Throughout 2014, there have been several changes in the world of SEO — from the always looming algorithm updates that massively affect the way search engine results rank and display, to adjustments to the more dynamic and intelligent features of search engine results pages (SERPs) that we have all come to know and appreciate since the advent of the Hummingbird algorithm, there have been some significant updates in 2014. Penguin 3.0. Panda 4.1. Pigeon. Yet, there have been some significant updates to the way in which search results display that welcome discussion, and can yield insight into the way in which Google and the behavior of its users will continue to evolve in the coming year.
Loco Local Search Results
It’s no secret that Pigeon was a pretty significant–and at times, even unexpected–change in the way in which businesses were forced to compete for local search and visibility on SERPs. What we saw from Pigeon was a concerted effort from Google to really qualify what constitutes a need for a local result. In Moz’s piece detailing advice from experts about Pigeon recovery, it becomes clear that Pigeon did several things all at once, much of which leaned heavily on the implicit data passed to Google during the search query, like location information and the device on which you are searching. The location information is especially important, as we saw Google restrict the geographic radius of local-pack search results, and also use implicit data to deliver local listings that are physically closer to the searcher. For those using explicit geographic information as part of their search strategy, this was a bit of a rude awakening as Google also restricted the types of queries and associated vocabulary that generated local listings, and presumably leaned heavily on user data to adjust the types of industries that see local listings rather than strictly organic search results. For example, searching for a restaurant may yield a local pack, while searching for available local real estate may not.
Pigeon was far from a picnic, though generally didn’t disrupt things too much. Search Engine Land even suggested that the best thing to do about Pigeon was generally to stay the course. However, this ushered in a larger conversation about the way in which Google was looking to change local results as a whole. Leveraging the Knowledge Graph, Google also looked at shifting ways to display local results in SERPs. The carousel is now being replaced by answer boxes that feature the same information, providing a more intuitive user experience and illuminating Google’s shifting point of view on the carousel’s UX.
A third major shift in local results was the formal introduction of the now re-named Google My Business, which was no small feat; Google Local, and the host of other names for local business results are now populated by Google My Business, entities that tie a businesses local platform’s local, social, brand sentiment, and content all together via Maps and Google+. This was a significant launch for Google, and should provide some significant advantages to ensuring we optimize local search.
Farewell to Freebase
Google’s knowledge graph continues to help illustrate some of the most sought after information for searchers directly on the SERP itself. While earlier iterations of its Knowledge Graph caused dips in organic traffic, robbing traffic to individual sites by quickly answering the user’s question from the search result, new iterations of the Knowledge Graph encourage further exploration and more detail than ever before. From answer boxes to extended data and related searches, Google’s commitment to making their SERPs smarter and more user-friendly remains steadfast.
Much of Google’s understanding about how particular entities are related to one another comes from Freebase, an open-source database that was heavily moderated and one to which many users continue to contribute. However, Google is moving its source of information and the structured data used to establish relationships from one entity to the next to Wikimedia’s Wikidata, and eventually phasing out the Freebase API. It’s unclear to see how this will affect how SERPs display information within the Knowledge Graph, but any time there are major shifts in open-source platforms, users can expect to see at least some variance with the ways in which new users behave.
Smarter Search Results Using In-Depth Answer Boxes
As Google gets smarter, users naturally expect a smarter search, and their engineers seem to have been hard at work preparing to deliver just that. An example of this that’s certainly been around for a while is the way in which Google displays definitions. Consider the following:
Leaning more heavily on structured data and relationships, Google is able to create a box that succinctly defines the word, yet looks far beyond the word’s definition into the etymology, history, and root of the word. Similarly, these extended relationships are appearing more frequently in answer boxes, including showing song lyrics that link directly to Google Play.
Google’s commitment to improving user experience caused two small, albeit significant, changes to the way in which they display certain types of search results. The search results now displaying an Answer Box or Carousel now contain breadcrumb navigations for secondary questions.
In Search Engine Land’s piece outlining this new feature, they use an example of a search query like [michael jordans children]. The resulting SERP has photos of his children in the carousel, and a bread crumbs for searches specific to Michael Jordan. This helps provide a better user experience for users seeking to understand the relationship between, people, places, and things of interest.
Similarly, Google worked to deliver the highest quality content to users no matter what device they were using. There are now small clues indicating when a site may be appropriate for a user to visit on a mobile device, which is a fantastic way to pre-qualify a site’s ability to compete. As user experience will always remain a sustainable ranking factor, Attaining these visits on the right device is paramount to keeping them there!
In a seemingly insignificant switch, Google started labeling search results with “Mobile-friendly” or in some instances, included an icon representing a mobile phone for mobile sites. This clearly shows the importance of having a seamless UX no matter what device a user may be using to access your site.
More than a Meta Description
The final thing I wanted to look at that delves into how Google is using structured data, the Knowledge Graph, and relationships between entities to better present data to the world is looking at the evolving structured snippets that appear at the bottom of search results. SERPs now display more structured data underneath each meta description, highlighting the importance of structured data and rich snippets to help better identify your business and corresponding information.
Google’s changes to the way in which data is presented on SERPs are significant, and definitely illustrate a commitment to structured data all based on an improved UX. This is by no means a comprehensive list, but just a short look at how relationships and entities are better infiltrating Google’s ability to address topics rather than just keyword-based queries. We are eager to see how these changes continue to evolve in the coming year!