Knowledge Graph

Google’s Semantic Search: What a Year Has Taught Us (Part 1 of 3)


Semantic Search: A Look Back

Semantic search was introduced in its most concrete form in Google's Hummingbird update released over a year ago in September of 2013. Back then the digital marketing world was abuzz with chatter about how this would change the future of SEO. It seemed there were two sides to the argument - one that SEO was dead and the other that this was great news for good and honest SEOs. If you were doing what you were supposed to be doing, building quality content and listening to your customers, then you were already doing what was required from this new release. Of course, knowing exactly what to focus in on is important even for good and honest SEOs.

Hindsight is 20-20 and a year later, we can take a clear look at what really did change and what we've learned in the post Hummingbird days. The three truths that came from semantic search changes are:

  1. Knowledge Graph Continues to Grow in Importance and Is Fed by Structured Data
  2. We Now Know More About Buyers' Intent
  3. Link Your Social Media to Your Website

Here's more about them and advice on how all of us good and honest SEOs can make sure we're covering the basics.

Truth #1:

Knowledge Graph Continues to Grow in Importance and Is Fed by Structured Data

A year ago the Knowledge Graph, in the format it appears in today, was a new concept and today it is still in its infancy. It will continue to grow and it will become more and more important to make sure to be included. And if Knowledge Graph doesn't persuade you to start preparing your content to be easily decipherable to search engines, think of the future of semantic search outside of your desktop and as it relates to navigation, operating your home, and Google Now.

When considering your website, there are three types of data: structured, semi-structured, and unstructured. Structured data is what Google relies on to populate the Knowledge Graph. Where structured data isn't available, Google will turn to semi-structured and then unstructured. The following lays out the types of data and details about each. Use this as a guide for preparing your websites for Knowledge Graph.

Structured Data

Structured data is content on a website that has been marked up specifically using one of these following four systems. Although Google accepts all of the following forms, they recommend using Microdata, because they have "found that microdata strikes a balance between the extensibility of RDFa and the simplicity of microformats..." (Google Support, " FAQ").

1. uses "the microdata markup format and a vocabulary that is shared by all the search engines and that supports a wide variety of item types and properties," (Google Support, " FAQ"). Because offers Google's preferred format and adds in vocabulary that has been agreed upon, it is the best place to go to mark up your next website. For more about microdata, skip to #3 below.

2. Microformats

"In general, microformats use the class attribute in HTML tags (often <span> or <div>) to assign brief and descriptive names to entities and their properties," (Google Support, "About Microformats").

Example of How to Write Microformats from Google

3. Microdata

"Microdata uses simple attributes in HTML tags (often <span> or <div>) to assign brief and descriptive names to items and properties," (Google Support, "About Microdata"). To get your microdata markups for your next site, head over to to get shared vocabulary too.

Microdata Example from Google

4. RDFa

"In general, RDFa uses simple attributes in XHTML tags (often <span> or <div>) to assign brief and descriptive names to entities and properties." (Google Support, "About RDFa").

Example of RDFa from Google

Semi-structured Data

Semi-structured data in SEO is content that contains data mark-ups which are not grouped together in a structured manner recognizable by search engines.

When could semi-structured data be useful? When a structure doesn't exist that could constrain it.

1. XML

For instance, an XML sitemap uses tags but doesn't use a hierarchy like fully structured data would. "...a Sitemap is an XML file that lists URLs for a site along with additional metadata about each URL (when it was last updated, how often it usually changes, and how important it is, relative to other URLs in the site) so that search engines can more intelligently crawl the site," (

XML Sitemap Example from


"JSON or JavaScript Object Notation, is an open standard format that uses human-readable text to transmit data objects consisting of attribute–value pairs," (Wikipedia). Notice the lack of hierarchy here as well.

Example of JSON from Wikipedia

Unstructured Data

Unstructured data is the content on a website that has not been assigned to fit into a database or algorithm neatly. "Experts estimate that 80 to 90 percent of the data in any organization is unstructured," (Webopedia).

