With so many customization options in your Google My Business profile, it can be tough to decide what to focus on. But when it comes to ranking on the SERP, there are actually only four GMB fields that influence where your business will land.
In this brand new Whiteboard Friday, MozCon speaker and owner/founder of Sterling Sky, Joy Hawkins, takes us through the fields she and her team has found do (and do not) effect rankings.
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Hello, Moz fans. My name is Joy Hawkins, and today I’m going to be talking about which Google My Business fields impact ranking in the local pack. At my agency, Sterling Sky, we do a lot of testing to try and figure out what things actually influence ranking and what things do not.
We’ve come to the conclusion that there are only four things inside the Google My Business dashboard that a business owner or a marketing agency can edit that will have a direct influence on where they rank in the local results on Google.
1. Business name
So to start us out, I’m going to start with the first thing that we found has impacted ranking, which is the business name. Now this is one that’s kind of frustrating because I don’t think it should have so much of an influence, but it does.
This year in the local search ranking factors study I actually put this as my number one. Of all the things that influence ranking, this one, in my experience, has the most weight, which is again unfortunate. So as a business owner, obviously you’re thinking, “I can’t really change my business name very easily”. If you do happen to have a keyword rich business name, you will see an advantage there.
But the real action item would be to kind of look to see if your competitors are taking advantage of this by adding descriptive words into their business name and then submitting corrections to Google for it, because it is against the guidelines. So I’m not saying go out there and add a whole bunch of keywords to your business name on Google. Don’t do that. But you should keep an eye on your competitors just to see if they’re doing this, and if they are, you can report it to Google using the Google business complaint redressal form.
Now one thing that’s kind of a tip here — it has nothing to do with Google — but we’ve seen the same thing on Bing, which doesn’t get talked about a whole lot, but on Bing you’re actually allowed to have descriptors in your business name, so go ahead and do it there.
No impact: Q&A
Now I’m going to switch over to something that we found has not influenced ranking at all, which is Q&A. I kind of shoved it over to the section over there because it’s not actually in the dashboard currently. There isn’t a Q&A section in there, but it is on the knowledge panel on Google, and it is something that you should get an email alert about if somebody posts a question to your listing.
So we did a bunch of testing on Q&A and found, despite putting random keywords and very specific things in questions that we posted and also in the answers, there was no measurable impact on ranking.
So, unfortunately, that is not one area where you can kind of manipulate ranking for your clients.
Moving on to the second thing that we have found influences ranking — categories. Categories might sound kind of simple, because you go and you pick your categories.
There are 10 that you can add on there, but one thing I want to point out is that Google has around 4,000 categories currently, and they keep adding categories, and then they also sometimes remove them.
So we have been tracking this month over month, and we usually find that there are about two to 10 (on average) changes every month to the categories. Sometimes they add ones that didn’t exist before. For example, we found in the last year there have been a lot of restaurant categories added as well as auto dealer categories. But there are also some industries like dentists, for example, that got a new one a couple of months ago for dental implants.
So it is something that you want to kind of keep track of, and hopefully we will have a resource published soon where we can actually log all of the changes for you.
No impact: services
Now moving on to another thing that does not impact ranking, we’ll move over here to services.
So the services section — at first glance it looks like an SEO dream. You can put all kinds of descriptive words in there. You can tell Google a lot about the different services you offer.
But we have found that whatever you put there has no actual bearing on where you rank. So it’s not something I would spend a lot time on. Also, it’s not very visible. Currently it’s not really visible on desktop at all. Then if you go onto a mobile device, it’s kind of hidden off to a tab. It’s not something we have found really has a lot of weight, so spend a few minutes on it, but it’s not something I would revisit quite often.
Then moving back to the things that do impact ranking, number three would be the website field.
So this is something where you do want to kind of think and possibly even test what page on your website to link your Google My Business listing to. Often people link to the homepage, which is fine. But we have also found with multi-location businesses sometimes it is better to link to a location page.
So you do want to kind of test that out. If you’re a business that has lots of different listings — like you have departments or you have practitioner listings — you also want to try and make sure that you link those to different pages on your site, to kind of maximize your exposure and make sure that you’re just not trying to rank all the listings for the same thing, because that won’t happen. They’ll just get filtered. So that is a section that I would definitely suggest doing some testing on and see what works best for you and your industry.
No impact: products
Now moving on to something that we have found did not impact rankings — products.
So this is a feature that Google launched within I think about a year or so ago. It’s available on most listings. They are actually slowly rolling it out at the moment to all listings with the exception of a few categories that don’t have it. This section is kind of cool because it’s very visual.
