Is It Worth It To Your Site To Help Google Build Its ‘Knowledge’?

    May 31, 2013
    Chris Crum
    Comments are off for this post.

Search is moving more and more toward structured data, which in turn, is leading search engines to delivering the information users are seeking without the need of having to send them to third-party sites. Google, in particular, is making tremendous use of this data in offerings like its Knowledge Graph and in Google Now, and it’s still very early days for both products. Google continues to provide webmasters with tools to help build Google’s structured database, but what ramifications does this have for businesses getting web traffic from Google going forward?

Are you willing to provide Google with structured data from your site, even if it means Google getting users this data without sending them to your site? Let us know in the comments.

Google announced the launch of Knowledge Graph just over a year ago. It was a major indication of Google’s reduction in dependence on keywords.

“It’s another step away from raw keywords (without knowing what those words really mean) toward understanding things in the real-world and how they relate to each other,” said Google’s Matt Cutts at the time. “The knowledge graph improves our ability to understand the intent of a query so we can give better answers and search results.”

From the user standpoint, it’s been hard to argue with the results, especially these days when you see them interact with your questions in a conversational manner. Outside of the occasional piece of erroneous data, the info has been pretty useful, and even when relevant, more traditional, organic results appear on the page next to a Google “Knowledge Panel,” it’s often the Knowledge Graph part that jumps off the page and captures your attention, and in many cases, let’s you know the information you needed without having to click further.

So far, the biggest loss in site clickthroughs has probably been seen by Wikipedia, simply because it’s typically the first source Google offers up with the Knowledge Graph, but Google is working to greatly expand the Knowledge Graph, and as that happens, more sites face the possibility of a similar sacrifice. It’s also worth noting that Wikipedia, of course, is a nonprofit entity. How much of the Knowledge Graph will consist of info from nonprofits when it’s all said and done?

It will never truly be done though. It will just keep growing, and Google’s giving webmasters the tools to give the search giant better access to the data it needs to give answers to users. For many, this will no doubt be an attractive option in an age where it has become increasingly hard to appear on page one of a Google results page.

Google launched the Data Highlighter back in December. It was initially just for event data, but has already expanded significantly.

“Data Highlighter is a webmaster tool for teaching Google about the pattern of structured data on your website,” Google explains. “You simply use Data Highlighter to tag the data fields on your site with a mouse. Then Google can present your data more attractively — and in new ways — in search results and in other products such as the Google Knowledge Graph.”

“For example, if your site contains event listings you can use Data Highlighter to tag data (name, location, date, and so on) for the events on your site,” the company adds. “The next time Google crawls your site, the event data will be available for rich snippets on search results pages.”

This week, Google announced that it has expanded the tool to support more types of data. Now it supports: events, products, local businesses, articles, software applications, movies, restaurants, and TV episodes. Suddenly, this is starting to involve businesses a lot more directly.

Google also introduced another tool called the Structured Data Markup Helper.

“As with Data Highlighter, one simply points and clicks on a sample web page to indicate its key data fields,” says product manager Justin Boyan. “Structured Data Markup Helper then shows exactly what microdata annotations to add to the page’s HTML code. We hope this helps give HTML authors a running start with adding structured data to their sites, in turn making search results more meaningful.”

“When Google understands a website’s content in a structured way, we can present that content more accurately and more attractively in search,” says Boyan “For example, our algorithms can enhance search results with ‘rich snippets’ when we understand that a page contains an event, recipe, product, review, or similar. We can also feature a page’s data as part of answers in search from the Knowledge Graph or in Google Now cards, helping you find the right information at just the right time.”

To be clear, there will certainly be plenty of cases, as with rich snippets, where new links to sites are created, potentially leading to more clickthroughs, but even sometimes with those, users will get the info they need on the page, without having to click. There are plenty of variables that enter the equation, not least of which is Google deciding when and where to display the data it obtains from sites.

The question is whether this move toward structured data will truly benefit sites in general in the long run or if it simply gives search engines like Google more control as the gatekeepers to information. With Google Now, for that matter, Google is even deciding when to show users this data, without waiting for them to search for it.