Any type of content can be unstructured including images, videos, text, etc. If no markup has been has been added, the data is left for the search engine to try to decipher implicitly. "The technology utilized to obtain these entities is typically some sort of stochastic algorithm like NLP (Natural Language Processing) or a similar form of information retrieval technique," (Search Engine Land).

To optimize data that can't be structured, the best advice is to set up topics through structured data where possible and then speak to that topic in the unstructured data portion of the content.

Next Steps

Now armed with a basic understanding of the importance of the Knowledge Graph and how to properly "feed" it (with as much structured data as possible) what should you do right now? Go here and download these awesome tools for decoding what entities are on websites and start structuring everything in site (pun intended).

Stay Tuned for Part Two, Coming Soon!

Follow Steph McGuinn on Twitter, @HeartBuzzAgency.

Complete Guide to Hummingbird, Knowledge Graph, + Penguin 2.1 Every SEO Must Read


On its fifteenth birthday, September 26, Google shook up the SEO world once again by releasing a new search algorithm and several other changes to their system, the most notable being Hummingbird, Knowledge Graph updates, and Penguin 2.1. With all of the new information coming at us, Search Engine Savvy has assembled a guide to the changes, with insightful blog posts hand picked from across the web to educate you on the changes and how they might effect your SEO campaign. Complete with mini CliffsNotes from each post.

Happy reading!

All About the Improved Knowledge Graph

1. The Secret Behind Google’s Knowledge Graph [Business 2 Community]

"To ensure that your website is getting the proper visibility and exposure from Google’s newest search engine result system, be sure to follow these simple steps:

"1) Create a Google+ page for your business.

"2) Connect your Google+ business page to your website

"3) Utilize markup on your website’s products and articles."

2. Google Improves Knowledge Graph With Comparisons And Filters, Brings Cards & Cross-Platform Notifications To Mobile [TechCrunch]

"...[Google] is now featuring the ability to use the Knowledge Graph to compare things...

"Also new in this update is the ability to use Knowledge Graph to filter results...

"On mobile, Google is now making it easier to use your voice to set reminders and have those synced between devices...

"Google is now adding Google Now push notifications to its iPhone app, which will finally make Google Now useful on Apple’s platform."

4. Knowledge Graph [Wikipedia]

"Knowledge Graph display was added to Google's search engine in 2012..."

What is Hummingbird?

1. FAQ: All About The New Google “Hummingbird” Algorithm [Search Engine Land]

"In general, Hummingbird — Google says — is a new engine built on both existing and new parts, organized in a way to especially serve the search demands of today, rather than one created for the needs of ten years ago, with the technologies back then."

"In particular, Google said that Hummingbird is paying more attention to each word in a query, ensuring that the whole query — the whole sentence or conversation or meaning — is taken into account, rather than particular words. The goal is that pages matching the meaning do better, rather than pages matching just a few words."

"Google’s saying there’s nothing new or different SEOs or publishers need to worry about."

2. Why "Hummingbird" – Google's First New Search Algorithm Since 2001 – Is A Huge Deal [Business Insider]

"One beneficial result of Hummingbird should be that it creates a more even and fairer playing field for ‘the long tail’ of website publishers. Search keywords are dominated by large companies and brands who can afford to win the search word bidding war created by Google. Semantic search results are less predictable, and should enable small and niche website providers to gain a higher page ranking when a precise and complex search phrase is used."

3. Google Birthday: Piñata Doodle and 'Hummingbird' search algorithm update [Telegraph UK]

"New algorithms are therefore replacing traditional "Boolean" or keyword-based systems, because of the need to match concepts and meanings in addition to words."

4. An SEO Guide to the Google Hummingbird Update [Huffington Post]

"Hummingbird will be looking at search strings of three, four, five, or more words and rather than breaking these down it will provide results for the whole search string."

"Hummingbird will help ensure that Google delivers users to the most appropriate page of a website, rather than to a home page or top level page. As such, every single page should be closely targeted to potential visitors."

"Website owners and marketers should concentrate their efforts on a well-rounded content marketing plan. Website owners need to find ways in which to cover the different aspects of the topic their site is related to. They need to find ways to regularly implement new content and they also need to be able to do so in such a way that will make them appear more authoritative with readers, users, and the search engines."

