We recently noticed that Google Australia is showing much more information-rich search results for certain searches than we’ve ever seen. We’re not seeing this type of result in US searches. Could this be a peek at future, more widespread Google results?
Update: 5/16/12 Google has given the sidebar a name — Knowledge Graph — and has officially announced it in this YouTube video. Universal roll-out is likely imminent at this time.
We don’t know how long this feature has been in testing mode, and not everyone on our staff was able to trigger these results. Here are some examples:
A search for “the walking dead” results in a detail-rich sidebar, with cast, episodes, and more.
A search for “apple fruit” results in a sidebar containing scientific details.
(Admittedly, we’re giving the search engine a lot of context here. A search for just “apple” results in both Apple stores as well as some details about the fruit.)
A search for “Iron and Wine,” the name of a singer/songwriter, results in a list of songs.
Why Is This Important?
We think it’s worth watching as a possible indicator of future semantic/information-rich results on Google.com and worldwide. It’s been reported in The Wall Street Journal that, over the next several months, Google will be adding more facts to prominent positions in search results in addition to standard links. Mashable discussed this evolution, too, describing a the development of a resource called Google’s “knowledge graph.”
This Isn’t New, Just Bigger
Google behaving as an “answer engine” is not new. Currently, for example, if you search Google.com for “what is mitosis” you will see a definition, provided by Google, above the regular search results.
Similarly, if you search for “men in black 3 release date” you will see Google’s best guess for the movie release date, based on several sources.
But there’s a big difference between these definitions and the big semantic sidebar we’re seeing in Australian results. This is the first we’ve seen something so extensive.
What’s Driving These Semantic Sidebars?
The results are coming from a mix of sites, and the links within the sidebars go to various websites as well as Google search results. For example, if you click on a movie poster, you may go to a site such as freemovieposters.net, but if you click on the cast image, you may be taken to a Google search result for the actor name.
What Google does to gather this information is crawl websites and look for data that it can understand. This doesn’t always involve semantic tagging (such as schema.org microformatting) but semantic tagging would certainly make it easier for Google.
We tried to find a clear connection among the sites chosen for inclusion in the sidebar, but so far we haven’t identified one. The image results in the sidebar are not the top ranking Google image results, and we see no evidence that the featured sites are collectively using semantic markup such as Schema microformatting.
What Does This Mean for Site Owners?
If what we’re seeing on Google.com.au is a harbinger of a more widespread Google search result, site owners may feel a pinch in their click-through-rates. We believe Google’s goal in adding more semantic answers in its results is primarily to keep searchers on Google; you might say that Google is eliminating the need for searchers to click away from Google.
Some site owners have expressed concern about this as a growing trend for Google to steer visitors to its own properties, and we share this concern. There’s not much we can do but roll with these changes. But now we may have a new featured spot to vie for: how to get sites featured in these semantic sidebars is likely to be a topic of much research and speculation.