If you’re a business that offers products or even if you offer services, you can technically list them in this section with photos. One of the neat things about the products section is that they are very visible on the knowledge panel on both desktop and on mobile. So it is something you want to fill out, but unfortunately we have found it doesn’t impact ranking. However, it does have an impact on conversions for certain industries.
So if you’re a business like a florist or a car dealer, it definitely makes sense to fill out that section and keep it up to date based on what products you’re currently offering.
Then moving back to the final thing that we found: number four for what influences ranking would be reviews (which is probably not going to be shocking to most of you). But we have found that review quantity does make an impact on ranking.
But that being said, we’ve also found that it has kind of diminishing returns. So for example, if you’re a business and you go from having no reviews to, let’s say, 20 or 30 reviews, you might start to see your business rank further away from your office, which is great. But if you go from, let’s say, 30 to 70, you may not see the same lift. So that’s something to kind of keep in mind.
But there are lots of reasons as a business, obviously, why you want to focus on reviews, and we do see that they actually have a direct impact on ranking.
There was an article that I wrote a couple of years ago that is still relevant, on Search Engine Land, that talks about the changes that I saw when a whole bunch of businesses lost reviews and just watching how their ranking actually dropped within a 24 to 48-hour period. So that is still true and still relevant, but it’s something that I would also keep in mind when you’re coming up with a strategy for your business.
So in summary, the four things that you need to remember that you can actually utilize inside Google My Business to influence your ranking: first is the business name, second would be the categories, third would be the website field, and finally the review section on Google.
Thanks for listening. If you have any questions, please hit me up in the comments.
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The poet Burns once observed that the best laid plans “gang aft agley.” At Moz, we were about to publish our State of Local SEO industry report, based on our local search marketing survey to which hundreds of you generously replied. Then the public health emergency unexpectedly arose, and we decided to pause in our planning.
The findings of the survey, as they currently stand, contain valuable and surprising insights which are as relevant today as they were pre-COVID-19. Yet, in order to reflect the substantial changes the local business community is currently weathering, we are reaching out to you with a timely additional request.
If you market local businesses in any capacity, whether in-house or for an agency, please take our quick, supplementary six-question survey. Your answers will help everyone gauge the impacts of the past few weeks on our industry, and hopefully help in planning for the future. We would be so grateful for just a few minutes of your time to be sure the final report reflects the full picture of local business marketing.
Google shook up the SEO world by announcing big changes to how publishers should mark nofollow links. The changes — while beneficial to help Google understand the web — nonetheless caused confusion and raised a number of questions. We’ve got the answers to many of your questions here.
14 years after its introduction, Google today announced significant changes to how they treat the “nofollow” link attribute. The big points:
Nofollow can now be specified with 3 different attributes — “nofollow”, “sponsored”, and “ugc” — each signifying a different meaning.
For ranking purposes, Google now treats each of the nofollow attributes as “hints” — meaning they likely won’t impact ranking, but Google may choose to ignore the directive and use nofollow links for rankings.
Google continues to ignore nofollow links for crawling and indexing purposes, but this strict behavior changes March 1, 2020, at which point Google begins treating nofollow attributes as “hints”, meaning they may choose to crawl them.
You can use the new attributes in combination with each other. For example, rel=”nofollow sponsored ugc” is valid.
Paid links must either use the nofollow or sponsored attribute (either alone or in combination.) Simply using “ugc” on paid links could presumably lead to a penalty.
Publishers don’t have to do anything. Google offers no incentive for changing, or punishment for not changing.
Publishers using nofollow to control crawling may need to reconsider their strategy.
Why did Google change nofollow?
Google wants to take back the link graph.
Google introduced the nofollow attribute in 2005 as a way for publishers to address comment spam and shady links from user-generated content (UGC). Linking to spam or low-quality sites could hurt you, and nofollow offered publishers a way to protect themselves.
Google also required nofollow for paid or sponsored links. If you were caught accepting anything of value in exchange for linking out without the nofollow attribute, Google could penalize you.
The system generally worked, but huge portions of the web—sites like Forbes and Wikipedia—applied nofollow across their entire site for fear of being penalized, or not being able to properly police UGC.
This made entire portions of the link graph less useful for Google. Should curated links from trusted Wikipedia contributors really not count? Perhaps Google could better understand the web if they changed how they consider nofollow links.
By treating nofollow attributes as “hints”, they allow themselves to better incorporate these signals into their algorithms.
Hopefully, this is a positive step for deserving content creators, as a broader swath of the link graph opens up to more potential ranking influence. (Though for most sites, it doesn’t seem much will change.)
What is the ranking impact of nofollow links?
Prior to today, SEOs generally believed nofollow links worked like this:
Not used for crawling and indexing (Google didn’t follow them.)
