Google's Knowledge Graph 101: How You Can Join the Internet of Things

Thu Dec 19, 2013

Google’s Knowledge Graph has fundamentally changed the way Google search works by making it work a little more like a human mind than a computer. This is an overview of what it is, how it works, and how to help your information become part of it.

What is Google’s Knowledge Graph?

The dominant position in search that Google has earned is a result of its powerful search algorithm, one that is constantly being refined and improved by a small army of developers. In the earliest days of search, the results you got were dependent on how closely the available indexed web content resembled your specific search query. You might remember using AND or NOT to help filter the results, and occasionally still use quotes to emphasize that you want Google to look up a specific phrase, not just the words in your query jumbled in any old order.

Even as the algorithm got smarter, it was still somewhat limited by thinking in what programmers call “strings.” A string is merely a series of alphanumeric characters: a name, a zip code, the title of your favorite book. A string is still somewhat constrained to specific matches, and therefore limited in the information it can yield as search results. With the Knowledge graph, Google wanted to teach its algorithm to see things instead of strings.

The things that exist physically (like bicycles) and ephemerally (like happiness) are connected to other things through complex relationships. The purpose of Google’s Knowledge Graph is to map those relationships among things in a way that provides context for each search, making it easier to understand the intention behind your search, deliver more relevant and related results, and shorten the distance between the implied question in your search and the right answer.

How does Knowledge Graph work?

hamburger-result.pngIf you’ve seen the side panel that sometimes appears to the right of your results with images and related content, you have seen the Knowledge Graph at work. Searching for the word “hamburger” produces a side panel with mouth-watering burger photos as well as nutrition information for your average burger. If you search for “Costa Rica,” the side panel displays photos, basic geographical information, and includes links to results for top tourist destinations in Costa Rica. So what’s happening here?

costa-rica-result.pngBeyond mapping relationships among “things,” which would allow Google to understand that Corcovado National Park is a point of interest in Costa Rica, Google also uses previous searches and user behavior to produce enhanced results that would be most useful and relevant. If searching for “hamburger” produces nutritional data, that suggests users often drill down in results to find that information, teaching the Knowledge Graph to serve it up. The same is true for the Costa Rica result: information such as the flag, national language, and map of a country are often included in a search query or follow it up, and based on that observation, Google can include the information without the user having to dig through the full list of search results.

But things get even more interesting. Mapping relationships and choosing results could still be a game of strings, but the Knowledge Graph actually allows Google to understand data. The result is the ability to not just serve up results, but to answer questions.

For example, we asked Google “how old is Madonna?”

madonna-age.png

Although we got the usual side panel with a brief bio, photos, and links to her recent recordings, we also got a straightforward answer.

Google is actually calculating a value based on data, including Madonna’s birth date and the date of your search. Related results are also returned just in case you were interested in other female pop stars. The Knowledge Graph “anticipates” similar questions, and identifies data types that answer selected kinds of queries.

Where does Knowledge Graph information come from?

How does Google know what it knows? The Knowledge Graph has the ability to learn about connections between bits of information, but its foundation is built on four things:

1. Freebase.com
Free and open online relational database that provided the early framework for how various things on the graph are connected.

2. Wikipedia.org
Most of the information associated with a side panel in the search results will be sourced from Wikipedia. Not having an entry that is up to date and accurate will be seriously detrimental to your Knowledge Graph efforts.

3. Google+
As Tommy Redmond of Moz.com pointed out, Google+ dominated the results for top brands. Out of the 100 he searched for, only 24% triggered a Knowledge Graph result. Out of those, 92% had results sourced from their Google+ page.

4. Structured Data
You’ve probably noticed that depending on what comes up in the side panel of Google search, you get different information. With a movie, you might see ratings, while a search for a musician might lead to audio files of his songs. This abbreviated key information is known as rich snippets, and these snippets are pulled from information tagged with structured data markup that identifies it as specific information types: articles, videos, people, and so on. The data lives in your page’s HTML as tags for specific elements.

How do I use the Knowledge Graph?

Getting Google to do your bidding is the goal of many marketers and the promise behind many businesses, and not just SEOs. While we’re constantly trying to better understand Google’s algorithm changes, the value of keywords, and authorship and author rank, seeing results often takes time and leaves marketers frustrated with the lack of immediacy.

The good news is, research, patience, and consistency will pay off in the long term. Here’s what you can do to help the Knowledge Graph see and learn your information.

Own and update your entries on Freebase and Wikipedia
Go to freebase.com and sign up for an editor account. Anyone can edit this information, just like Wikipedia, but not everyone will feel compelled to check on the accuracy and completeness of your data, so there might be a lot of holes for you to fill. On Wikipedia, make sure you provide linked citations for everything you add or change.

Claim all your Google properties including Google+ and local business page
In fact, claim your YouTube account, and make sure that you associate any available Google tool with your organization and website. Verifying ownership of your online properties will allow you to keep information accurate and consistent. Your Google+ page or profile is also one of the first places Knowledge Graph will grab information for the side panel.

Use structured markup to make relevant data visible to Google
If you haven’t yet, sign up for a Google Webmaster Tools account and make sure you claim your website. The fastest way to get started with structured markup is to use the structured data testing tool and data highlighter and watch the provided videos and tutorials, all of which are available through Google Webmaster Tools. This will show you where in your pages there are opportunities for adding structured data tags.

There are several markup standards (Twitter has one for its cards, for example), but Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, and Yandex have been collaborating to develop a standard markup vocabulary that will be recognized by their search engines. The repository is at schema.org, where the existing item types and attributes (such as a blog post, its author, publish date, etc.) are listed.

Fix errors where you find them
cinderella-result.pngIf searching for your organization triggers Knowledge Graph results that are incorrect, use the built in correcting feature to tell Google which of the results is wrong or inappropriate, and send a link to information that substantiates your correction.

Think relationships when creating content
Google’s Knowledge Graph shouldn’t completely change how you produce your content, but it should teach you to think about how you might tag and structure some items differently, and whether how you present information now is helping it get to a user faster.

For example, on a page dedicated to your product, do you clearly state the name of your company, product, as well as price and customer rating? If these items are present, they should be tagged with structured markup. If you have a great headline talking about your product, but the official product name isn’t actually on the page, Google can’t see it.

Putting your visitors first is still the best policy

Knowledge Graph is another attempt by Google to make information more accessible to those seeking it. Following the steps outlined above is good for SEO, and good for helping you register on the Knowledge Graph, but only because findability and information transparency is good for the end user.

Think of how to best structure the information you provide to help website visitors, and Google will reward that behavior.

Karo Kilfeather, content marketing manager at Percussion Software
Karo Kilfeather
Content Marketing Manager | Percussion Software

Karo was born in Poland, and learned to speak English by watching "Saved by the Bell" reruns during her first summer in the U.S., which has left her unable to go through life without occasionally breaking the fourth wall. As Percussion's content marketing manager, she oversees and creates content that drives website traffic, engages followers, and helps fill the marketing and sales funnel. She writes about content management, content marketing, SEO, social media and web design, and how to make it all less complicated.

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