This helps the artificial intelligence system “learn” which answers are correct and which are incorrect, so it can more rigorously test answers in the future. Though some users have experienced embarrassingly wrong answers to common queries, personally I’ve had little trouble with the accuracy of information I’ve encountered, and the majority of Google users would agree.
A Test of New Functionality?
Some users have reported seeing a new feature of the Knowledge Graph, which might indicate the near-future deployment of a radical new update. One user recently searched using the question “does Iceland have a military.” As you might suspect, compliant with typical Knowledge Graph formatting, a small box appeared at the top of the results with a one-sentence description about Iceland’s current military standing, derived from Wikipedia. However, a few results down the list, the user encountered another box related to the Knowledge Graph entitled “People also ask,” with an accompanying drop-down menu of different choices, including “What country does not have an army?”
There haven’t been any formal announcements about this feature, nor has Google acknowledged any upcoming update. But if history has taught us anything, it’s that Google likes testing new updates and features in small scales before rolling them out in full. It’s highly likely that this question recommendation dropdown menu is just Google’s test of a new Knowledge Graph update, which it intends to deploy in full within the next few months.
On the surface, this update may not seem like much. If anything, it looks like a combination of the Knowledge Graph’s typical results and Google’s long-established Autocomplete suggested results feature. Still, it represents Google’s commitment to making the Knowledge Graph as robust and as useful as possible.
What This Means for the Future of the Knowledge Graph
What we’re seeing now are the early stages of the Knowledge Graph’s evolution from a nifty side feature of a search engine to a standalone feature. At the risk of overanalyzing the situation, there are three main features of this new functionality:
- The provision of better information to users. Users who are curious about a general field, or those who have asked a “wrong” question now have a chance to find out what other people have searched for and found under similar pretenses.
- The expansion of Knowledge Graph AI. The Knowledge Graph has always analyzed the purpose for specific user queries, but now it seems to be expanding from understanding what a user “is” searching for to what a user “might be” searching for.
- The absorption of more SERP real estate. Last but not least, adding this information increases the amount of space and importance the Knowledge Graph takes up on SERPs, correspondingly reducing the amount of space available for external websites.
Ultimately, this potential new update would advance the Knowledge Graph’s purpose: supplying users with new information, and (at the risk of sounding like a conspiracy theorist) reducing the necessity of external websites. Over time, we will likely see the line between Google Search and the Knowledge Graph start to blur, until what we know as “Google Search” is just a glorified encyclopedic entry—albeit from the greatest encyclopedia ever created. When that day comes, all forms of SEO will vanish. All your site can hope to be is the source of information for this aggregator.
Still, I don’t think Google is ready to take over the world just yet, no matter how much it might like to. We’ll have to keep watching for Knowledge Graph developments over the next decade to find out what Google really has in mind for the future of the Internet. No matter how it turns out, it’s bound to be exciting, frightening, and disruptive all at once.
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