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Knowledge Graph Deep Dive: The Impact On SERPs, Adwords & Other Questions
Reading Dr. Pete’s epic post on 101 Knowledge Graph answer box queries, as well as his post on when the Knowledge Graph exploded, I was excited. Naturally, I jumped on my computer and tried out some Knowledge Graph (KG) searches of my own.
It didn’t take long for a string of questions to pop in my head: What kind of sites are showing up on search results with KG answer boxes? How do they differ from organic search results prior to the KG? What does this mean for websites trying to generate traffic through search? And, where are the Adwords ads?
With the goal of finding any answers (perhaps “patterns” is a better word) that would be helpful, I decided to dig into search queries that generate answer boxes to see if any trends emerge. As for which terms to focus on, I decided to reference Dr. Pete’s brilliant list (Thanks Dr. Pete!) and use the following straightforward data collection and analysis exercise:
- Capture all the page 1 search results for the 101 queries
- Compile a list of unique domains and evaluate
- Track which of the answer box searches return Adwords
Pretty straightforward. Out of this process I hoped to answer the above questions, as well as discover some new ones (smile). Following are my results and some summary observations. There aren’t really any big surprises, but in general I always find it helpful to dig in to get a direct sense of what’s happening on Google. Furthermore, guiding much of the analysis and observations are two constant questions in the back of my mind: How do the changes to Google help the user, and do they impact business sites trying to find customers via search?
Before jumping into the data, a word of caution about how the URLs were compiled. The results were conducted from August 26 to August 27, 2013, from a San Diego, CA-based ISP and using a Google account that was “signed out”. Knowing that everyone will see different search results based on location, account login, etc., my goal is to look at the macro trends. Hopefully this slice of data provides sufficient information to get an idea of what kind of sites are ranking, as well as whether Adwords is showing, and even answer other questions. To get more granular and specific data, we would need to compare multiple data segments across multiple criteria (see Moz’s latest update post on their 2013 Search Engine Ranking Factors – yep, another shout out to Moz!)
Okay, on to the questions and discoveries…
1. Is there a core list of domains that Google prefers over others?
The 101 queries resulted in approximately 1,017 organic listings. I included any listing that shows a URL and links directly to that URL (much like a “traditional” organic listing). This does not include “Images for”, “News for”, etc. With typically 10 organic results per page, I was expecting around 1,010 (or, 101 x 10). Given all the recent changes to the Google SERPs, 1,017 makes sense as some queries resulted in more than 10 URLs while others resulted in fewer.
After sorting through the 1,017 URLs, there were 598 unique domains (including sub-domains). This indicates that 59% of the ranking URLs came from the 598 domains. Of those domains, Wikipedia.org had the highest representation with 81 ranking URLs (or 7.96%), while Ask.com had 48 URLs (or 4.72%) and Wiki.answers came in third with 32 URLs (or 3.15%). Following are the top 20 domains by number of ranking URLs:
It’s not surprising which are the top sites. Similar to the long tail search chart, the distribution of these URLs reveals that the top 5 domains represent approximately 21% of the URLs on page 1 search results, while the remaining 79% of URLs come from the other 593 unique domains.
Looking at this another way, compare the number of ranking URLs per domain to the number of unique domains. The chart below illustrates how there are several unique domains that generate 81, 48 unique URLs (and so on), and there are 484 unique domains that have only 1 URL (per domain) on the page 1 search results.
In summary, this simple data set indicates that Google may have its “go-to” pool of authority sites, but it is still including a wide range of sites in the search results. Furthermore, I’ll hazard that the results (below the answer box) are pretty much the same as before the answer boxes started appearing. As such, it stands to reason that the factors influencing these URLs’ rankings are attributable less the Knowledge Graph and more to Google’s search algorithm (again, see Moz’s 2013 Search Engine Ranking Factors for more insights on what’s driving rankings).
2. Does the make-up of ranking URLs change significantly based on the nature of the search query?
Above we looked at the search results across all 101 queries. Now, let’s see how those results change based on the nature of the keyword query. Dr. Pete organized his queries into 8 basic groups: (I) People & Relationships, (II) Athletes & Sports, (III) Landmarks & Places, (IV) Conversions & Calculations, (V) Dates & Times, (VI) Movies, Media & More, (VII) Companies & Brands and (VIII) Miscellaneous (which includes some airline searches).
I list the top ranking Domains and URLs, as well as what percent of all page-1 ranking URLs they represent. I won’t comment on each individually as it’s immediately clear that the top 5 Domains tend to come from the same set of large content sites (e.g., Wikipedia, Youtube, Aski.com, HuffingtonPost.com, etc.); likewise, they represent 20%-25% of the ranking URLs. While this could be fodder for saying that “big sites” dominate, in actuality 75%-80% of the remaining page-1 ranking URLs are from a wide range of sites, including smaller and niche ones.