Might be used for ranking, though the observed effect was typically small or non-existant
To be fair, there’s a lot of debate and speculation around the second statement, and Google has been opaque on the issue. Experimental data and anecdotal evidence suggest Google has long considered nofollow links as a potential ranking signal.
As of today, Google’s guidance states nofollowed attributes—including sponsored and ugc—are treated like this:
Still not used for crawling and indexing (see the changes taking place in the future below)
For ranking purposes, all nofollow directives are now officially a “hint” — meaning Google may choose to ignore it and use it for ranking purposes. Many SEOs believe this is how Google has been treating nofollow for quite some time.
Beginning March 1, 2020, nofollow attributes will be treated as hints across the board, meaning:
In some cases, they may be used for crawling and indexing
In some cases, they may be used for ranking
Emphasis on the word “some.” Google is very explicit that in most cases they will continue to ignore nofollow links as usual.
Do publishers need to make changes?
For most sites, the answer is no — only if they want to. Google isn’t requiring sites to make changes, and as of yet, there is no business case to be made.
That said, there are a couple of cases where site owners may want to implement the new attributes:
Sites that want to help Google better understand the sites they—or their contributors—are linking to. For example, it could be to everyone’s benefit for sites Wikipedia to adopt these changes. Or maybe Moz could change how it marks up links in the user-generated Q&A section (which often links to high-quality sources.)
Sites that use nofollow for crawl control. For sites with large faceted navigation, nofollow is sometimes an effective tool at preventing Google from wasting crawl budget. It’s too early to tell if publishers using nofollow this way will need to change anything before Google starts treating nofollow as a crawling “hint” but it may be important to pay attention too.
To be clear, if a site is properly using nofollow today, SEOs do not need to recommend any changes be made. Though sites are free to do so, they should not expect any rankings boost for doing so, or new penalties for not changing.
That said, Google’s use of nofollow may evolve, and it will be interesting to see in the future—through study and analysis—if a ranking benefit does emerge from using nofollow attributes in a certain way.
Which nofollow attribute should you use?
If you choose to change your nofollow links to be more specific, Google’s guidelines are very clear, so we won’t repeat them in-depth here. In brief, your choices are:
rel=”sponsored” – For paid or sponsored links. This would assumingly include affiliate links, although Google hasn’t explicitly said.
rel=”ugc” – Links within all user-generated content. Google has stated if UGC is created by a trusted contributor, this may not be necessary.
rel=”nofollow” – A catchall for all nofollow links. As with the other nofollow directives, these links generally won’t be used for ranking, crawling, or indexing purposes.
Additionally, attributes can be used in combination with one another. This means a declaration such as rel=”nofollow sponsored” is 100% valid.
Can you be penalized for not marking paid links?
Yes, you can still be penalized, and this is where it gets tricky.
Google advises to mark up paid/sponsored links with either “sponsored” or “nofollow” only, but not “ugc”.
This adds an extra layer of confusion. What if your UGC contributors are including paid or affiliate links in their content/comments? Google, so far, hasn’t been clear on this.
For this reason, we may likely see publishers continue to markup UGC content with “nofollow” as a default, or possibly “nofollow ugc”.
Can you use the nofollow attributes to control crawling and indexing?
Nofollow has always been a very, very poor way to prevent Google from indexing your content, and it continues to be that way.
If you want to prevent Google from indexing your content, it’s recommended to use one of several other methods, most typically some form of “noindex”.
Crawling, on the other hand, is a slightly different story. Many SEOs use nofollow on large sites to preserve crawl budget, or to prevent Google from crawling unnecessary pages within faceted navigation.
Bases on Google statements, it seems you can still attempt to use the nofollow attributes in this way, but after March 1, 2020, they may choose to ignore this. Any SEO using nofollow in this way may need to get creative in order to prevent Google from crawling unwanted sections of their sites.
Final thoughts: Should you implement the new nofollow attributes?
While there is no obvious compelling reason to do so, this is a decision every SEO will have to make for themselves.
Given the initial confusion and lack of clear benefits, many publishers will undoubtedly wait until we have better information.
That said, it certainly shouldn’t hurt to make the change (as long as you mark paid links appropriately with “nofollow” or “sponsored”.) For example, the Moz Blog may someday change comment links below to rel=”ugc”, or more likely rel=”nofollow ugc”.
Finally, will anyone actually use the “sponsored” attribute, at the risk of giving more exposure to paid links? Time will tell.
What are your thoughts on Google’s new nofollow attributes? Let us know in the comments below.
While SEOs have been doubling-down on content and quality signals for their websites, Google was building the foundation of a new reality for crawling — indexing and ranking. Though many believe deep in their hearts that “Content is King,” the reality is that Mobile-First Indexing enables a new kind of search result. This search result focuses on surfacing and re-publishing content in ways that feed Google’s cross-device monetization opportunities better than simple websites ever could.
