Google is a business that is always trying to maximize their revenue. They are using “what’s best for the user” as driving reason to build their Knowledge Graph presence, which is a big part of Hummingbird. Hummingbird appears to be using Knowledge Graph to answer questions in a more conversational format, which clearly aims to have one effect: keep people on Google longer.
To achieve this, it’s suspected that Google is using a combination of machine learning and webmaster-implemented schema markup (implemented by websites) in order to gather and present this content to Google searchers. The benefit that source websites receive is a little tiny link under the scraped content displayed prominently atop Google search results.
In cases of machine learning, and lack of schema markup, I feel they are violating their own guidelines given to webmasters in relation to duplicating content from other websites. Sure, they are citing their source, but what original content does Google have of its own? None. It’s not a strong argument, but just a real gross feeling about Google’s actions.
One example is seen when you search in Google for “how do you get pink eye” (disclaimer to my colleagues: I don’t have pink eye!). You see the search result pictured at the left.
I’d be very interested to see if traffic has gone up or down to WebMD, as the question is not fully answered but the link to webmd.com is not very prominent in that subtle grey color. Why not make it blue to encourage
people to click through? What happens when Google decides to directly answer the question “why is the sky blue”? Will traffic to NASA’s page be diminished, potentially preventing kids from being introduced to all the great content available on NASA.gov?
What happens when Google decides to answer even more questions? Will websites potentially lose traffic? I can’t see these websites’ traffic data, but I can only suspect that more answers on Google = less reason to visit another website. The subtle nature of the source links certainly tips the hat as to Google’s intention for user activity (i.e. – not clicking).
When looking at flights, how much traffic do you think Expedia.com is losing with searches like “flight to vegas?”
Expedia.com is now buried under Google’s own flights program. Sure, Expedia.com still ranks #1, but I just went through the Google Flights experience and ended up on United.com. I completely bypassed Expedia.com. Sure, Google has every right to take a piece of this industry, but it certainly has major ripple effects for websites like Expedia, Orbitz and others who may now need to find new sources of traffic.
In the end, my advice continues to be: diversify your traffic sources and be prepared for change. Optimizing for search is critical, but depending too much on Google makes your business very susceptible to major traffic losses (or wins, to be fair) depending on how Google’s search experience changes. Some industries might even need to prepare to start competing with Google.