You have probably noticed that Google has been steadily elevating the prominence of the “question and answer format” for some time.
Google first introduced the People also ask box in 2015. For a while, it was a low-profile feature, often appearing midway or lower down the first page. As with virtually all new features, Google did extensive testing to ensure they are useful to searchers.
By early 2017, the feature began rising in prominence, including appearing for 10-15% of Fortune 500 companies. In November 2018, the People also ask box started appearing for about 80% of companies and grew from there, today appearing for over 90% of the F500.
It appears that Google has figured out not only the kinds of questions people often ask, but that people appreciate the format as an efficient way to find information quickly.
This new format often presents questions we would have been unlikely to ask ourselves (a search for ‘gaming fingers’ brings up both ‘how do you play the game number fingers’ and ‘can playing video games cause trigger finger’), and returns answers with varying degrees of authority, simply because they seem to match well.
That is…unless getting the right answer is a matter of life and death. Then Google interrupts its regularly scheduled algorithms to present results much differently, cutting straight to the most authoritative answer. Nothing brings this home more clearly than the way Google is handling the COVID-19 crisis.
What is going on? Let’s take a deeper look.
The Paths of Search
When you search online, Google does quick triage:
If there is one unequivocal answer – as in ‘Who is the Prime Minister of Canada’ – that answer will generally be delivered in the form of a Featured Snippet or Knowledge Panel. A question and answer box will appear below this, with related questions, answered by various sources.
If your query is something less clear, like “gaming fingers,” Google’s algorithm is not sure of your intent, so it will generally provide a variety of different results to help disambiguate what you are trying to find; you can pick a specific path or decide you know enough from what you’ve read on the search page.
The People also ask box captures frequent intentions – and Google figures that your intent is likely to be similar to one of them.
But what happens when there’s a lot riding on the answer?
When the answer is crucial, like in an impending weather emergency or a search related to suicide, Google overrides its own algorithm – and provides answers that have the greatest likelihood of keeping you safe.
A Tornado warning in the searcher’s area appears in red at the top of the page when they do a weather-related search. In the case of a suicide-related query, a toll-free hotline number appears in a large font at the top of the page, with the text ‘help is available.”
In these cases, even if Google is not sure what you are asking — and even if there are probably a variety of accurate answers to a question like ‘how to kill yourself’ — Google will err on the side of caution.
In these cases Google sacrifices variety, balance, considerations of the searcher’s own history, and any other elements of its algorithm for the most direct route to possibly saving a life.
The Coronavirus Connection
In our current moment, searches for coronavirus or COVID-19 bring up an expanded knowledge panel — almost a mini- site — featuring symptoms, prevention, treatments, and statistics. The area is branded as a red ‘COVID-19 alert’, and all information is provided only by highly reputable sources.
The People also ask box is farther down the page than normal, and is referred to as “Common questions” instead; answers are sourced from highly authoritative sources – most prominently, the CDC.
Along with this new way of presenting coronavirus answers, Google has a new initiative to help medical organizations optimize their sites, so that their information appears prominently in Google searches, and populates the results for these types of medical questions.
SEO Roundtable has summarized the initiative here, in which Google has provided guidance for health organizations on:
- Mobile optimization
- The importance of good page content and titles
- How to analyze the top coronavirus related user queries
- How to add structured data for FAQ content
While it would obviously be easier for Google to simply give all worthy health organizations more weight in the algorithm (using some sort of ‘authority score’), it seems to prefer that these entities assert their expertise organically.
Even more “interventionist”: As of end March, Google began heavily prioritizing local COVID-19-related results, giving more prominence to local publishers as each country began developing unique approaches to fighting the virus.
It seems that Google is scrupulous about accuracy only when there is a specific unequivocal answer, or when it thinks there might be a case of life and death. Maybe these are the only times Google won’t be called out for using influence in unfair ways?
Google’s opening gambit with health organizations, a half step between the democratic question and answer format and the tightly controlled emergency format, might be an interesting way forward in areas where more authoritative answers may not be immediately crucial, but would be appreciated by users – like nutrition or child-development.
In fact, all companies and professionals, following a best practices optimization strategy (titles, query analysis, FAQ content, etc.) can help establish their expertise on the results page. By assessing what questions people ask, and by answering them in the most relevant and easily understood way, companies may be able to make sure that the answers to the questions people ask are answered by their very own legitimate expertise.
It may not always be an emergency to get the answer right, but users would surely appreciate bumping into more true experts on their search paths.
“You are discouraged from writing articles about yourself or organizations (including their campaigns, clients, products and services) in which you hold a vested interest.”
In short, editing the Wikipedia page about your own company is usually discouraged, as Wikipedia wants to ensure its content is unbiased.
Also – Wikipedia editing guidelines are far more complex than you might assume. The sources, writing style, editor interaction, etc. is nearly impossible to navigate if you don’t have extensive experience on the platform.
Always keep in mind:
- Wikipedia editors frown upon and even penalize pages that appear to have been edited by the company without being transparent.
- Your IP Address will be recorded and can be seen by others. So never try to be anonymous while using a company-owned IP address.
- The Wikipedia editor community often track changes. Your edits can potentially trigger alerts for engaged editors. And they may act swiftly against your edits.