5. Google Hummingbird: Where No Search Has Gone Before [Wired]

"Google now gives much better answers. For example, say a user searches for 'Hair salons near my house.' Previously, Google would analyze each word individually and provide results based on that — so you might get a Wikipedia article about hair salons, some map results based on your current location, and home improvement websites with pages titled 'my house.' With Hummingbird, Google better understands what you’re asking for, and displays a list of hair salons near your house (provided you’re signed in to Google and have provided them with a home address in Google Maps). The results match the meaning behind the search, rather than just individual words."

"As we edge into the era of wearable tech, Google is making sure they are ready to provide the best voice search experience around."

How Has Hummingbird Effected SEO?

1. Google’s Hummingbird Takes Flight: SEOs Give Insight On Google’s New Algorithm  [Search Engine Land]

"From a practical perspective, the need to identify the [unique selling point] of each business and become authoritative within it is now a key criteria for continued SEO success."

"[David Amerland] emphasizes the importance of content not being left in isolation, but instead shared across social networks via identified influencers. 'This is not something that can or will happen at the drop of a hat,' said Amerland, 'It requires time and commitment to building a relationship with influencers and sharing with them content that is of real value to their network.' Quick SEO, according to Amerland, 'Is now firmly in the past.'”

2. What Does Google's Hummingbird Update Mean For Your SEO Efforts? Nothing [Forbes]

"If you have original, high-quality content, and you have high-quality and relevant websites linking to your own website, then your website is still going to rank well. If anything, your website’s rankings will improve just as they should have after the Penguin and Panda updates rolled out."

3. Things, not strings: How Google’s new Hummingbird algorithm sets the stage for the future of mobile search [Venture Beat]

"One of the most telling things about Google’s recent updates is that the company chose to illustrate them with images of its mobile app, not its desktop site. That’s no accident."

"...stuffing your webpages with SEO-friendly keywords isn’t going to cut it anymore."

"If you want to understand where Google wants to go, take a look at Google Now, which pulls together data from all over to deliver you information that you didn’t know you needed. That idea, coupled with the always-listening, and always-present Google Glass, should give you a pretty clear idea of how Google wants you to interact with it in the future: constantly, quickly, and transparently."

"Sullivan says the general SEO advice remains the same: 'Have good, descriptive content, and you should be doing all you can be doing to tap into long-tail searches,' he wrote."

4. Google’s Hummingbird Update: Should You Be Concerned? [Wired]

"If I can give businesses one piece of advice after this update, it’s to prioritize a well-rounded online marketing strategy that continues to deliver a clear message. Every business in America has an audience, but not every business in America understands the needs of their audience. The companies who prioritize the needs of their users and create content to satisfy those needs will see the biggest successes in the future.

"It’s not enough to have a beautifully designed website or an entertaining blog that keeps people coming back for more. Businesses need to focus on staying ahead of the competition by taking advantage of all the marketing initiatives the Internet provides. From blogs and website design to a strong social media presence, it all ties in to becoming the authority in a given space.

"...all businesses should take a page from [Google] and focus on making their company name synonymous with their field."

5. What Google's Hummingbird Update Means for Small Business [Business News Daily]

"'Those businesses that didn’t have great results for generic terms will have more opportunity to see better placement,' Wisnefski said."

"'Businesses need to consider as many queries as possible, and what the searcher could really be asking,' said Bill Sebald, owner of Greenlane Search Marketing, a search engine optimization (SEO) consulting group. 'If your business is relevant for a search like, 'the best plasma TV to buy,' are consumers looking for bang for their buck in this case? Or rationale as to why it’s the best? Popular opinion? Content should now expand to cover as many meanings as possible to be more appetizing to the Hummingbird algorithm.'"

"'Content for the sake of 'words on a page' doesn't have the base value it once had,' Sebald said. 'Now, your content really has to answer something. This should move content strategy higher on the list of business marketing objectives; it's now even more important for desktop and mobile SEO.'"