For two years, Google honed and changed their messaging about Mobile-First Indexing, mostly de-emphasizing the risk that good, well-optimized, Responsive-Design sites would face. Instead, the search engine giant focused more on the use of the Smartphone bot for indexing, which led to an emphasis on the importance of matching SEO-relevant site assets between desktop and mobile versions (or renderings) of a page. Things got a bit tricky when Google had to explain that the Mobile-First Indexing process would not necessarily be bad for desktop-oriented content, but all of Google’s shifting and positioning eventually validated my long-stated belief: That Mobile-First Indexing is not really about mobile phones, per se, but mobile content.
I would like to propose an alternative to the predominant view, a speculative theory, about what has been going on with Google in the past two years, and it is the thesis of my 2019 MozCon talk — something we are calling Fraggles and Fraggle-based Indexing.
I’ll go through Fraggles and Fraggle-based indexing, and how this new method of indexing has made web content more ‘liftable’ for Google. I’ll also outline how Fraggles impact the Search Results Pages (SERPs), and why it fits with Google’s promotion of Progressive Web Apps. Next, I will provide information about how astute SEO’s can adapt their understanding of SEO and leverage Fraggles and Fraggle-Based Indexing to meet the needs of their clients and companies. Finally, I’ll go over the implications that this new method of indexing will have on Google’s monetization and technology strategy as a whole.
Ready? Let’s dive in.
Fraggles & Fraggle-based indexing
The SERP has changed in many ways. These changes can be thought of and discussed separately, but I believe that they are all part of a larger shift at Google. This shift includes “Entity-First Indexing” of crawled information around the existing structure of Google’s Knowledge Graph, and the concept of “Portable-prioritized Organization of Information,” which favors information that is easy to lift and re-present in Google’s properties — Google describes these two things together as “Mobile-First Indexing.”
Fraggles represent individual parts (fragments) of a page for which Google overlayed a “handle” or “jump-link” (aka named-anchor, bookmark, etc.) so that a click on the result takes the users directly to the part of the page where the relevant fragment of text is located. These Fraggles are then organized around the relevant nodes on the Knowledge Graph, so that the mapping of the relationships between different topics can be vetted, built-out, and maintained over time, but also so that the structure can be used and reused, internationally — even if different content is ranking.
More than one Fraggle can rank for a page, and the format can vary from a text-link with a “Jump to” label, an unlabeled text link, a site-link carousel, a site-link carousel with pictures, or occasionally horizontal or vertical expansion boxes for the different items on a page.
The easiest way for an SEO to think about a Fragment is within the example of an AJAX expansion box: The piece of text or information that is fetched from the server to populate the AJAX expander when clicked could be described as a Fragment. Alternatively, if it is indexed for Mobile-First Indexing, it is a Fraggle.
We have also recently discovered that Google has begun to index URLs with a # jump-link, after years of not doing so, and is reporting on them separately from the primary URL in Search Console. As you can see below from our data, they aren’t getting a lot of clicks, but they are getting impressions. This is likely because of the low average position.
Why index fragments & Fraggles?
If you’re used to thinking of rankings with the smallest increment being a URL, this idea can be hard to wrap your brain around. To help, consider this thought experiment: How useful would it be for Google to rank a page that gave detailed information about all different kinds of fruits and vegetables? It would be easy for a query like “fruits and vegetables,” that’s for sure. But if the query is changed to “lettuce” or “types of lettuce,” then the page would struggle to rank, even if it had the best, most authoritative information.
This is because the “lettuce” keywords would be diluted by all the other fruit and vegetable content. It would be more useful for Google to rank the part of the page that is about lettuce for queries related to lettuce, and the part of the page about radishes well for queries about radishes. But since users don’t want to scroll through the entire page of fruits and vegetables to find the information about the particular vegetable they searched for, Google prioritizes pages with keyword focus and density, as they relate to the query. Google will rarely rank long pages that covered multiple topics, even if they were more authoritative.
With featured snippets, AMP featured snippets, and Fraggles, it’s clear that Google can already find the important parts of a page that answers a specific question — they’ve actually been able to do this for a while. So, if Google can organize and index content like that, what would the benefit be in maintaining an index that was based only on per-pages statistics and ranking? Why would Google want to rank entire pages when they could rank just the best parts of pages that are most related to the query?