Another issue worth considering is just how well Google will be able to deal with accuracy of data as it gets more and more structured data from webmasters, as it is encouraging. We’ve seen Google make mistakes on more than one occasion. They’ve gotten marital status wrong. They’ve let nudity slip through when inappropriate (multiple times). Will they be able to keep too much erroneous information from being passed off as “knowledge”? If not, things could get really out of hand.

Earlier this week, I had a bad experience with Google Maps in which I was directed to a non-existent eye doctor on the other side of town (turn by turn, no less) when the actual doctor was right outside of my neighborhood. I was late for the appointment because of a Google error. What happens if some piece of erroneous data from some webmaster’s site makes it into Google’s Knowledge Graph, and gets served to me via Google Now when I supposedly need it, only for me to find out that it is completely wrong. Who knows what kinds of mishaps that could bring on?

Maybe Google can keep the errors from becoming too prevalent. I guess we’ll see, though I can’t say my confidence is incredibly high. Back when Google launched Knowledge Graph I questioned the company about accuracy with regards to Wikipedia vandalism. I was told that Google has quality controls to “try to mitigate this kind of issue,” and that Google includes a link so users can tell them when they come across inaccuracies.

“Our goal is to be useful,” a spokesperson told me. “We realize we’ll never be perfect, just as a person’s or library’s knowledge is never complete, but we will strive to be accurate. More broadly, this is why we engineer 500+ updates to our algorithms every year — we’re constantly working to improve search, and to make things easier for our users.”

But that was before Google Now, and it was when the Knowledge Graph was significantly smaller than it is now. At Google I/O earlier this month, Google announced that Knowledge Graph was up to over 570 million entities (not to mention rolling out in additional languages), and that it continues to grow. Even since then, Google has announced the launch of nutritional information.

It also remains to be seen how well Google is able to keep spam out of the structured data pool. I can’t say I’ve seen any spam from it thus far, but as more and more businesses look to provide Google with this kind of data in hopes of boosting their search visibility, which again, Google is encouraging them to do, and as long as Google moves further and further into this direction, making it harder for businesses to get traditional first-page rankings, it seems likely that more will try to game the system. Maybe they won’t be successful. Maybe some will find ways.

The point is that it’s still early days for this era of search, and it’s hard to say just what it all means for webmasters and for search quality. Either way, things are getting interesting.

Do you like the direction this is all headed in? Share your thoughts in the comments.

  • http://Www.bsslimited.com Phil

    It’s interesting Google encourage everyone to embrace structured data yet their results are devoid of such structure if they are not planning to monetize the information I would have thought they would have implemented it on their own site.

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    This is a pretty nice information from Google. Google being strict on quality standards webmasters have the tools to raise their bar to the next quality level.

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  • http://www.gemonediamond.com ashish

    its great to know that google is making improvement in the world knowledge. everyday tons of knowledge is made up due to new thinking, vision and innovation, we are with you all the way to make the world better.

  • Bri

    Hi y’all,

    Look, this question comes up around this time every year. As long as you keep content regular, and fresh, you will rank, and google will respond. It’s another storm in a tea cup quite frankly. I see people getting stressed unnecessarily on forums around the place on this topic. My usual response is just put your head down, work, and keep up with the fresh content and you won’t go wrong whilst your product is in demand.

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    • http://covent-garden.co.uk Jackie Mackay

      Brilliant and very PDQ answer. Google has written some elegant live algorithms for its search engine and now it’s complex and akin to Shelob’s web. Why Because it’s in the blender that statisticizes (statisticates, statifies) and averages it all out. Now you can hardly see the woods for the ‘sponsors’.

      And the sponsors? what an irritating bunch of puffed up boasting and jesting jab-ads amidst conceited branding – try to grab our already shredded attention! Why don’t they get some decent information out there and start doing something useful?

      Advertisers and sponsors are starting to feel a lot like parasites. What do they give? What do they do for the good of the whole?

      Birds of paradise? yeah right.

