Google Gives Answers To Life, Love, & The Universe
October 23rd, 2014 by
As you may or may not have noticed, prevalence of Google’s answer boxes among search results has increased dramatically. Google’s algorithm updates have always pushed the search engine to more closely mirror the human searchers, aiming to provide the best answer to each question. With the collection of Google’s Knowledge Graph (their personal database of information and the interconnectivity of ideas), they have announced their goal of transforming from an “Information Engine” to a “Knowledge Engine.”
From Google’s Knowledge Graph, a new item has emerged in search results: the answer box.
If you haven’t seen them (and have no idea what I am talking about), let me back up. According to Moz, Google now displays a direct answer in 3.5% of search results, as opposed to the standard 10-pack of results, sprinkled with some PPC ads.
These direct answer results have been around for well over a year (I found posts introducing them in August of 2013). However, answer boxes are being seen in 44% more search results after the rollout of Panda 4.1. So, more people are seeing them and more people are talking about them!
Answer Box 1.0
The first generation answer box was a Google SERP feature. These early answer boxes provided short, direct snippets of information that were concise and, ultimately, limiting. Below is a perfect example that still holds this early answer box format:
Dr. Peter J. Meyers provides 101 other examples of early answer boxes in this blog. Quickly scrolling through them, you’ll notice they all look pretty similar and pretty boring.
Answer Box Evolution
Over time, the answer box has drastically evolved. Google quickly realized that it could not index every possible answer to every possible question. Spoiler alert, Google doesn’t like to be limited. So, instead, Google used its vast index of the Internet to pull results from sites, creating a completely different answer box that looks more like:
This, however, can pose problems. Sometimes, Google pulls answers from long-outdated websites, which can provide an incorrect or inappropriate answer.
There are going to be instances where Google provides an insufficient or incorrect answer. When this happens, rejoice because even Google is imperfect. One example (and, yes, I’m being excruciatingly picky here) cropped up while I was doing research for one of our clients.
Initially, my reaction was “Cool, that’s some information that I could use,” but then I realized it wasn’t the information I was looking for.
Nice try Google. I was looking for how many people have heart disease, not how many people die from heart disease.
But, you’ll notice that there is this handy “Feedback” button at the bottom. Here, you can write a personal message to Google telling them to get their act together. Yes, you can be a part of the Google movement.
Other issues can occur when Google pulls from sites that are out-of-date. So be on the lookout, and when you find inaccuracies provide concise feedback, and be on your merry little way.
Other Answer Box Speciation
Population – This one is actually interactive and will show the population anywhere along the measured domain.
Etymology & Definition – As a copywriter, this is a personal favorite of mine. I imagine this will do wonders for future linguists and English majors as they can find definition and historical context, all in one search.
General Knowledge – What is a thing? Compare and contrast objects or see a specific object defined across a wide array of variables.
These are just a few examples of an infinite amount of possibilities and I expect Google to only further diversify its answer boxes as its Knowledge Graph continues to expand. However, you’ll notice that, in general, the newer answer boxes seem much more comprehensive, colorful, and engaging. It seems fairly certain the we will continue to see these answer boxes more often as Panda stays on patrol.
Why Now, Google?
Plain and simple: mobile search is on the rise. Mobile users already account for more than half of all site traffic. The percentages are even more staggering for social sites such as Facebook and Twitter. Google is in tune with the mobile trend.
The mobile searcher is a completely different animal than the traditional laptop user. Personally, when I am searching on my phone, I am looking for something very specific. That could mean any number of things — hours of operation, contact info, a trivial fact… The point is, I’m not in the mood to sift through a second layer to find that information. Google appeals to the mobile user in all of us with these answer boxes.
Also, Google’s answer boxes are another push for clear, concise, valuable information. Google is, afterall, a search engine. Users are searching for information. Google continually updates its algorithms to effectively provide the best possible information.
On its own site, Google says, “Get answers no matter where you search. Information from the Knowledge Graph is available on your desktop, tablet, and smartphone. So wherever you search on Google, you’ll find that answers and discovery are at your fingertips.”
What Does This Mean For Your Site?
In theory, if you’ve earned enough authority points from Google, your site could be a source included in the answer box. Unfortunately, unless you are the CDC or Times.com, this is highly unlikely for broad searches. To get pulled into more localized questions, there are things you can do to signal to Google, “Hey, this is an important piece of information.”
One such way is schema, which classifies bits of information so that it is easier for search engines to digest. You can learn loads more about schema here and in an upcoming blog post.
What kinds of answer boxes have you seen? Have you come across any issues with terrible (or terribly funny) Google answers? What do you think of them? Let us know!
Thanks to Tina Grimes for sharing the Star Wars mind trick gif.