To address these concerns, historically, SEO’s have worked to break individual topics out into separate pages, with one page focused on each topic or keyword cluster. So, with our vegetable example, this would ensure that the lettuce page could rank for lettuce queries and the radish page could rank for radish queries. With each website creating a new page for every possible topic that they would like to rank for, there’s lot of redundant and repetitive work for webmasters. It also likely adds a lot of low-quality, unnecessary pages to the index. Realistically, how many individual pages on lettuce does the internet really need, and how would Google determine which one is the best? The fact is, Google wanted to shift to an algorithm that focused less on links and more on topical authority to surface only the best content — and Google circumvents this with the scrolling feature in Fraggles.
Even though the effort to switch to Fraggle-based indexing, and organize the information around the Knowledge Graph, was massive, the long-term benefits of the switch far out-pace the costs to Google because they make Google’s system for flexible, monetizable and sustainable, especially as the amount of information and the number of connected devices expands exponentially. It also helps Google identify, serve and monetize new cross-device search opportunities, as they continue to expand. This includes search results on TV’s, connected screens, and spoken results from connected speakers. A few relevant costs and benefits are outlined below for you to contemplate, keeping Google’s long-term perspective in mind:
Why Fraggles and Fraggle-based indexing are important for PWAs
What also makes the shift to Fraggle-based Indexing relevant to SEOs is how it fits in with Google’s championing of Progressive Web Apps or AMP Progressive Web Apps, (aka PWAs and PWA-AMP websites/web apps). These types of sites have become the core focus of Google’s Chrome Developer summits and other smaller Google conferences.
The answer is because PWA’s require ServiceWorkers, which uses Fraggles and Fraggle-based indexing to take the burden off crawling and indexing of complex web content.
ServiceWorkers and SEO
For a PWA to be indexed, Google requires webmasters to ‘register their app in Firebase,’ but they used to require webmasters to “register their ServiceWorker.” Firebase is the Google platform that allows webmasters to set up and manage indexing and deep linking for their native apps, chat-bots and, now, PWA’s.
Direct communication with a PWA specialist at Google a few years ago revealed that Google didn’t crawl the ServiceWorker itself, but crawled the API to the ServiceWorker. It’s likely that when webmasters register their ServiceWorker with Google, Google is actually creating an API to the ServiceWorker, so that the content can be quickly and easily indexed and cached on Google’s servers. Since Google has already launched an Indexing API and appears to now favor API’s over traditional crawling, we believe Google will begin pushing the use of ServiceWorkers to improve page speed, since they can be used on non-PWA sites, but this will actually be to help ease the burden on Google to crawl and index the content manually.
It’s important to remember that this is how AMP, Schema, and many other types of powerful SEO functionalities have started with a limited launch; beyond that, some great SEO’s have already tested submitting other types of content in the API and seen success. Submitting to APIs skips Google’s process of blindly crawling the web for new content and allows webmasters to feed the information to them directly.
It is possible that the new Indexing API follows a similar structure or process to PWA indexing. Submitted URLs can already get some kinds of content indexed or removed from Google’s index, usually in about an hour, and while it is only currently officially available for the two kinds of content, we expect it to be expanded broadly.
How will this impact SEO strategy?
Of course, every SEO wants to know how to leverage this speculative theory — how can we make the changes in Google to our benefit?
The first thing to do is take a good, long, honest look at a mobile search result. Position #1 in the organic rankings is just not what it used to be. There’s a ton of engaging content that is often pushing it down, but not counting as an organic ranking position in Search Console. This means that you may be maintaining all your organic rankings while also losing a massive amount of traffic to SERP features like Knowledge Graph results, Featured Snippets, Google My Business, maps, apps, Found on the Web, and other similar items that rank outside of the normal organic results.
These results, as well as Pay-per-Click results (PPC), are more impactful on mobile because they are stacked above organic rankings. Rather than being off to the side, as they might be in a desktop view of the search, they push organic rankings further down the results page. There has been some great reporting recently about the statistical and large-scale impact of changes to the SERP and how these changes have resulted in changes to user-behavior in search, especially from Dr. Pete Meyers, Rand Fishkin, and JumpTap.
Dr. Pete has focused on the increasing number of changes to the Google Algorithm recorded in his MozCast, which heated up at the end of 2016 when Google started working on Mobile-First Indexing, and again after it launched the Medic update in 2018.
Rand, on the other hand, focused on how the new types of rankings are pushing traditional organic results down, resulting in less traffic to websites, especially on mobile. All this great data from these two really set the stage for a fundamental shift in SEO strategy as it relates to Mobile-First Indexing.
The research shows that Google re-organized its index to suit a different presentation of information — especially if they are able to index that information around an entity-concept in the Knowledge Graph. Fraggle-based Indexing makes all of the information that Google crawls even more portable because it is intelligently nested among related Knowledge Graph nodes, which can be surfaced in a variety of different ways. Since Fraggle-based Indexing focuses more on the meaningful organization of data than it does on pages and URLs, the results are a more “windowed” presentation of the information in the SERP. SEOs need to understand that search results are now based on entities and use-cases (think micro-moments), instead of pages and domains.
