How much stock should be placed on the ever-changing Google search engine results page (SERP)? Should business owners based their internet marketing decisions on the lists and content carousels that Google features at the very top of the SERP?
It is generally accepted that Google is getting pretty good at offering instant answers such as: What is the time in Paris? What is the weather like in Buenos Aires? What is the square root of four? The results for these queries tend to be highlighted at the top, and users do not have to click any further if they believe that their questions have been thoroughly answered.
When the queries are more subjective, Google may still highlight the results with a flashier display. Such is the case with carousels, which are similar to photo slideshows. In mid-February, the SEO professional community was surprised by an article published by Search Engine Round Table, a website dedicated to insights related to the online marketing industry. The article referenced that when an internet searcher inputs a query for the “best SEO companies,” Google returned a carousel with 10 companies and their logos.
Featuring Versus Scraping
SEO professionals who participated in the aforementioned discussion right away noticed major issues with the list displayed by Google. While some of the agencies on the carousel were recognized as leaders in the field of search engine marketing, the rest of the companies did not appear to be familiar.
A major problem with the Google carousel was that it appeared to be a snippet pulled from a single website that has a list of SEO agencies without proper indication as to what could make them better than others. An even greater concern is that some of the companies on the list actually paid to be featured on the page that Google chose to make its carousel.
In other words, the Google carousel of the best SEO companies was scrapped instead of objectively hand-picked. As if this was not troublesome enough, Google contradicted its policy to shun paid links.
Knowledge Graph Versus Snippets
In recent years, Google has explained its intention to move from snippets to its Knowledge Graph for the purpose of displaying the SERP and providing results and answers that can be considered useful to searchers. The carousel situation described above does not indicate that this is happening yet.
Snippets are small yet prominent SERP sections that are rich in data. For example, a football fan who searches for the legendary Real Madrid club that plays in the Spanish League will immediately see that the team is at ranked first in its division; moreover, the snippet will also display the results of the last match, and even a schedule for future matches. On the right-hand side, the club’s logo and a short bio courtesy of Wikipedia is displayed. This snippet is rich in information and very useful; therefore, one can see that the Knowledge Graph that Google manages is quite effective.
The Knowledge Graph was clearly not at work when Google made a carousel for the best SEO companies. Google engineers who interact with the SEO community have explained that not all carousels are based on the main ranking algorithm of the search engine; in this particular case, the snippet was scraped from other websites.
Two of the main lessons learned by the carousel incident include: it pays to have structured data in a website because Google is still forming snippets, and the search engine cannot be trusted 100 percent with subjective queries. In some cases, snippets work fine, but not all the time, and thus Google should not be taken as gospel with regard to the best SEO companies.