Summary: Have you heard of the Google Knowledge Graph? How about it's latest feature, the "Carousel"? If not, read on to learn just what it's all about. Essentially the Carousel exists to provide searchers with an increased level of detailed information almost instantly and without ever having to click to an outside website. This can be great for the user, but many website owners should expect to see traffic dip as people get more information right from search results pages. It will take time to understand those impacts, but today we take a look today at how the Carousel actually changes the way we search as users.
By now you've probably heard about Google's knowledge graph, or at least experienced it while doing your own web browsing, but if not, here's what Google had to say about it when it first launched back in May:
The Knowledge Graph enables you to search for things, people or places that Google knows about—landmarks, celebrities, cities, sports teams, buildings, geographical features, movies, celestial objects, works of art and more—and instantly get information that’s relevant to your query. This is a critical first step towards building the next generation of search, which taps into the collective intelligence of the web and understands the world a bit more like people do.
Google’s Knowledge Graph isn’t just rooted in public sources such as Freebase, Wikipedia and the CIA World Factbook. It’s also augmented at a much larger scale—because we’re focused on comprehensive breadth and depth. It currently contains more than 500 million objects, as well as more than 3.5 billion facts about and relationships between these different objects. And it’s tuned based on what people search for, and what we find out on the web.
Knowledge Graph information appears to the right of standard Google search results and I think almost all of us have seen these types of results pages, even if we didn't realize it. If you're not clear on what these results pages look like, follow the links above to see some screenshots and watch Google's official video. (More info here as well). The fact that many people may not even notice the change is actually a positive - Google is trying to serve up information directly in search results and helping you drill down to deeper information if need be, but without cluttering up your screen in a disorganized or overwhelming way. Smart subtlety is key, but the end goal is to help users get from A-to-B, in terms of information they seek.
What is the Knowledge Graph Carousel?
While I strongly encourage you to read up on the Knowledge Graph in general, today I'd like to specifically examine a feature that was rolled out just recently, and is quite possibly still in beta testing - the Carousel. (I say it may be in beta testing because I saw it disappear a couple of weeks ago, only to return the following day). The Google Knowledge Graph Carousel, like the rest of the Knowledge Graph, uses Google's understanding of human search intent and attempts to serve up information that users are searching for, right in the search results. The Carousel focuses on when search intent seems to indicate the user might be best served by seeing a list of some kind. When Google detects this type of search, it displays a "carousel" of images/links across the masthead. When one is selected, the standard search results change to reflect the specific "thing" you selected and knowledge graph displays info for the specific list item. It's probably easier to show you, rather than try to explain it, so Google put together this video to better explain:
Why don't we take a look at some other examples. First, I searched "celtics players" (click to enlarge):
Google still shows the organic results you might expect when looking for the complete roster, but they also show the carousel because they think it's likely that you're looking for information on individual players. This would also be helpful if a user searched so generally simply because they couldn't remember a player's name, etc. In this carousel I clicked on Kevin Garnett, and as you can see in the screenshot it doesn't take away the carousel, it simply changes out the organic results and shows KG specific info in the knowledge graph area to the right. This is nice because if he wasn't the player I was looking for, I can still select another without having to click the back button on my browser. Very slick from a usability standpoint.
Google Knowledge Graph & Carousel on Mobile Devices
With mobile search representing an increasing portion of the search market share, you might be wondering how all of this added information looks on a mobile device? I only have an iPhone so that's what I used for the 3 screen shots below, but I can't imagine it looking that differently on Droid devices. Basically Below I've replicated the same result as in the screen shot above on iPhone through Safari, Chrome and the Google Search App:
Visually the only differences between the 3 browsers are how the tops and bottom of the screens look, but that's normal whether you're using multiple browsers on a PC or a mobile device. There are however a couple of minor things that distinguish the mobile version from the PC. First, the touch screen scrolling through the carousel, which shouldn't come as any surprise. The other small difference is that after you select an item, you're shown a smaller snapshot of Knowledge Graph info and it's directly above the search results. If you click/tap it, it slides you over to a sort of "temporary page" that contains the full knowledge graph entry you would see in PC search results.
Fun Fact: Google is smart enough to know you mean the same thing if you search "Celtics Roster", so you'll get the Carousel either way. (Okay, it's not that fun.... but it is a fact!)
A search for "theme parks in the united states" also produces the Carousel. Take a look at what the search results look like after I've performed that search and selected Disneyland:
This result actually struck me as a little surprising, because as far as I can tell, the Knowledge Graph is attempting to serve up "information", but seems to be trying to shy away from commercial interests in all other cases I'd previous run across. For example, local businesses (restaurants, plumbers, etc.) aren't displayed in the carousel. Instead, searches with local intent trigger the local pack we often talk about here (and increasingly, local organics). Google already has enough business owners complaining over ranking issues in those areas, why add another area where perceived favoritism becomes an issue?
As the name implies, the "Knowledge Graph" is there to supply information, which is another reason I thought they weren't including "businesses" in the carousel, but they clearly are in this example. Obviously it does a good job of providing information as well, but what about all of the other theme parks not shown in the carousel? You can scroll to the right, but it appears that the carousel only ever shows a maximum of 20 items. Who decides that those 20 are more "theme park-y" than the other dozens (hundreds?) of theme parks across the country? Where are Great Escape and Santa's Village?
Side Question: Despite some random overlapping, why are the "amusement parks in the united states" search results different from the "theme park" results? I understand the actual difference, but Google doesn't seem to be using that criteria.