      Jackie Mackay

  • http://www.marcoandnaplesrealestate.com Helga Wetzold

    I have no problem getting my site worked on without my knowledge. Happens when SEO companies work on that too, so no problem.
    Main idea is to get the site higher in the rankings. So please Google do so.

  • http://www.thebasscollege.com/ steve vonbrandt

    No It IS NOT Worth it to advertise for ANYBODY, in any shape, manner or form, for free!

  • http://www.seovisions.com Todd

    Helga – I think you might have misunderstood this. The information found on websites is being pulled and used as data that Google displays in it’s own SERPs. This doesn’t mean your website gains traffic; in many ways you lose traffic for informational queries.

    It’s interesting to me how the increasing complexity of search engines and AI mimics a lot of the “sci-fi” books and movies of past, showing a grim future with humans no longer in control of their own faculties.

    Difficult to say if it would approach this point: however it sure appears that we are heading in that direction.

    The less we think, the more thinking is done for us.

  • http://www.webmastergregory.com Greg Knapp

    As a webmaster that does small biz websites I think it stinks we work hard to create and update websites for customers then we’re supposed to give this info to google free. They glean from a website the info THEY think is relevant then give it to your potential customers so they won’t have to click through and bother looking at your whole site. It’s difficult enough to get business with all the places that want to “give away free” websites to business people who don’t understand how much time and effort it takes to create and maintain a website then when their “free” website under performs they go back to spending their ad budget on the local shopper paper . We have to compete with companies that pay for placement in search results. Now were supposed to give our work to google for free so they can monetize content we create

  • http://www.fengshui-consultants.co.uk Thomas Coxon

    As a user I have two kinds of query:
    The “What’s the longitude of xyz city?” type – if I can just copy & paste that from a Google search result that’s great.
    Then there’s the “Find me some good websites about …” type – with those I want the website, never ever ever some search engine abstract.
    As a webmaster I deliberately provide info about my own knowledge to encourage people to come look at my site and hopefully book my services. If Google start abstracting that info without quoting the source it’s not exactly helpful!
    Over the last year or so I’ve noticed a couple of things happening to Google search results.
    In my own discipline (not much advertising money around) Google has started showing some different sites, never more informative or accurate & often less so than the sites it used to list first.
    In my hobby – photography (lots of advertising money around from the large manufacturers) I’ve noticed that it’s the flashy sites that do reviews on new equipment before it becomes generally available (sponsored by manufacturers??) that now dominate the search results. The sites which give end users actual experience with the equipment are now much harder to find via Google.
    So despite all Googles hype about removing spam, improving search results etc., it seems to me as both an end user and informed webmaster, that the reality of their results is gradually headed in the opposite direction.
    As an end user I’m quite happy to wade through 10-20% spammy search results if the rest contains what I’m looking for. The way Google have gone this last year, the only reason that I still use them for my own searches is habit! (seems there are parallels with AltaVista in the early 2000’s – I wonder who’ll be the next “Google” & how they’ll achieve it?)

    • http://www.onlinetv.com Randy Penn

      You can’t have your cake and eat it too. You figured out how Google has stolen SERP from Geo lookup sites, yet you think your information should be treated differently?

      Get the picture, you provide information, Google makes you dance to give it to them, they use that info and give it surrounded by advertising on their own site. Why pass them to you? Even if you have adsense they have to share and that means less profit. Google is a profit corporation and not your friend. Business is business. Kiss your information good bye (and the traffic it might glean)

    • Robert

      I think Thomas hit the nail on the head why we still use google…”HABIT” !

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  • http://www.graciousstore.com Gracious Store

    I don’t have problem using the product markup snippet codes and using the data highlight to facilitate the mark-up of other product pages on my site. If they will help Google present those product to customers, that is what I want as a retailer

  • max

    Good idea > It’s another step away from raw keywords… but google is not capable to put this into operation because they consider and value other stuff to much which has nothing to do with content so finally unless they restructure the whole stuff putting only minor value on links and authority, they will NEVER reach this goal in an objective way. They might get it from a google point of view which is TOO often abstract nonsense which has nothing to do with real life. I see this every day in man websites and their value google assign to it, its catastrophic, they made a real nosedive to altavista from 10 years ago but the thing is they have a what is called “firmenblindheit” in German language and are not capable to enlarge their very limited horizon.