"One of the biggest changes Hummingbird has to offer is search content displayed right on search pages... Although this is helpful for users, it can do a disservice to businesses, Evans said. With this feature, Google not only scrapes content from other websites to display information on search pages, but the process also promotes a Google-only user experience."

"So what should businesses do when Google takes your data and uses it to prevent customers from visiting your website? Adapt, Evans said. 'Businesses are going to have to offer something else to their visitors to make it worth the click for them to go to the site.' Although Google does not tolerate content scraping, Evans said businesses have to roll with the punches."

The Penguin 2.1 Update

1. Google Penguin 2.1: Who Got Hit? [Search Engine Watch]

"Penguin 2.1 appears to have identified newer link spam:

  • Forum spam: This includes comments in forums with exact match anchor text links.
  • Forum bio spam: Biographies of forum users containing exact match anchor text links.
  • 'Do follow' blogs: Blogs that don't add nofollow to the links posted. 'Let's face it,' Gabe said. 'Being listed on do-follow resource sites can absolutely send Google a signal that you are trying to game links.'
  • Blogroll spam: Watch for blogroll links gone wrong. 'Some may be fine,' Gabe said. 'If you are unsure which ones are bad versus good, ask for help from a seasoned SEO.'
  • Spammy directories: If you've used spammy directories in the past, and still have links out there, Gabe said 'nuke them, have them nofollowed, or disavow them.'
  • Blog comment signature spam: Google seems to be targeting these links even when they're not followed, Gabe said."

"Here are Gabe's top five recommendations on what to do if you've been hit by Penguin 2.1:

  • Understand that Penguin heavily targets unnatural links. Your new content and social activity won't trigger a recovery.
  • Thoroughly analyze your link profile, while keeping a keen eye on exact match and rich anchor text. That's what Penguin targets.
  • Remove those links if you can, and disavow the remaining links. And use the domain operator in the disavow file when the domain is low-quality. Don’t try and target specific URLs on a spammy domain, when you can nuke the entire domain.
  • Make sure more unnatural links aren’t being added as time goes on. Gabe said he's had a number of business owners think they cleaned up their situation, only to get hit harder during Penguin 2.1. After checking their link profiles, you can clearly see more spammy links were added during the spring, summer, and fall. This is what got them hit by Penguin 2.1.
  • Move fast and be aggressive. Gabe said he has seen Penguin recoveries during Panda updates, so there is a possibility of recovery prior to the next official Penguin update."

2. Penguin 2.1: What Changed Since 2.0, and How to Recover [Search Engine Journal]

"The trick is not to abandon link building; inbound links are still the most important piece of the ranking algorithm. Instead, you must replace them with high-quality, authoritative links that you earn.

"One of the best ways to build these backlinks is through guest blogging... In addition to building links through guest blogging, you’re going to need a quality on-site content strategy. Your goal should be to fulfill the 3 Pillars of SEO: Content, Links and Social Media."

3. Penguin 5, With The Penguin 2.1 Spam-Filtering Algorithm, Is Now Live [Search Engine Land]

"Here are all the confirmed releases of Penguin to date:

  • Penguin 1 on April 24, 2012 (impacting around 3.1% of queries)
  • Penguin 2 on May 26, 2012 (impacting less than 0.1%)
  • Penguin 3 on October 5, 2012 (impacting around 0.3% of queries)
  • Penguin 4 (AKA Penguin 2.0) on May 22, 2013 (impacting 2.3% of queries)
  • Penguin 5 (AKA Penguin 2.1) on Oct. 4, 2013 (impacting around 1% of queries)"

4. Your Keyword Strategy Is Wrong . . . But It Can Be Fixed [Business 2 Community]

"The primary changes are the ability to crawl and analyze pages that are deeper in your website to identify spam activities. What do you need to do? The same thing we told you to do in May:

"Review your backlinks; identify any spammy links, remove them or disavow them.

  • Stop spamming.
  • Stop trying to game the system.
  • Produce quality content, promote it, and trust that the cream will rise to the top"
Ready for professional SEO management after reading this? Start with a free SEO Audit from Search Engine Savvy.


Follow Steph McGuinn on Twitter, @HeartBuzzAgency.