All posts by James Gibbons

Hacking Google Answer Cards with Freebase (Two Weeks Left!)

Hurry up! Freebase is about to become read-only March 31, 2015.

Freebase optimization was one of the most visible methods of making a change in search results on Google. In early December, Google announced it will shut down freebase, and transfer existing data to Wikidata.

There has been a lot of seo buzz around ‘entity search’ and Freebase was always a part of that conversation. I think of Freebase as a content library that can populate a variety of different structured data coding languages.

Freebase Data as Answer Cards

For SEO purposes, I initially used Freebase to fill in information for hotels. Freebase appeared to be an extension of local SEO and also link building. NAP information needed to be accurate and comprehensive; followed links should be flowing to the proper pages. Once those Freebase fields were correct for an individual hotel, there was room to be a bit creative with the other information to include within the page.

seo freebase optimization

The key with Freebase is to focus on factual information. In this case, I populated the date of a hotel opening. Once complete, many question related search queries asking for the hotel’s opening date return the card-format search result. I do not have a specific timeline for when this card emerged following my initial entry, but it was within a few weeks. (Not able to share the client)

There are perhaps over a thousand different data points to include within an entity’s Freebase profile: attractions nearby, name of architecture, name of enclosed restaurants, number of rooms, etc.

Google Becoming the Ultimate Source?

It appears that when Freebase data is used as the source of information within an answer card, there is no link citation. Google bought Freebase from Metaweb in 2010 so I guess they don’t need to cite; just some speculation.

There are many card-format search results that do have a link citation within them.

google answer cards

What does this all mean?

Freebase was a great experiment for Google and I would say a success. It should be interesting to see how much original content was given to the search engine through the site.

I would bet that most SEOs agree answer cards are here to stay and there will be more. Dr. Pete & Moz showed a 44% increase in answer cards in September 2014. For websites & brands, it’s now an even faster race to establish authority with their space. Why? Google may cite your content within an answer card. More on this in another post perhaps.

The Importance of Google+ for Implicit and Local Search

Search intent has changed with the abundance of metadata available for Google to use in its algorithm. This is evident in the rise of implicit keyword phrases. The search engines know enough background information that the end user does not need to specify certain descriptive keywords. The emerging trend of implicit keywords is most visible within locally minded searches that often trigger the Knowledge Graph and/or Local Carousel.

Implicit Search Explained

Whenever a search query is made, there is a lot of information sent to the search engine besides the specific keyword phrase. This information is implicit keyword data. The early search engines were not equipped to process the implicit data and provide meaningful results. Today, the search engines, primarily Google, are constantly developing new ways to make use of rich implicit keyword data.

There is a great Moz Whiteboard Friday by Will Critchlow that describes the Future of User Behavior. According to Will, while end users may become less explicit in their search queries, the overall volume of keyword information is on the rise. This type of information includes, time of search, location, browser, search history, etc.

implicit keyword data moz

How to Win: Use Google+

Where does Google+ come into play? The SERP is changing. A standard web result is not always the norm. For implicit searches, a brand will often manifest as a local listing, Local Carousel result, or Knowledge Graph entity instead of a  standard web result of ten links on a SERP.

What is the most accurate indicator of hyper-local proximity? With city names, and even local neighborhoods like the Upper West Side, there are still unknowns. Location information is a standard component of the implicit keyword information sent to the search engines.

It wasn’t until about 2010 that Will’s theory begin to manifest according to Google Trends. If you lived in the UES, there was no need to use the keyword phrase “upper east side new york city pizza”. Now, one needs only to type in the implicit keyword “pizza” or “pizza near me”.

implicit searches on google trends

The phenomena is obvious. Using Google Trends, an extremely insightful Google product, one can view an index on the relative popularity of a search term. It’s interesting to speculate on what has specifically influenced the above trend. There is an initial surge, stabilization, and then another surge. Mobile has taken off, however I suspect the release of a new Google Search App for IOS and Siri’s incorporation in all Apple devices in late 2012 to have some impact on the second surge.

The Perfect Hypothetical to Explain

Suppose you work in Soho, but commute from Connecticut. It’s a weekday evening, and you want to look for someplace to go to lunch by your office.

Before you even enter any keywords in the search box (or voice), Google is doing EVERYTHING in its power to know where you live, where you work, how often you leave the office for lunch, where you go for lunch, how much you spend (Google Wallet), & if you even enjoyed lunch (Google+ Reviews). If you have Google Wallet and are active leaving reviews, Google definitely knows all of the aforementioned data. There are probably many more data points in play.

Any type of search query related to lunch may be personalized for the Soho location unless specified with a conflicting local modifier. Google is making a judgement after it realizes that the only time you visit and spend money on food during the lunch hour is in Soho.

All Local is Not Created Equal

Another interesting observation involves the different verticals where implicit searches are trending higher. Clearly people need food and it is extremely convenient if the food is within walking distance. For hotels & banks there is a different story. This speaks to how brands can leverage themselves to surface in early discovery.

implicit keyword searches

There is an upward trend visible for “bank near me”. However, this is not as explosive as the others. Are people interested in spending time searching for banks? I’m sure there is a lot interactive and fun content…or they just wait until they walk by one.

The same is true for “hotel near me”. This in now way diminishes the importance of Google+ Local for hotels. Most people want to stay at a hotel away from them. The trend is better explained with the rise of a search like “places near me”. This speaks to to the inquisitive nature of an end user and how they are in prime position to enter someone’s conversion funnel.

Desktop SERP Results:

Here we see the following searches as they appear on desktop.