Before making a decision we recommend consulting with a Wikipedia expert to weigh options.
Five Blocks offers Free Consultation and help in determining your options regarding Creation or Editing of Wikipedia pages.
We have helped many companies and individuals navigate Wikipedia and would be happy to discuss your options.
Do you need help editing your company or personal Wikipedia page?
A few words about how we work with Wikipedia editors:
- Help in determining notability – if you or your company are not yet seen as notable entities – perhaps there are steps you can take to get there?
- Create and submit factual content that may have been missed or under-emphasized by Wikipedia editors. We also suggest corrections for mistakes and vandalism.
- Consult with Wikipedia editors to ensure that proposed edits meet the terms of service and appropriately represent client interests.
- Work with Wikipedia and carefully consider timing. Introducing a Wikipedia page in advance of a crisis may be a good idea, while doing so in the middle of crisis could backfire.
Free Consultation regarding your brand’s Wikipedia challenge: Contact Us
Still have questions? See our FAQ
How do you edit an error on My Company’s Wikipedia page?
While anyone can edit Wikipedia, editors are suspicious of articles that appear to contain conflict of interest (self-serving) edits. Here’s how we recommend getting essential changes made.
How do you create a Wikipedia page?
Wikipedia has strict standards for notability (who deserves a page), citations (proving facts with sources), and conflict of interest (impartial information), and many pages get challenged. It is therefore wise to consult with professionals.
Can you edit your own Wikipedia page?
The goal of the Wikipedia project is to be a comprehensive source for objective information, and editors are highly suspicious of articles that appear self-serving. Here’s how we recommend you go about getting edits made.
Who can edit a Wikipedia page?
Any edits to Wikipedia articles which add false, insulting, or inflammatory information or language in a deliberate manner are vandalism. If your page has been vandalized, read here about what you can do.
Can I see who edited a Wikipedia page?
To find editor names, go to the ‘View History’ tab at the top right of the Wikipedia page. The name of the editor appears next to each change, right after the date. Click on that name, and you will find out anything the editor has chosen to share with the public.
Curious to learn more about digital reputation management? Five Blocks will be in Chicago this week at the 2018 PR Week Conference. The conference promises to be a master class for communications pros in the ever-evolving digital world. Come hear from the best in the business and be sure to catch our CEO, Sam Michelson, speaking on Thursday, October 18 at 10:45 when he’ll share keys for cracking a digital reputation crisis. Don’t miss this informative and actionable conversation.
Our team will be at the conference all day and looks forward to seeing old friends and meeting new colleagues interested in discussing digital reputation management.
Over the first half of 2018, we have seen the search engine results continue to evolve from being a doorway to information to being the destination itself. This is not only evident in the composition of the search engines, but also in how users perceive the results (per the 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer).
I have continued to see clear attempts by Google to satisfy users and answer their question without any extra steps, by introducing several interesting changes to the search page functionality:
Ownership of the information
In June 2018, Google rolled out verification of the knowledge panel to more entities and notable individuals. This ability to take over the knowledge panel signals that Google wants entities to participate in providing factual information so that the searchers are provided the summary of an entity without having to search elsewhere.
Videos Carousel on the page
One of the latest changes Google has brought to the results page, following closely on the heels of Bing, is a video carousel similar to the already existing image box. While this could, potentially, reduce traffic to YouTube, the ultimate goal of immediately satisfying users apparently preempts the potential loss of YouTube advertising revenues.
Improved Search Suggests
A very recent addition to the features on the search page is enhanced search suggest.
When users click on a result and later return back to the search engine results page, Google sees they are searching for additional information and now suggests ancillary search queries directly below the original result. This feature precludes the need to do additional searches to find what the user may be looking for.
On mobile, Google has introduced a significant change with Facebook style scrolling, essentially creating an endless page of information. Stay tuned as this might come to all search results pages – not just mobile.
Our outlook calls for search engines to continue efforts to provide the exact information the user seeks, ideally within the search page itself. We expect to see search engines return more content previously contained deep within other websites. It will be interesting to see how websites balance their desire to be listed within Google and Bing, and their need to hold onto their own data. Searchers will continue to demand more of the engines – who will do their part to provide the best information they can.
Five Blocks has been a proud sponsor of the Sohn Investment Conference since 2014
On Monday April 23rd the top minds in hedge fund investing will gather in Lincoln Center for the annual Sohn investment conference. The conference is a forum aimed at raising funds to further initiatives to cure pediatric cancer. The sharing of world class investment ideas by some of the world’s most successful investors is the bait – and it works marvelously!
The Sohn Conference Foundation has built itself a reputation as the top hedge fund conference – even receiving a mention in the first season of the popular TV show “Billions” (Episode 6, “The Deal”) – as the symbol of hedge fund conferences.
Five Blocks is proud to have both sponsored and worked with the Sohn Conference for 5 years, starting in Hong Kong, and then working on and attending the conferences in London, Tel Aviv, and New York.
We are proud to once again sponsor the great work that the Sohn Conference Foundation is doing around the world and look forward to participating and seeing many of our clients and partners as in years past.
Our staff will be at the conference and looks forward to meeting with hedge funds and communications people who may be able to benefit from our digital reputation management services.