Google’s Knowledge Graph
To really grasp how this new method of indexing will impact your SEO strategy, you first have to understand how Google’s Knowledge Graph works.
Since it is an actual “graph,” all Knowledge Graph entries (nodes) include both vertical and lateral relationships. For instance, an entry for “bread” can include lateral relationships to related topics like cheese, butter, and cake, but may also include vertical relationships like “standard ingredients in bread” or “types of bread.”
Lateral relationships can be thought of as related nodes on the Knowledge Graph, and hint at “Related Topics” whereas vertical relationships point to a broadening or narrowing of the topic; which hints at the most likely filters within a topic. In the case of bread, a vertical relationship-up would be topics like “baking,” and down would include topics like “flour” and other ingredients used to make bread, or “sourdough” and other specific types of bread.
SEOs should note that Knowledge Graph entries can now include an increasingly wide variety of filters and tabs that narrow the topic information to benefit different types of searcher intent. This includes things like helping searchers find videos, books, images, quotes, locations, but in the case of filters, it can be topic-specific and unpredictable (informed by active machine learning). This is the crux of Google’s goal with Fraggle-based Indexing: To be able to organize the information of the web-based on Knowledge Graph entries or nodes, otherwise discussed in SEO circles as “entities.”
Since the relationships of one entity to another remain the same, regardless of the language a person is speaking or searching in, the Knowledge Graph information is language-agnostic, and thus easily used for aggregation and machine learning in all languages at the same time. Using the Knowledge Graph as a cornerstone for indexing is, therefore, a much more useful and efficient means for Google to access and serve information in multiple languages for consumption and ranking around the world. In the long-term, it’s far superior to the previous method of indexing.
Examples of Fraggle-based indexing in the SERPs
Google has dramatically increased the number of Knowledge Graph entries and the categories and relationships within them. The build-out is especially prominent for topics for which Google has a high amount of structured data and information already. This includes topics like:
TV and Movies — from Google Play
Food and Recipe — from Recipe Schema, recipe AMP pages, and external food and nutrition databases
Science and medicine — from trusted sources (like WebMD)
Businesses — from Google My Business.
Google is adding more and more nodes and relationships to their graph and existing entries are also being built-out with more tabs and carousels to break a single topic into smaller, more granular topics or type of information.
As you can see below, the build-out of the Knowledge Graph has also added to the number of filters and drill-down options within many queries, even outside of the Knowledge Graph. This increase can be seen throughout all of the Google properties, including Google My Business and Shopping, both of which we believe are now sections of the Knowledge Graph:
Other similar examples include the additional filters and “Related Topics” results in Google Images, which we also believe to represent nodes on the Knowledge Graph:
The Knowedge Graph is also being presented in a variety of different ways. Sometimes there’s a sticky navigation that persists at the top of the SERP, as seen in many media-oriented queries, and sometimes it’s broken up to show different information throughout the SERP, as you may have noticed in many of the local business-oriented search results, both shown below.
Since the launch of Fraggle-based indexing is essentially a major Knowledge Graph build-out, Knowledge Graph results have also begun including more engaging content which makes it even less likely that users will click through to a website. Assets like playable video and audio, live sports scores, and location-specific information such as transportation information and TV time-tables can all be accessed directly in the search results. There’s more to the story, though.
Companies who want to leverage the Knowledge Graph should take every opportunity to create your own assets, like AR models and AMP Stories, so that Google will have no reason to do it. Beyond that, companies should submit accurate information directly to Google whenever they can. The easiest way to do this is through Google My Business (GMB). Whatever types of information are requested in GMB should be added or uploaded. If Google Posts are available in your business category, you should be doing Posts regularly, and making sure that they link back to your site with a call to action. If you have videos or photos that are relevant for your company, upload them to GMB. Start to think of GMB as a social network or newsletter — any assets that are shared on Facebook or Twitter can also be shared on Google Posts, or at least uploaded to the GMB account.
You should also investigate the current Knowledge Graph entries that are related to your industry, and work to become associated with recognized companies or entities in that industry. This could be from links or citations on the entity websites, but it can also include being linked by third-party lists that give industry-specific advice and recommendations, such as being listed among the top competitors in your industry (“Best Plumbers in Denver,” “Best Shoe Deals on the Web,” or “Top 15 Best Reality TV Shows”). Links from these posts also help but are not required — especially if you can get your company name on enough lists with the other top players. Verify that any links or citations from authoritative third-party sites like Wikipedia, Better Business Bureau, industry directories, and lists are all pointing to live, active, relevant pages on the site, and not going through a 301 redirect.
