Knowledge Graph SEO: Can You Optimize These Special Google SERPS?

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Razvan Gavrilas
Razvan Gavrilas
Knowledge Graph SEO: Can You Optimize These Special Google SERPS?

Human behavior flows from three main sources: Desire, emotion, and knowledge. And Google seems to know this better than anyone. What made the difference between Google and other now left behind search engines was its ability to produce highly relevant results and the constant attention directed to the user’s needs and desires.

With the new Knowledge Graph technology, Google redesigns the world of search by trying not only to understand its users but also to anticipate their wishes.

What is the Knowledge Graph?

Wouldn’t it be great if Google could “understand” YOU? The words you use aren’t just words … they are entities and they refer to real things in the world.

Actually, this is possible as Google takes the concept of the traditional search engine and turns it into a knowledge engine that provides users with smarter and more relational search results. The Knowledge Graph might be one of the most revolutionary technologies used in the search industry so far. The search engine is not just a device that generates results based on specific words anymore. The search engine is now an entity that tries to understand the real-life context and concepts in order to connect the “dots”.

The Knowledge Graph is built on the Freebase graph model. The Freebase company was acquired by Google in 2010. The Freebase data remains open source, as it was before Google acquired the company. Yet, currently Freebase is closing down and merging to Wikipedia. Google launched the Knowledge Graph in May 2012 with a base of 3.5 billion facts connected up to 500 million entities. As of December 2012 the knowledge base had grown to include 570 million entities with 18 billion facts connected to them. Today, Google can recognize three times as many queries as it used to when it initially launched the knowledge graph.

This is quite an impressive demonstration of what a semantic search engine with structured data can bring to the everyday user.

How does the Knowledge Graph actually work? Let’s say you want to find information about Robert Downey Jr. Google recognizes the query related to Downey Jr. in its knowledge base and generates a panel on the right of the search results page presenting information about the actor, including images, important facts, and related searches, with links to explore the subject further. Where is this information coming from? It is a mixture between information that other users found useful and the information on the knowledge graph. Information is flexible and under continuous change so if there is a problem with the generated data, you can click on the feedback button, report a problem and the information will be modified correctly not only in Google’s database but also on Wikipedia.

Is the Google Hummingbird Update the Same as the Knowledge Graph?

The answer to this question is simple: No!

Google Hummingbird is not the same as the Knowledge Graph but the two concepts are highly interconnected.

To celebrate their 15th birthday, Google launched “Hummingbird”, the initial Google algorithm re-written and ready to be more easily expanded, claiming that Google search can be a more humane way to interact with its users and provide a more direct answer. Much buzz was made around this issue as it is said to be the biggest change Google made in the last 10 years.

The Google Knowledge Graph is a part of the Hummingbird algorithm, a system that the big G uses to understand facts about people, places and things and how these concepts are all connected.

Let’s take FC Barcelona for instance. I won’t say whether it is or isn’t the world’s best soccer team as I don’t want to cause a stir. I will say though that Lionel Messi is considered to be one of the most important players on the team as he brings a lot of added value to the sport club he plays at.

We can think of Google’s update in the same terms. Google’s Hummingbird is this big great soccer team while the Knowledge Graph is one of the best players on the team. Are they interconnected and representative of one another? Of course they are! Are the two of them the same concept? No, they are not, they are two independent entities.

How Does the Knowledge Graph Impact SEO?

While the Knowledge Graph seems like such a user-friendly feature for users, helping them find information easier and faster, it’s interesting to see the webmasters POV on the problem. In order to figure this out I took as an example the search query “Beyoncé”. I know you’re probably tempted to dance in your chair now but let’s see what “moves” the pop diva has in terms of the Knowledge Graph and SEO.

Knowledge Graph for BeyonceScreenshot taken of on 07/05/2014

As we look at the snapshot above, we can see that Google seems to be relying more on the major data sources it collaborates with. We can see that the number one website on the list of results is Wikipedia, followed by a section with Beyoncé news and only after that do we find the diva’s official website. “Where is the problem in that?” you might ask. Well, there are two direct consequences deriving from this:

First of all, if we take a look at Beyoncé’s official website, we can see that there’s more there than some facts about her career or personal life. There are several call-to-action buttons, such as “buy the album”, see the “tour” or “shop”, that cannot be found on Beyoncé’s Wikipedia page or in the panel presented to the right of the search results. And if a searcher can reap the information needed from the knowledge graph, he will probably not enter the pop star’s official site, and thereby he will not be exposed to the call to action buttons. This way, the chances of converting that user into a buyer will seriously decrease.


Second, on the knowledge graph panel, the main competitors show up as “people also search for.” I don’t think that Beyonce is very happy when the user is redirected to Rihanna straight from her knowledge graph.

