Back in 2012, Google rolled out a new feature in search that produced more ‘knowledgeable’ results for any given search query. Moving away from simply linking keywords in a search query to words on a webpage, Google now uses semantic search capabilities and produces results that are based on previous queries from other users and uses factual data to predict what the searcher is looking for. This feature, known as the Google Knowledge Graph, while, with some skepticism on accuracy, pulls data from notable websites (such as Wikipedia) and provides possibly noteworthy information directly on the SERP. It has been thought to lessen click through rates for organic search results due to the fact that the info that had previously been found by clicking through a result link, now organically shows up on the SERP.
Spinning off of this, Google recently implemented a test for a new feature, which could potentially lessen click through rates in organic search even more. Next to the link in a specific organic result, a pop-up link, fueled by the Knowledge Graph, will provide information about that site. This feature is intended to provide searchers with quick information about the site – whether the info on the site is what they are looking for or if it’s a credible site in the first place, and then in turn, tempt them to click or to pursue a different search result all together.
For example, in the screen shot above of the query ‘seattle seahawks’, you can see the Knowledge Graph doing work with the panel of information shown on the top right with different stats, news articles and player names. You can also see that in the organic search results, an extra pop-up to the right of the URL and the information it displays. I noticed that the majority of this information is pulled from Wikipedia, which, as most people know, is data editable by the public. That in itself has posed controversies for Google’s Knowledge Graph: Examples Here. That being said, can searchers trust the data provided in the pop-up, and if they do, is this information potentially driving clicks away? Some SEO professionals and website owners see this as a problem. Website owners can’t control what info is given in the pop-up for their site’s link. This poses a potential problem in that website owners are losing the capability of controlling the info they’d like to show users in order to drive a click to their site.
Also, not every site will have this pop-up feature. Only websites Google deems as being notable will have one. What does this mean for all of the other websites? Will people be less trustworthy of those sites? Will they be less apt to click through on those websites’ links?
In these pop-up information blurbs also lives links to other sites – Wikipedia for instance, but also to Google+ pages for those sites. More aspects that could potentially drive users to click away from the actual website shown in the result.
What does this mean for search and SEO? Could this new feature impact the control of website owners so much that certain website see a significant decline in CTRs? Will people stop searching further than just the results page now that we are seeing even more information immediately on the SERP?
To me, I don’t think these pop-ups will produce much threat to organic search as a whole. I think most people won’t even notice that there is another source of information there. People seem to be so used to clicking on the blue link that the small, grey-text icon won’t stand out to the everyday searcher.
Google seems to be always changing, always updating some feature. I don’t think this simple change will impact peoples’ search habits so much that they start changing the way they search, such as checking the credibility of the site before clicking through on the link. It is such a small change that I doubt it will make much impact. Maybe even so much so that Google doesn’t even make it a permanent feature after this test. It will be interesting to see how our SEO clients are affected by this test, if at all.