If you are a member of the SEO community, or if you spend your time searching lots of keywords and phrases using the Google search engine, you may have seen the appearance of more knowledge panels on the right-hand side of the results in the past week or so.
The above screenshot shows an example of the knowledge panels that are now showing for certain keywords. In this case, a search for the keyword “SEO” brings up a SERP with a knowledge panel for the phrase “search engine optimization.”
Much like the knowledge panels that show up when you search for a business by its brand name, the knowledge panel gives a definition of the word you are searching (as defined by Wikipedia) and suggestions of other related terms.
While these knowledge panels started showing up just before the long Thanksgiving holiday weekend, and started with very general terms and keywords, the number of keywords and terms that now have knowledge panels associated with them has been growing exponentially in the past week.
So what does this potentially large change mean for SEO?
How Will Keyword Knowledge Graphs Affect SEO and Rankings?
Being that this change (a 30 percent jump in knowledge panels, as of Nov. 27) happened over a holiday weekend, it signals that not only does this appear to be a big change that will cause mixed reviews among users, but it appears that Google may be determined to keep long term. The company slipped the update under the radar while many were traveling, visiting family and enjoying their holiday meals.
Is the Google Knowledge Panel Replacing Rich Snippets?
One way that this has already affected SEO is with rich snippets – those little answer boxes that show up above the organic results that are supposed to offer the best or most concise “answer” to a searched term or phrase.
As Dr. Peter J. Meyers noted in his excellent initial article on the recent knowledge graph changes, the rollout of these knowledge panels has already started to “eat” existing rich snippets that were in place for the same keyword SERPS just a week before. While this is an immediate change that may cause traffic or ranking losses for some keywords, the impact doesn’t seem to be wide at this point.
It seems the biggest concern that the changes created was about the appeal or long-term worth of optimizing for rich snippets – concerns that rich snippets might be going away or diminished in the future. However, since the terms affected are very general terms and it seems that most of the “replaced” snippets were definitions of the term, we don’t believe that there will be a widespread negative loss of snippets at this point.
Product Knowledge Graphs
The changes that certainly got those in the SEO community worried and confused have to do with the knowledge graphs for products.
The appearance of a knowledge graph defining a product caused many to wonder if Google was losing the “intent” of the user searching term. How many users that search the term “HDMI cable” do you think are looking for the definition of the product?
Regardless of whether you were seeking the definition, shopping deals, videos about, or manufacturers of the product, the definition is currently firmly planted on the SERP. While this may seem unnecessary, it does also make sense, seeing as how there is usually a Wikipedia definition within the organic search results for most searchable terms.
This change simply takes the wiki out of the organic search results – which, in many cases, means the Wikipedia article wasn’t a helpful search result and took up one of the precious few first-page positions.
How Granular Will Knowledge Graphs for Terms Go?
General terms that generate a knowledge graph may be bothersome for a few users, but we can see how having one makes sense in most cases. The remaining question is how deep and detailed will Google go with the knowledge graph?
And, will having knowledge graphs for the most detailed search terms cause negative effects for SEO strategists and businesses targeting those terms? At what point is a search detailed enough to not need a definition?
Once this line has been drawn, we can understand better how this will warrant changes to one’s SEO strategy – if changes are even needed.
Until we know more about how far these changes will stretch, I think it is too early to be making long-term strategy changes. However, if your SEO campaign relied heavily on traffic coming in from the definition of certain terms, I would say that this type of strategy was on its way out anyway.
In the meantime, the best way to protect your SEO strategy from being heavily impacted by across-the-board changes like this is to have a diverse strategy. Don’t put all your keyword portfolio eggs in one basket: Focus on long-tail keywords, go after low-hanging-fruit opportunities, and don’t let your strategy get stale.