Experts Blog

Caffeine boost and hummingbird precision. How the Knowledge Graph is changing Google search.

  • Matthias Schmid

We now use search engines as part of our everyday routine. Among the masses of data, Google and others help us find the relevant information. The figures here are unambiguous: according to an ARD/ZDF online survey from 2013, 83% of all 14-year-old online users in Germany use search engines at least once a week, which is about the same frequency as email.

Search engines employ a whole range of measures to keep user frequency high. Google, the dominant search engine in Europe, is among the most active platforms in providing new functions. Since it started 15 years ago, the search engine has developed at a furious pace. The following overview graphic from Google’s official blog, Inside Search, highlights the most important developments.

Overview graphic of the most important developments in the Google search.

The Knowledge Graph: answers instead of search result lists

The most important and exciting development is known as the Knowledge Graph. With this feature, Google is changing from a search engine to an answer engine.

Until about two years ago, the result that users obtained mainly involved lists of pages whose subject was relevant to the search term. With the Knowledge Graph, Google now displays the relevant information in a suitable form directly in the search results. For example, the search term “songs from the Beatles” gets a search result page with a list of Beatles songs, including additional information such as the year and the length of the song.

Knowledge Graph: for the search term “songs from the Beatles”, Google displays a search result page with a list of Beatles songs and additional information.

The songs are displayed directly in the search results, and when you click on a song a playable YouTube video is displayed.

Song display beside the search results, incl. playable YouTube video.

The Knowledge Graph: based on technical infrastructure and language understanding

To enable this function, Google requires a powerful technical structure and a deep understanding of human language.

The technical basis for the development of the Knowledge Graph was supplied in 2010 by the big Caffeine update. The upgrading of the infrastructure accordingly enabled a massive acceleration in the finding and indexing of web content.

With the latest Hummingbird update, released a few weeks ago, Google is now capable of a deeper understanding of human language. This makes the search engine even more powerful in terms of comprehending the intention of a search request and even a sequence of multiple search requests. Fast and precise: these are the two properties that Google had in its sights with Hummingbird.

However, Google’s intention is not only to answer the user’s questions directly. With the Knowledge Graph, the company aims to keep the user in the Google universe with all its services and technologies, such as Gmail, YouTube, Google Glass, Google Play/Android, etc. It is not surprising that, thanks to this range of brands, Google is the second most valuable brand in the world.

Line of attack for website operators: away from keyword optimisation to more powerful content

What does this mean for website operators? Because Google wants to bind users more effectively to the world of Google, classical measures for extending the reach of websites will become less effective. A landing page for a keyword combination such as “Songs of the Beatles” will get less traffic, because compared to the answer from Google’s fast, precise Knowledge Graph, it provides no added value, and the longer the search result page is, the less visible it is.

Similarly, business models that aim to set up as many landing pages as possible in what is known as the long tail area, and generate traffic with many starting pages, are also going to find things increasingly difficult. Especially as the Google Panda update released a while ago has been ensuring that pages with thin content receive less favourable rankings.

The silver bullet for website operators is to develop their own website into a well-known and popular brand and so that users remember the brand name and use it to navigate to the site.

Conclusion: in the short term, you can still achieve success by optimising masses of web pages for keyword combinations. In the long term, the prospects for this tactic with Google’s fast, precise index, and the speed with which it continues to develop, are rather poor. For long-term success, it is essential to develop content that is loved and passed on by users. 

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