While this is just speculation and not a proven SEO strategy, you might also want to make sure that your domain is correctly classified in Google’s records by checking the industries that it is associated with. You can do so in Google’s MarketFinder tool. Make updates or recommend new categories as necessary. Then, look into the filters and relationships that are given as part of Knowledge Graph entries and make sure you are using the topic and filter words as keywords on your site.
Featured Snippets or “Answers” first surfaced in 2014 and have also expanded quite a bit, as shown in the graph below. It is useful to think of Featured Snippets as rogue facts, ideas or concepts that don’t have a full Knowledge Graph result, though they might actually be associated with certain existing nodes on the Knowledge Graph (or they could be in the vetting process for eventual Knowledge Graph build-out).
Featured Snippets seem to surface when the information comes from a source that Google does not have an incredibly high level of trust for, like it does for Wikipedia, and often they come from third party sites that may or may not have a monetary interest in the topic — something that makes Google want to vet the information more thoroughly and may prevent Google from using it, if a less bias option is available.
Like the Knowledge Graph, Featured Snippets results have grown very rapidly in the past year or so, and have also begun to include carousels — something that Rob Bucci writes about extensively here. We believe that these carousels represent potentially related topics that Google knows about from the Knowledge Graph. Featured Snippets now look even more like mini-Knowledge Graph entries: Carousels appear to include both lateral and vertically related topics, and their appearance and maintenance seem to be driven by click volume and subsequent searches. However, this may also be influenced by aggregated engagement data for People Also Ask and Related Search data.
The build-out of Featured Snippets has been so aggressive that sometimes the answers that Google lifts are obviously wrong, as you can see in the example image below. It is also important to understand that Featured Snippet results can change from location to location and are not language-agnostic, and thus, are not translated to match the Search Language or the Phone Language settings. Google also does not hold themselves to any standard of consistency, so one Featured Snippet for one query might present an answer one way, and a similar query for the same fact could present a Featured Snippet with slightly different information. For instance, a query for “how long to boil an egg” could result in an answer that says “5 minutes” and a different query for “how to make a hard-boiled egg” could result in an answer that says “boil for 1 minute, and leave the egg in the water until it is back to room temperature.”
The data below was collected by Moz and represents an average of roughly 10,000 that skews slightly towards ‘head’ terms.
SEO strategy for featured snippets
All of the standard recommendations for driving Featured Snippets apply here. This includes making sure that you keep the information that you are trying to get ranked in a Featured Snippet clear, direct, and within the recommended character count. It also includes using simple tables, ordered lists, and bullets to make the data easier to consume, as well as modeling your content after existing Featured Snippet results in your industry.
This is still speculative, but it seems likely that the inclusion of Speakable Schema markup for things like “How To,” “FAQ,” and “Q&A” may also drive Featured Snippets. These kinds of results are specially designated as content that works well in a voice-search. Since Google has been adamant that there is not more than one index, and Google is heavily focused on improving voice-results from Google Assistant devices, anything that could be a good result in the Google Assistant, and ranks well, might also have a stronger chance at ranking in a Featured Snippet.
People Also Ask & Related Searches
Finally, the increased occurrence of “Related Searches” as well as the inclusion of People Also Ask (PAA) questions, just below most Knowledge Graph and Featured Snippet results, is undeniable. The Earl Tea screenshot shows that PAA’s along with Interesting Finds are both part of the Knowledge Graph too.
The graph below shows the steady increase in PAA’s. PAA results appear to be an expansion of Featured Snippets because once expanded, the answer to the question is displayed, with the citation below it. Similarly, some Related Search results also now include a result that looks like a Featured Snippet, instead of simply linking over to a different search result. You can now find ‘Related Searches’ throughout the SERP, often as part of a Knowledge Graph results, but sometimes also in a carousel in the middle of the SERP, and always at the bottom of the SERP — sometimes with images and expansion buttons to surface Featured Snippets within the Related Search results directly in the existing SERP.
Boxes with Related Searches are now also included with Image Search results. It’s interesting to note that Related Search results in Google Images started surfacing at the same time that Google began translating image Title Tags and Alt Tags. It coincides well with the concept that Entity-First Indexing, that Entities and Knowledge Graph are language-agnostic, and that Related Searches are somehow related to the Knowledge Graph.
This data was collected by Moz and represents an average of roughly 10,000 that skews slightly towards ‘head’ terms.
SEO STRATEGY for PAA and related searches
Since PAAs and some Related Searches now appear to simply include Featured Snippets, driving Featured Snippet results for your site is also a strong strategy here. It often appears that PAA results include at least two versions of the same question, re-stated with a different language, before including questions that are more related to lateral and vertical nodes on the Knowledge Graph. If you include information on your site that Google thinks is related to the topic, based on Related Searches and PAA questions, it could help make your site appear relevant and authoritative.