The only way to surface here is to have an optimized Google+ Local listing, build a multi-million dollar directory site, or pay for placement via Google AdWords.

restaurant near me implicit search

Which Local Carousel result stands out the most? The visible thumbnail image is critical for capturing clicks. Claiming the Google+ local listing it the first step in controlling this imagery although it is still ultimately in the hands of Google.

hotel google+ local search

On a side note, local citation building is extremely important for Local SEO. One method involves looking for the outlier entities and then taking a look at their citation profile. Entities with prime visibility on the outskirts are likely utilizing SEO.

google+ local banks

This is the one search that does not trigger the Local Carousel. It’s interesting to see Chase’s visibility in this non-branded search. I’m guessing this is the result of a successful local listing reclamation enterprise-style.

travel google+ local carousel

I view “places near me” as the most interesting of all the search queries mentioned in this article. The trend exceeds “hotel near me” and highlights the inquisitive nature of the average end user. They are interacting with the search engine for an extended period of time vs. pure information retrieval. One can scroll through the carousel and click on a result that will display the entity’s Knowledge Graph. The map widget is also interactive. New Local Carousel results are dynamically generated based off what is in view within the map widget.

End of Long Tail Keywords? Hell No!

Even though short, implicit search queries are on the rise, by no means do I perceive this as decline in long tail queries. Genuine long tail keywords are on the rise. Think of this trend as a standardization. Many years ago, the end user needed to be extremely descriptive because relying on the implicit information would provide a poor search result. Now they only need to be descriptive when necessary because the implicit data will fill in the gaps.

With the advent of the Google Hummingbird update and the increasingly interactive Google Instant, long tail keyword insights are even more descriptive.


If you do not utilize Google+ appropriately, you are not optimizing for implicit search queries and stand to loose a significant amount of traffic from early stage searches.


Google City Experts & Current State of Google+ for Local

For those working in search marketing, it seems as though Google’s Knowledge Graph changes monthly. This is particularly true for Local SEO. I recently noticed the inclusion of what appear to be Google reviews within the Knowledge Graph. Mike Blumenthal was able to document this update in an expanded post where he discusses the elements of what the reviews display.document

Not all of the reviews shown on the Knowledge Graph are verbatim from an individual review. Instead, some are composed of certain bolded keywords where a review is an aggregate of several. For example, this hotel, Viceroy Santa Monica, has a reivew visibile with the indication that there are 5  associated reviews.


Who Wrote This Review?

What is even more interesting is to do an exact match search for this review within Google to see what comes up. Some type of mysterious description that is no longer on the Google+ page or even cached. Perhaps this is some type of sentiment aggregation?

google+ reviews example

The Likely Solution For Review Spam From Google

As I was reading the comments of Mike’s post, an idea sparked regarding the way in which spam will inevitably be dealt with by Google. We all know how Google’s efforts to deal with spam have been everything but a smooth process. Their are countless businesses still trying to recover from Google Panda and sourcing Google+ Local issues can burn valuable time resources.

One comment in particular brought up an anecdote of how participants in Google City Experts are encouraged to leave reviews via their mobile device (would be great if anyone could source these instructions as the FAQ page is minimal).

Google City Experts For The Win

I vaguely remembered hearing about this program some time ago, and now it is very much on my radar. I also just signed up so many more insights to come on this program. I would venture to guess that Google is actively experimenting with this group of reviewers. Experts must review 5x per month to remain on the program. The recommendation to use mobile allows Google to triangulate the position of the reviewer as well as verify their credentials via their Google+ profile.

The key takeaway here involves involves the simultaneous use of both of these concepts. Triangulation can be prone to abuse via fake GPS software. Logging into an online profile cannot 100% verify a visit to specific location unless  their is triangulation. At the very least, Google City Experts is being used to populate Google+ Local with as much content as possible. As soon as I signed up, I was taken to the following screen where local places where displayed covering a variety of different types of businesses in a rather random order.

google city experts and google+ local

Surprisingly, I have not visited the above places or any that were listed in the personalized Google City Experts welcome page. It’s somewhat intuitive that people would be more interested to review places that they previously visited. I’m surprised that these entities were not more personalized as the data is likely being tracked by Google for those with Google+ profiles.

Is Google ReviewRank Here?

The other dynamic to the situation deals with the authority of the reviewer.  Undoubtedly, reviews coming from an individual account that has been verified by Google with a history of high quality reviews will be treated differently than those coming from a recently created Google+ profile with the Gmail [insert business name here] By verified individual account, I mean that Google has independently verified a Google+ individual profile belonging to someone in the real world.

The other dynamic to the situation deals with the authority of the reviewer.  Undoubtedly, reviews coming from an individual account that has been verified by Google with a history of high quality reviews will be treated differently than those coming from a recently created Google+ profile with the Gmail [insert business name here] By verified individual account, I mean that Google has independently verified a Google+ individual profile belonging to someone in the real world.

Checklist for More Reviews on Google+

More developments to come with this of course. Though the best advice for businesses remains the same. The following checklist can be broken down and applied to a variety of different businesses across several verticals.

  1. Claim the Google+ Local Listing
  2. Optimize with categories, photos, & correct NAP information
  3. Use Moz Local for additional local listing reclamation (though it is somewhat slow)
  4. Take customer surveys & collect data
  5. Remain active on strategic social channels
  6. Identify relevant influences
  7. Ensure a positive customer experience for influencer targets

The aforementioned happens as one component of an SEO campaign for smaller businesses or organizations. For the enterprise, it will be interesting to see how the recently updated Google+ Bulk Upload will accommodate multi-location businesses such as hotels and other national chains.

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