(I) People & Relationships
|Keywords used in Dr. Pete’s post:|
|Is Justin Timberlake married||Ben Stiller's dad||Jerry Stiller's kids||How tall was Abraham Lincoln|
|How old is Mickey Mouse||Walt Disney's birthday||Jesus birthday||Genghis Khan death|
|Gandhi assassination||Chaucer buried||Justin Timberlake job||Conan O'Brien education|
|Paul Hogan nationality||Fun singer||Gandhi Bacon number||How much does Beckham make|
(II) Athletes & Sports
|How old is Bryan Adams||Kobe Bryant's number||>Peyton Manning's team||Where is Tiger|
|Cubs score||NL Central standings||Cubs schedule||Where do the Yankees play|
|How many seats at Yankee stadium||Stanley Cup champion||NHL Stanley Cup||Tournament brackets|
(III) Landmarks & Places
|Who built Wrigley Field||Size of Chicago||Capital of Washington||Canadian Prime Minister|
|When was the Empire State Building built||Chicago unemployment rate||Washington state flower||Mexico dialing code|
|How tall is the Space Needle||Seattle weather||Washington state bird||How big is the Pacific Ocean|
|How many floors is the Sears Tower||Seattle Mayor||Canada languages||How old is the world|
|Population of Chicago||Washington Governor||Canadian currency||Radius of Saturn|
|How far to Seattle||Who discovered Neptune||How far is Saturn from the sun||How far is Saturn|
(IV) Conversions & Calculations
|How big is an acre||How many millimeters in a cubit||What is the speed of light||sin(x)|
|70 Fahrenheit to Celsius||Bits in a terabyte||7 * 6||sin(x)+cos(y)|
|5 years in hours||Dollars to Euros||Answer to life the universe and everything||How many calories in a taco|
(V) Dates & Times
|When is Thanksgiving||Mothers Day 2020||Time||Timer 5 minutes|
|When was Hanukkah||Fall Equinox||Sunrise Seattle||Length of Martian day|
(VI) Movies, Media & More
|When was Star Wars released||Rocky writer||Super Friends final episode||Harry Potter author|
|Who directed The 300||James Bond movies||Sunny in Philadelphia network||Grand Theft Auto 5 release|
|The 300 sequel||Narnia movie list||Greatest American Hero theme song||Wicked composer|
|The Dark Knight rating||When did The Simpsons debut||Honey Boo Boo genre|
(VII) Companies & Brands
|Amazon stock||When was Microsoft founded||Amazon founder||Samsung headquarters|
|Best Buy customer service|
|UA 241||Search in mandarin||Cancer treatment||How fast is an F-22 Raptor|
|Flights to Seattle||Mono symptoms||Poison control||Boeing 787 engine|
3. Are news and content sites favored over shopping sites, or vice versa?
Organizing the ranking domains by type of site (e.g., Content, News, Social, Ecommerce), it’s not surprising that the majority of ranking URLs are from Content and News sites. In fact, these two combined represent 70%-80% all of page-1 ranking URLs. I found that to be a very substantial figure, especially when considering that ecommerce URLs represented under 5%. This was intriguing to me as many of the queries appeared to have the potential for products (such as “mickey mouse”, “the simpsons”, “dark knight”, “Yankees”, etc.). Granted, the queries are question-related and not necessarily talking about products, so perhaps Google really is getting better at giving us searchers what we’re looking for?
4. How does Adwords fare with the presence of answer boxes?
This is where the results got much more interesting. In short, out of 101 queries (remember: all of which produce an answer box), I was able to generate sponsored ads (Adwords) on only two of the search queries: “flights to seattle” and “cancer treatment”. I found this very intriguing as many of the queries (like James Bond movies, sunrise seattle, etc.) seemed like they would generate broad match sponsored ads.
To confirm whether any of these queries have generated sponsored ads in the past, I checked each using SEMrush for any US-based Adwords history. Turns out that of the 101 search queries, 65% have an Adwords history versus the 3% that currently show sponsored ads.
In summary, while nearly all of these search queries did not result in showing sponsored ads, I think that Google will start incorporating Adwords into search the results as it gets more data from how users interact with the answer box. We all know that Adwords is Google’s bread and butter, so while it seems that Google is experimenting with new ways to keep people on Google longer, it behoves Google to incorporate Adwords (or some sponsored search product) into the Knowledge Graph results. Definitely to be continued.
5. Is the answer box just another way for Google to keep the user on Google?
I think the short answer here is “yes”. Again, Google’s primary revenue is from Adwords. Matt Cutts heralds the “user experience” as the driving force behind Google algorithmic updates. Google has every reason to keep the user fully engaged, particularly with the “engagement-competition” from Facebook, Amazon, mobile apps and other dominant channels. As I mentioned above, even though Adwords on KG answer box results are few today, I anticipate seeing a calculated introduction of sponsored ads and other paid Google products (like shopping, flights, car rentals, etc.) in the near future.
In closing, I have not addressed how this impacts the user and marketers. While it’s evident that smaller and niche sites still have the ability to rank organically, even with Knowledge Graph results, the impact on the user of answer boxes, carousels and other KG results has yet to be quantified. In other words, even if a site ranks, will the user even make it past the answer box to see what sites are ranking below? This also leads to the subsequent consideration of what sites drive KG results and what’s the likelihood of a website to be among them (again, see Dr. Pete’s discussion on this).
For now, all data aside, enjoy the Knowledge Graph. It’s a lot of fun!