A few weeks ago Google started to release information stating that it would gradually move away from the traditional search model, where a query is answered by a list of links, and more into the business of actually giving information to the user, gleaned from the contents of the webpages that would otherwise be getting traffic from the search. For example:
Implications for SEOs
This isn’t an Earth-shattering news – they have long moved away from just seeing search queries as isolated words. As long ago as 2003 they started looking at the actual semantics of search queries and analysing the meaning and synonyms of words typed into the search box. They’ve been giving information such as cinema times, flight details and numerical constants for nearly as long. It’s a bit of a mystery why their hype machine has kicked into overdrive about this particular small update, but it’s a good reason to have a look at semantic search from an SEO perspective.
For most sites, the effect will probably be minimal, at least in the short term. Some sites will be quite heavily hit – those sites that currently perform very well across wide varieties of searches that offer just pure information will not fare well. Wikipedia, answers.com, ehow.com and other sites currently getting very high traffic just based around facts might, to varying extents, be sidelined.
In the longer term this might cause a complete change in the way SEO is done, with sites potentially moving away from targeting the traditional keyword-based SEO and instead trying to become trusted sources of factual information, in order to drive traffic and rankings. In my opinion SEOs should try and make the most of this new way of being featured in Google.
It remains to be seen how heavily Google will credit and/or reward sources, with either a basic link below the information or with increased rankings elsewhere, but they will doubtless be rewarding quality information in some way. At the moment it looks like they are just linking to their sources with a show/hide toggle:
Along with Bing and Yahoo, Google have launched schema.org, a set of HTML tags that are read by the various search engines in order to increase the efficiency of data extraction. Widespread use of these tags would be massively beneficial to search engines trying to glean all possible information from a webpage.
Why Make Search More Semantic?
The new update seems to be paving the way for Google Assistant, Google’s answer to Siri, which will be released for Android later this year. When it is asked a question, it will have to come back with an actual nugget of information, rather than a list of sites where you could potentially find it out yourself. Google is just integrating this functionality into traditional search.
It is unarguably a good thing for users, who will be able to get their requested information much more easily. I’m slightly struggling to see how Google will manage to increase revenues this way, especially as it gets more and more widespread over the coming years. Google’s monetization model where paid links generate the vast majority of their revenues means that it is imperative for the company to push as much traffic onto external sites as possible, with the hope that a decent percentage of the people searching will be clicking on the paid links. Where is the incentive for someone to do this when they already have the information they need?
But fundamentally Google isn’t trying to directly increase revenue with this update. It is trying to cement its place as the go-to search engine in the face of up-and-comers like Bing. One of the reasons Google has managed to stay ahead of the game for so long is its refusal to focus on the bottom line. Google’s main mission statement has always been to serve the user first and foremost.
Recently, Bing has been making an effort to improve their search engine’s actual understanding of the web, buying Powerset, a tool that sells itself as being able to actually ‘understand’ the content of web pages. Apple obviously already has Siri, a tool approaching the problem that Google Assistant is trying to solve from a different direction. It simply remains to be seen whether Google can hold on to its market share despite the shifting priorities and methods of ‘searching’.