Finally, it is crucial to remember that you don’t have a website to rank in Google now and SEO’s should consider non-website rankings as part of their job too.
If a business doesn’t have a website, or if you just want to cover all the bases, you can let Google host your content directly — in as many places as possible. We have seen that Google-hosted content generally seems to get preferential treatment in Google search results and Google Discover, especially when compared to the decreasing traffic from traditional organic results. Google is now heavily focused on surfacing multimedia content, so anything that you might have previously created a new page on your website for should now be considered for a video.
Google My Business (GMB) is great for companies that don’t have websites, or that want to host their websites directly with Google. YouTube is great for videos, TV, video-podcasts, clips, animations, and tutorials. If you have an app, a book, an audio-book, a podcast, a movie, TV show, class or music, or PWA, you can submit that directly to GooglePlay (much of the video content in GooglePlay is now cross-populated in YouTube and YouTube TV, but this is not necessarily true of the other assets). This strategy could also include books in Google Books, flights in Google Flights, Hotels in Google Hotel listings, and attractions in Google Explore. It also includes having valid AMP code, since Google hosts AMP content, and includes Google News if your site is an approved provider of news.
Changes to SEO tracking for Fraggle-based indexing
The biggest problem for SEOs is the missing organic traffic, but it is also the fact that current methods of tracking organic results generally don’t show whether things like Knowledge Graph, Featured Snippets, PAA, Found on the Web, or other types of results are appearing at the top of the query or somewhere above your organic result. Position one in organic results is not what it used to be, nor is anything below it, so you can’t expect those rankings to drive the same traffic. If Google is going to be lifting and representing everyone’s content, the traffic will never arrive at the site and SEOs won’t know if their efforts are still returning the same monetary value. This problem is especially poignant for publishers, who have only been able to sell advertising on their websites based on the expected traffic that the website could drive.
The other thing to remember is that results differ — especially on mobile, which varies from device to device (generally based on screen size) but also can vary based on the phone IOS. They can also change significantly based on the location or the language settings of the phone, and they definitely do not always match with desktop results for the same query. Most SEO’s don’t know much about the reality of their mobile search results because most SEO reporting tools still focus heavily on desktop results, even though Google has switched to Mobile-First.
As well, SEO tools generally only report on rankings from one location — the location of their servers — rather than being able to test from different locations.
The only thing that good SEO’s can do to address this problem is to use tools like the MobileMoxie SERP Test to check what rankings look like on top keywords from all the locations where their users may be searching. While the free tool only provides results with one location at a time, subscribers can test search results in multiple locations, based on a service-area radius or based on an uploaded CSV of addresses. The tool has integrations with Google Sheets, and a connector with Data Studio, to help with SEO reporting, but APIs are also available, for deeper integrations in content editing tools, dashboards and for use within other SEO tools.
At MozCon 2017, I expressed my belief that the impact of Mobile-First Indexing requires a re-interpretation of the words “Mobile,” “First,” and “Indexing.” Re-defined in the context of Mobile-First Indexing, the words should be understood to mean “portable,” “preferred,” and “organization of information.” The potential of a shift to Fraggle-based indexing and the recent changes to the SERPs, especially in the past year, certainly seems to prove the accuracy of this theory. And though they have been in the works for more than two years, the changes to the SERP now seem to be rolling-out faster and are making the SERP unrecognizable from what it was only three or four years ago.
SEOs need to consider the opportunities and change the way we view our overall indexing strategy, and our jobs as a whole. If Google is organizing the index around the Knowledge Graph, that makes it much easier for Google to constantly mention near-by nodes of the Knowledge Graph in “Related Searches” carousels, links from the Knowledge Graph, and topics in PAAs. It might also make it easier to believe that featured snippets are simply pieces of information being vetted (via Google’s click-crowdsourcing) for inclusion or reference in the Knowledge Graph.
Fraggles and Fraggled indexing re-frames the switch to Mobile-First Indexing, which means that SEOs and SEO tool companies need to start thinking mobile-first — i.e. the portability of their information. While it is likely that pages and domains still carry strong ranking signals, the changes in the SERP all seem to focus less on entire pages, and more on pieces of pages, similar to the ones surfaced in Featured Snippets, PAAs, and some Related Searches. If Google focuses more on windowing content and being an “answer engine” instead of a “search engine,” then this fits well with their stated identity, and their desire to build a more efficient, sustainable, international engine.
SEOs also need to find ways to serve their users better, by focusing more on the reality of the mobile SERP, and how much it can vary for real users. While Google may not call the smallest rankable units Fraggles, it is what we call them, and we think they are critical to the future of SEO.