Again, even though these theme parks are businesses, I can't fault Google because this is also the type of "information" vacationers would be looking for while doing research. Also, it's not as if the knowledge graph or carousel itself are linking to the official websites of these companies. They're simply showing more relevant search results and pulling in general data. But when then don't I get the Carousel when I search for "vermont ski resorts"? Wouldn't you consider that to be the same kind of search? The resorts may be "businesses", but this is also the type of search a tourist might do while researching a vacation and trying to determine what mountain they'd like to ski, which seems analogous to the theme/amusement park searches. It's probably the word "resort", right? Nope! Even a search for "vermont ski mountains" doesn't display the Carousel. But for some reason if you drop the word "ski" for the more simple search "vermont mountains", the Carousel is shown:
Again, it seems like they're trying to avoid appearing to favor specific ski resorts, which I would have expected - but that doesn't explain why they didn't have a problem displaying the Carousel for the theme park searches.
Try this one on for size... In Google's own video (above), they use the example of "female politicians":
One could argue that this isn't "fair" to other female politicians, but I suppose Google's argument would be that these are the most "talked about on the web".
Outrageous Outrage Note: No Carousel displayed for a "male politicians" search. Why has Google decided to wage this awful war on men!? They must be stopped!
Still, if this is all about "information" as it seems to be, why can we get a Carousel for "female politicians", but not for "presidents of the united states"?
Especially when they clearly have Knowledge Graph information on the POTUSs:
And in fact, if you click one of the "People also search for" image/name links, you're taken to a page that does have the Carousel. Trouble is, not everyone in it is was actually a President:
Just on the first visible section of the Carousel we see 4 non-presidents: Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, Martha Washington and Thomas Paine. (Resisting 4 Non Blondes, "What's Going On?" joke). Rounding out the other non-Prezzies in the scrollable portion of the carousel are Patrick Henry and Robert E. Lee. So what are we to make of this? Well, the key is in the upper left of the screenshot above, overlaying Washington's face - "People also searched for". It's the Amazon.com-ification ("Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought...") of your new search results page. In fact the layout of that section on Amazon product details pages, is essentially a "carousel" style too (note the scroll arrows on each end):
Rather than being on a product details page like on Amazon, the image which "People also search for" overlays, is the key to understanding the initial "root" search. So, it seems that the Carousel isn't always all about showing what the user considers "related", but what Google's own data on other users tells it is related. Essentially Google is considering multiple searches by individual users, but viewed in the aggregate, to determine what shows up in the Carousel. In fact, the same person/place/thing can how up in multiple Carousels, it all depends on how you wind up there. Sticking with that same example above ("People who also search for: George Washington") I scrolled to and selected Thomas Paine:
Notice that since we're already in what I'll call the "George Washington" Carousel when I selected Paine, we don't even see the option for "People also search for" in the main "Knowledge Graph" area to the right. That apparently is only shown at the point of the initial search. These means we're stuck in the "George Washington Carousel" lock-up and the Carousel isn't adjusted to reflect more "Thomas Paine" related options. But watch what happens if we do a brand new search for "Thomas Paine":
And we can click on any of those 5 "sample" people in the "People also search for" section. And while many of them are shared with the George Washington Carousel, you can see that John Locke is new, and if you select any of these 5, you're taken to a new 20 person carousel.
Again, there is some overlap from the "George Washington Carousel" in this "Thomas Paine Carousel", but many are different. In fact this is somewhat of an outlier in that it's not only showing historical figures from past centuries. Christopher Hitchens died less than a year ago. It's kind of odd seeing a modern photo in a thumbnail gallery of colonial era images, so it's hard to miss.
So, what have we learned about Google's new Knowledge Graph Carousel, today? Quite a bit, but as always Google keeps many secrets close to the vest to prevent spammers from trying to game the system. Still, the Carousel and the Knowledge graph in general seem to be so "instant information" focused and all about linking to more specific search results (rather than to outside websites), it seems Google thought this thing out and made it less prone to any sort of manipulation. This is also another argument they could use against criticism that will undoubtedly come with public figures, etc. complain that they didn't make the cut of 20 in certain Carousels.
I'm sure we're figure out more about how the Carousel works in the coming months and I wouldn't be surprised if it changes as Google gets more feedback, but we do know the following:
The Carousel is shown when Google thinks a list of items might best serve the user for informational searches. There's a lot of nuance when it comes to "informational" search intent, so its' not perfect, but it's quite impressive.
When searching specific individuals Google will often display 5 others in the knowledge graph area in a "People also search for" section. Clicking one brings up the full 20 person Carousel, however that Carousel is locked in until you initiate a new manual search. Essentially this related searches Carousel is different for each individual, even if they seem similar, but the key is the initiating search.
Interestingly, the Carousel and the Knowledge Graph areas are the areas where ads are generally featured, but it appears that this is an either or scenario. If there are ads or it's the type of search that seems likely to trigger ads ("resorts", etc.), then the knowledge graph isn't shown. It seems like there must be some somewhat tight rules about when the Carousel and Knowledge Graph in general will be used. After all, Google is still in business to make money, which David Mihm recently illustrated well with a screenshot showing how virtually all of the first fold is now "Google", and often largely ads. I'm sure Mihm would correctly point out that the Knowledge Graph is all Google too, but that's not always a bad thing. This is useful information, fast and free.
Please let us know about any interesting experiences you've had with the Knowledge Graph Carousel in the comments below.