Conspiracy Theory: Google Knowledge Graph Trains Us to 'See' the Right Side of the SERP


Google recently announced the release of the Knowledge Graph, a new feature designed to “help you discover new information quickly and easily” by providing informative answers to informational queries directly in the SERP. In other words, for search queries that are typically answered by a high-ranking, ever-present Wikipedia page, some of that top-level information can now be found on the results page itself, so you don’t necessarily have to click through to another site. For example, if you google “Mae West,” you see some basic information (date of birth and death, height, name of spouse, and some of her more well-known movies, as well as related figures) to the right of the organic search results (click to enlarge):

Knowledge Graph

Yesterday, I was talking to Larry about different types of search queries and which ones are likely to serve up the most ads. Informational or question queries, like “who is Thomas Edison” or “area of a circle,” are the least likely to match any paid ads, because they’re not commercial in nature (compare to a high-intent commercial query like “dell flat-screen monitor”). There are generally no sponsored results for these queries because they have little to no value to businesses or Google.

So Google doesn’t stand to make any revenue for these types of queries. But someone at Google was thinking, what do we stand to gain here? That’s when I had my epiphany: By placing highly relevant and trustworthy information to the right of the organic search results, Google is training the eye to “see” that part of the screen. If savvy users trust that area less, because they know it’s full of paid ads, this may subtly persuade them to start paying attention to that area of the screen.

Eye tracking studies have shown that most people (70-80%) don’t look at the right-hand side of the screen, where a lot of the sponsored results show up. This image is via Search Engine Land:

Google Eye Tracking Study

Google has responded to this by giving the sponsored ads more and more territory on the SERP – more and bigger ads at the top, extensions in the middle of the page and so on. The Knowledge Graph may be just another strategy – and a totally different kind of strategy – to take back that space and change how people think about it. As you can see, it’s the same real estate that is devoted to Product Listing Ads on more transactional queries (click to enlarge):

Google Product Listing Ads

And they both have pretty pictures!

What do you think? Does my conspiracy theory hold any water, or is Google just genuinely trying to help?

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Shawn McCarthy
Jul 12, 2012

I call "Spot On" Elisa! Let's face it, Google is a business regardless of how "un-evil" they are or claim to be. This decision stems from the same motivation to incorporate paid ads into search results in the first place. Re-training people to trust the right side of the page is genius because it's right around the same time they're rolling Google Shopping into AdWords (no more free clicks for relevant products!). 

Elisa Gabbert
Jul 12, 2012

Totally! I can't believe I didn't see it before. Thanks Shawn.

Abdul Umer
Jul 12, 2012

Elsa, wow. What makes a consipracy theory great is that it is plausible, and your theory is just that. I've been fascinated by the Knowledge Graph since its introduction. I've asked my self questions like how is this going to affect paid search? What are advertisers that bid on terms such as "Koby Bryant" (to sell jerseys) going to do now that their ads aren't being seen? They're going to create an even more competitive market and drive prices way up (I think). My mind's still kind of blown by the concept. Are they shooting themselves in the foot? Or are they going to make paid search results more profitable than ever? 

Elisa Gabbert
Jul 12, 2012

Good question! You can bet they're testing it to determine what makes them the most $$$

David Satterly
Jul 13, 2012

True...Google is trying to make money, from where ever it can come.Though google is doing conspiracy but it is ever prestented in genuinely that everybody can not understand it well.

Jul 13, 2012

Good Afternoon,You have some really great theories there about Google, who is really to say one way or the other but we doknow that they are out there to make a buck however they can.  Thank you for sharing.

Jul 14, 2012

Wow. I didn't actually have that idea about Google and that conspiracy theory but  based on what I've read from your post. It rang a bell! How come I didn't see it that way before.

Nov 18, 2012

I agree with you, they all try to max. profits
i try to import contacts on iphone with Itunes -just comercials,
so i decide to buy samsung S II , android google, but what i see now with these search,
 is maybe Google even more mean then Steve ( r.i.p,)
 "How to put back the google search toolbar at the left side from the top#

Denae Gemmrig
Jul 15, 2014

Great article.  I see your point and maybe it is a little of both.  Not one or the other.

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