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  • Max

    This could work in case Google would not monopolize the internet. Google is monopoly and should be there the same situation as with Microsoft a decade ago. Those cash-cows and their CEOs are working the same everywhere with the only target: earny money on everything. And ppl are helping them to reach monopoly and then asking why is this company so arrogant?

  • http://www.nuclearchowder.com Mike Brooks

    This is going to be interesting and challenging for webmasters who rely on traffic analytics. They may still appear highly for a search term but now the users no longer click through because they get the info they need right on the results page. To a webmaster it will simply look like traffic died even though it didn’t.

  • http://www.ba4bi.com Bert Brijs

    If Google would use my information without mention the source URL, than I consider that copyright infringement. Any class action suit candidates ready to move at the appropriate time? I am game. Poachers, keep off my property!

  • http://beachchalets.co.za Robert Forrester

    I presume that you meant to say
    Are you willing to provide Google with structured data from your site, even if it means Google USING this data without sending them to your site

    This would constitute misuse of information and should be classified as fraud and should be controlled. However there is always the possibility of theft on the internet but I would hope that GOOGLE would not succumb to such tactics, if for no other reason commercial acceptance and their own future.

    • Pat

      Well definitely I will never provide Google with any inside information about my sites. Are you using Adsense? Analytics? or any Google’s scripts inside your site? If the answer is yes then Google is already stealing your data and your customers. Every day Google makes more clear that they are enemies of small and not so small business their arrogance and hypocrisy does not have limits.

  • http://www.elijahclark.com/seo-orlando-company.html D. Manco


    I think you’re close, but still off. The machine cannot understand a website’s intent. Even markup can be spam. What the machine does understand, is a users search queries, and the machine since the latest Panda has the ability to rank what it presents. I wrote a blog about it that may interest you (http://www.elijahclark.com/blog-updates/press-your-panda-seo-no-whammy.html) as well as others. Another good cut of whole given. Thanks.

  • http://omnimedicalmarketing.com/ Omni Medical Marketing

    Sometimes it’s easy to lose focus on what internet marketing is really all about. We spend too much time fighting Google and trying to cheat Google, and we lose focus on the fact that we’re trying to help grow businesses. Sure, while we would all love to have this traffic to track, being on the first page of Google for any reason can be beneficial to branding and marketing. SEO and internet marketing has helped to shape search engines, and this is another way to utilize the power of Google to help brand and market a business.

  • http://ReturnOnNow.com/blog/ Tommy Landry

    We are continually kicking tires at the crossroads between a better experience and the idea of privacy. In reality, those two wants are inversely proportional.

    At the end of the day, only those of us who are okay playing ball with Google’s long term plans will benefit the most from it. No one is forced to open up more data to them, but the tradeoff is accepting a lesser benefit from the SERPs.

    If you create a good site with good useful content, and let Google know how to crawl it and what it is, I see no harm in that. A website is a publication. Take advantage of whatever you can to get out in front of someone. This will eventually end the keyword free for all and move the focus to finding the best answer to each user query. That’s a grand vision, and one we can all benefit from.

  • http://www.sikripackaging.com Madhusudan Sikri

    I have no problem with Google using my information on their search results. I have a commercial website offering industrial products for sale. I have been depending on PPC rather than organic results for getting visitors, since 2001.

    It’s time through online advertisers understood that there is no free lunch. You want first Page ranking, pay for it. People looking for your products and service will click, no matter if the result appears as a sponsored result or a organic result.

    Take my word for this. I have built a global business in this way.

    • yosri

      I belief the article is explaning that any product description you have will be hijack by Google. Therefore even if 1,000 people read about your product on Google pages, you site only register 100 people who click using other search engine like Yahoo.

  • yosri

    This business model is not sustainable. Site that have low visit/click will close down and Google will no longer have new data. This is like killing the goose with golden eggs.