From Search Engine to Answer Engine: Google’s Knowledge Graph & Schema

By Scott Garrett | Feb 6, 2015
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More and more Google is expanding the reach and power of its Knowledge Graph to what many would argue the detriment of content publishers. The goal of the knowledge graph is simple – answer a search’s query without forcing them to click on a link (instant gratification please). This goal then accomplishes two important side goals for Google…

  1. Answer searchers’ questions faster
  2. Keep searchers inside its own environment

Google’s transition from search engine to answer engine appears to be happening right before our eyes. Is this a good thing, a bad thing, does it even matter? Whatever your opinion is could you stop it if you wanted to?

Knowledge Graph and Schema - Google Take Over

Should I Be Afraid?

Short answer… maybe? (the sky isn’t falling, but you should put a bucket on your head just in case).

The benefits from a searcher point of view are easy to see and justify. If I query, “who is the prime minister of Japan” I do not need to click on Wikipedia or another site to get the answer, Google simply tells me that Shinzō Abe is the prime minster of Japan. From a publisher point of view this is clearly is a red flag, as it cuts them out of the equation entirely. Google does generously link back to the site where it scraped off the information for its Knowledge Graph answer, so the user can then gather further information (O’ how nice of Google).

However, a simple question like, “who is the prime minister of Japan?” or “when did Columbus sail the ocean?” should not worry most content publishers when Google scrapes their site for that information – why? Because content publishers should always be concerned with creating webpages that offer valuable and unique information not encyclopedia answers (Wikipedia being the major expectation here).

What about when Google does something like this?…A mortgage calculator that it recently launched this week.

mortgage calculator example - Knowledge Graph and Schema

Though not technically part of the the Knowledge Graph this mortgage calculator (highlighted in red) does accomplish Google’s two side goals of…

  1. Answer searchers’ questions faster
  2. Keep searchers inside its own environment

It is very interesting to note the position of this tool, below the paid search ads, but above the natural results. Clearly Google is walking a thin line here between not upsetting its paying publishers (which Google relies on for the bulk of its revenue) and snubbing the natural or “free” listings. In my mind a mortgage calculator is much more of a valuable or unique piece of content compared to a simple Wikipedia entry, but on the other-hand, it is just a simple calculator whose creator should not matter, as long as the calculations are correct.

As the Knowledge Graph grows beyond a simple encyclopedia and Google expands its in-search tools the next question you might be asking yourself is, how as a content publisher can I protect my content? Unfortunately, you cannot totally protect your content from being scraped by Google – unless you want to opt for the nuclear option… change your robot settings (meta and .txt) to  NOINDEX and NOFOLLOW. Though this nuclear option would also cause your site to not show up at all in Google search results (is it worth that?). Another option would be to put your most valuable content behind a sign-up or pay wall.

Neither of these options are ideal, so then what do you do – give up? No, the answer is to try to take back some control via schema mark-up.

What Does It Mean For Me?

Schema is your “friend” and you should use to mark-up as much applicable content on your site as possible. By marking up the content on your site you enable search engine bots to better understand your site’s content and how it might relate to a searcher’s query. For example you can use Event Schema to mark-up events on your website via attributes such as date, title, and description.

Knowledge Graph and Schema Event Example

Having this schema implemented correctly for the event allows it show as a rich snippet (shown above) in Google search results. Rich snippets make your events, reviews, products, etc. show up more pronounced in search and will hopefully drive better click-through-rates relative to non-marked-up pages. Even without visible rich snippets schema still allows search bots to better grasp the nature and the value of the content on your page, so having it marked-up correctly could allow your page to rank higher for related searches.

So how then is schema related to the Knowledge Graph? Well the most visible display of the Knowledge Graph is Google’s Knowledge Panel (highlighted in red).

knowledge panel example - Knowledge Graph and Schema


And the Knowledge Panel relies mostly on information scraped from Wikipedia and Freebase (If you are unfamiliar with Freebase it is a large repository of metadata supplied by community members that was bought by Google in 2010 – it is largely responsible for powering the Knowledge Graph and helping Google make connections between information). So where does schema come into play inside the Knowledge panel? Google recently announced that by utilizing structured data mark-up via schema, you can specify your social media profiles to Google and have them show in the Knowledge Panel.

You can also utilize schema for events to ensure that that the Knowledge Panel displays your most up to date events and you can even use corporate contact mark-up and logo mark-up to ensure key company information is correct. These are small victories for sites, but they do show the importance of properly utilizing schema mark-up.

The Knowledge Graph also looks at schema when it is trying to answer a search’s query without utilizing the Knowledge Panel (when it supplies an answer by scraping a site’s content), so providing search bots with solid schema mark-up could help your page show up as the Knowledge Graph answer.

Now What?

On the one hand schema is a great way to connect the dots for Google by giving search engine bots context to the content on your site and how it relates to one another and the greater internet in general.

It also allows rich snippets to show up in search results, boosts the likelihood of sites showing up in Knowledge Graph, and helps control the information displayed in the Knowledge Panel.

On the other hand schema helps Google better scrape your site for answers by giving search engine bots context to the content on your site and how it relates to one another and the greater internet in general.

Knowledge Graph and Schema - Take Back ControlWhether we like it or not it seems more and more we live in a world where Google and other large search engines dictate the course of the internet and we the users are forced to seat-back and react to the changes brought by these search engines – soon to be called answer engines.

The only real way I see to take back control is to somehow make your site more important to Google than Google is to your site – which is easy to say but maybe impossible to implement. Even if you could I am sure Google would make you a buy-out-offer that you couldn’t refuse.

What are your thoughts on the Knowledge Graph & Schema? Comment below and follow me @ScottGarrett89.

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