Google Makes Major Shift on Search Results Pages

You may not have noticed it, but Google made a major change to the way it displays search results.  Google recently removed all pay-per-click ads from the right side of it’s search results pages.  After more than ten years of Adwords pay-per-click results taking up both the top 1-3 spots and the entire right column being a long list of ads, this is a significant shift in how Google is going to provide “answers” to search queries.So why did Google remove a major source of revenue on the right column of its search results?  The answer is almost certainly a result of testing and monetization.  Google thinks it can provide a better user experience, and make more money, by using that space more wisely.  But what is going to go there?  To learn where Google is going, you have to be fully immersed in the world of all things Google.  Luckily for you, that’s pretty much all we do. 🙂

Over the past few months, the team at VenturaU (and also Ventura Web Design) has noticed that there are many queries that bring up a special box called a Knowledge Panel on the right with relevant info about your search.  While the knowledge box itself is not new, how it displays specific information about medical searches is very interesting.  Look at the results for “hay fever”:

You can now learn about symptoms and treatments directly on the search results page, without leaving Google.  This content includes information from medical doctors about how common a condition is, whether it’s critical or contagious, typically affected age group(s), and more.  The knowledge box includes tabs for an Overview, Symptoms, and Treatments for that ailment.
The information comes from a variety of sources, including the NIH, CDC, FDA, WHO, and more.  Google has also partnered with organizations such as the Mayo Clinic, Apollo Hospitals, Lumiata, and VoxHealth.  The source of the information in the past was quoted very prominently and the goal of Google was to help you go from Google Search Results to the website with the answer to your query.  As you can see from the search result image above, that “goal” seems to have changed.

Even the knowledge box is styled and looks nothing like any other knowledge boxes.  Google commissioned illustrations from licensed medical illustrators for use here.  The colors and attention-grabbing layout differs greatly from what Google has provided in the past.

This is a major shift in Google’s philosophy.  This layout shows the direction Google is heading: to a more display driven layout, rather than its historically text only layout.  Remember when Google’s single goal was to get you OFF of their website and on to what you’re seeking?  Google is now answering a question without linking away.  But more importantly, Google is now in the content creation business.  This is a major historic shift for the search leader.  Think about that for a moment.  Google is using the power of all the data it has access to, that you no longer have access to via Google Analytics, to guide its own decision making on content creation.

From the Google perspective, this new direction improves the user experience by providing “quality” answers even faster than before.  Google’s stated mission is to answer the question you have, before you’ve even fully typed the question in to the search box (instant search (link:https://support.google.com/websearch/answer/186645?hl=en).

The knowledge box is a function of Google’s Knowledge Graph, which launched in May 2012.  it’s used both by Google itself to improve search relevancy and also to present the knowledge boxes that provide facts about people, places and things alongside regular results. Google reports it has over 3.5 billion facts, including information about 500 million entities, including movies, museums, bodies of water, music, astronomical objects, buildings, sports, medical ailments, and more.  Similar to how Google uses a link graph to model how pages are interlinked to and which are relevant for searches, it uses the knowledge graph to determine relationships between entities and report facts about them.  If you currently have a knowledge graph card and want that information to change, you need to request a change from Google.  Here is the link for more information on changing knowledge graph cards. (link: https://support.google.com/websearch/answer/6325583?hl=en)

There is currently no mechanism to include yourself or your site as part of the Knowledge Graph.  If you run a blog all about movies, there isn’t a way to be listed as a suggested source for information.  Tagging information on your landing pages with rich snippets can be helpful in the long run, though it’s no guarantee of inclusion.  This is where good SEO efforts can help.  Your goal, as a website owner, is to have Google view your site as the leading authority of information on a particular topic.  If Google determines that your topic is popular enough, it may create Knowledge Cards and include a link to your site or information in that card.

In an interview with Search Engine Land, the Google’s Former Head of Search, Amit Singhal, noted that the facts come from publicly available sources like Wikipedia, the CIA World Factbook, and Google Books.  They also license data from other sources.  “Whenever we can get our hands on structured data, we add it,” said Singhal.  This is incredibly important to online store owners, as Google has said for years that structured data is important to being able to categorize product listings and display them in a relevant way.  While knowledge boxes currently lack the ability to take action on most of their listings (you can learn about the Tower of London but there is no option to buy tickets to a tour), that functionality is coming.  Amit recently left Google to pursue philanthropic efforts.  (http://searchengineland.com/amit-singhal-the-head-of-google-search-to-leave…)
To make room for the knowledge box on selected queries, Google removed the ads on the right column.  While this will limit the amount of adspace available and possibly drive up the cost of adwords campaigns, the side and bottom ads never did amount for the majority of click volume.  According to a study of January 2016 desktop paid clicks by position, only 14.6% were from the side and bottom, so the change is not decreasing revenue by any appreciable amount, only ad impressions.
However, it does allow for more Google PLAs (Product Listing Ads) on the right column, which is a benefit for online stores that offer a product feed to Google Shopping.  Also, if users grow to depend on Google being an authority rather than merely a portal, PLAs will be more trusted and therefore effective.  Overall, this is a good move for Google, its users, and those that advertise on it.