Furthermore, if the official website is not the first site listed on the page result, the user is less likely to click on it. This way, the webpage in question will suffer a reduction in clicks which will probably affect the website’s ranking overall.

So, do we need to change our approach to SEO from now on? How should a website address this issue and manage to remain competitive given the situation? The oldest trick in the book should remain: create content for humans and not for search engines. Still, even if you do that, the knowledge-graph will probably list a Wikipedia link and some of your competitors instead of your official website and brand. Thereby, let’s see how to best take advantage of the Knowledge Graph instead of fighting with it.

How to Take Advantage of the Knowledge Graph

1. Answer Questions

If we think about it, a search engine’s main job is to answer questions. Whether you need to know how to get rid of the fleas on your dog or find the nearest bike shop in your neighborhood, as a “searcher” you use a search engine when you need to find an answer.

The Knowledge Graph understood this need and is now focusing on answering the real question(s) and not just generating a list of websites that match some keywords. As Google is doing a great job of returning highly relevant and related content, websites should step up their game and do the same. When creating content, it is not enough anymore to stress some keywords in the hope that they will bring traffic.

Even if you think that this “how to” approach looks a bit shallow, using it properly doesn’t mean just adapting to the knowledge graph’s rules but also to your audience’s needs.

If you want to rank high in the SERPs with the new Google algorithm, you should consider using keywords such as “how to…”, “how do I…”, “who is…” or related in the title of your content. You have to head off your audience’s need and create question-based content.

Below is the list of results Google generated when I searched for “how can i learn to swim.” You can see that a highly related content was generated and not only text but also videos. The search engine gave me results based not only on the “swim” keyword but it closely matched my intent.

Knowledge Graph for SwimmScreenshot taken of on 07/05/2014

2. Better On-Site Structure

As I mentioned before, it became more and more about the context and the user’s intent. Which is great, but you shouldn’t lose sight of how your website should respond to these changes. A good start could be correctly targeting your audience. When you know exactly who your audience is and what exactly it wants and needs, you can structure the content on your site accordingly.

Moreover, in order to perform best in the Knowledge Graph you should take care of your site’s structure. For instance, map out the entire site to see which keywords should be used on different pages of the site. Besides, have a look at the names you’ve come up with for your sections and that the page(s) are relevant to the search queries the users have used. Knowing which keywords fit certain pages and a balanced structure of your pages and sections has always been important in terms of SEO. Still, the knowledge graph makes this features indispensable.

3. Think From the User’s Point of View

Google’s Knowledge Graph also means that people who are actually looking for your content are more likely to find it in the massive slush-pile that is the Internet.

SEO is no longer just a mixture of keywords which, when used in the right amount make the perfect recipe for success.

What matters now is understanding the way your audience finds certain information and what other information related to the search they might be looking for. The panel that appears on the right of the search can give you an insight about what is relevant on that topic but also on what users’ subsequent searches could be, based on the recommendations made by Google.

Let’s take the television series Games of Thrones, for example. If you are looking for the TV show because you want to find out more about an actor in the show, the natural next search will probably be the actor’s name. If, for instance, one website uses the name of the show as well as the actor’s name as keywords, that site can receive traffic both from the users who looked for the show, who may be advised to search for the actor, and from the people looking for the actor, who may be recommended to search the show.


The future of search is here. Today. Right now. As Ben Gomes, a Google engineer mentioned, Google is switching “from strings to things” into something that understands and translates your words into the real-world entities you’re talking about. It’s highly important to take advantage of the Knowledge Graph, as a user, as a webmaster, and as an SEO expert.

You really need to understand what the Knowledge Graph is doing for the search industry and take full advantage of this futuristic feature.

While the Knowledge Graph might seem, on the surface, to be just a Wikipedia widget, what it is actually about are the interconnections between several entities and concepts. Google can intuitively perceive what you are really trying to find.

As Google spokesperson Jason Freidenfelds mentioned, “You might be interested in Albert Einstein because of his work in physics, or because of his peace activism – we sometimes have to put Einstein in the same bucket as Gandhi. We’re not trying to tell you what’s important about Einstein – we’re trying to tell you about what humanity is looking for when they search.”

The knowledge graph gives SEO a new vibe and a fresher approach of its tactics. However, it’s hard to say what this means for optimization and, in the end, only time will tell how Google’s Knowledge Graph will impact the SEO tactics. Until then, the best thing we can all do is take full advantage of the Knowledge Graph, with all the “goodies” it brings.


Featured Image: amasterphotographer via Shutterstock

Razvan Gavrilas

Razvan Gavrilas

Razvan is the Founder and Chief Architect of cognitiveSEO, an SEO Toolset focused on in-depth analysis of ranking signals. His ... [Read full bio]