Optimizing for Hanukkah: Sometimes it’s still strings, not things

My wife came to me with a problem. She wanted festive, whimsical, and potentially matching Hanukkah pajamas. But there weren’t enough options coming up in Google under one spelling of the holiday’s name, so she told me she was systematically going through all spellings to compile her list of shopping items.

I was pretty surprised by this — I had expected Google to be smart enough to recognize that these were alternative spellings of the same thing, especially post-Hummingbird. Clearly, this was not the case.

Some background for those who don’t know: Hanukkah is actually a transliterated word from Hebrew. Since Hebrew has its own alphabet, there are numerous spellings that one can use to reference it: Hanukkah, Chanukah, and Channukah are all acceptable spellings of the same holiday.

So, when someone searches for “Hanukkah pajamas” or “Chanukah pajamas,” Google really should be smart enough to understand that they are different spellings of the same concept and provide nearly identical results. But Google does not! I imagine this happens for other holidays and names from other cultures, and I’d be curious to know if other readers experience the same problem with those.

Why am I surprised that Google is returning different results for different spellings? Well, with the introduction of the Knowledge Graph (and Hummingbird), Google signaled a change for SEO. More than ever before, we could start thinking about search queries not merely as keyword strings, but as interrelated real-world concepts.

What do I mean by this?

When someone searches for “Abraham Lincoln,” they’re more than likely searching for the entity representing the 16th president of the United States, rather than the appearance of the words “Abraham” and “Lincoln,” or their uncle, also named Abraham Lincoln. And if they search for “Lincoln party,” Google knows we’re likely discussing political parties, rather than parties in the town of Lincoln, Mass., because this is a concept in close association with the historical entity Abraham Lincoln.

Similarly, Google is certainly capable of understanding that when we use the keyword Hanukkah, it is in reference to the holiday entity and that the various spellings are also referring to the same entity. Despite different spellings, the different searches actually mean the same thing. But alas, as demonstrated by my wife’s need to run a different search for each spelling of the holiday in order to discover all of her Hanukkah pajama options, Google wasn’t doing the best job.

So, how widespread is the Chanukah/Hanukkah/Chanukkah search problem? Here are a couple of search results for Chanukah items:

As you can see from the first screen shot, some big box retailers like Target, Macy’s and JCPenney rank on page one of Google. In screen shot two, however, they are largely absent — and sites like PajamaGram and Etsy are dominating the different spelling’s SERP.

This means that stores targeting the already small demographic of Hanukkah shoppers are actually reducing the number of potential customers by only using one spelling on their page. (Indeed, according to my keyword tool of choice, although “Hanukkah” has the highest search volume of all variants at 301,100 global monthly searches, all other spellings combined still make up a sizeable 55,500 searches — meaning that retailers optimizing for both terms could be seeing 18 percent more traffic.)

Investigating spelling variations and observations

Since I’m an ever-curious person, I wanted to investigate this phenomenon a little further.

I built a small, simple tool to show how similar the search engine results pages (SERP) for two different queries are by examining which listings appear in both SERPs. If we look at five common spellings of Hanukkah, we see the following:

Keyword 1Keyword 2SERP SimilarityChannukahChanukah90.00%ChannukahHannukah20.00%ChannukahHannukkah20.00%ChannukahHanukkah30.00%ChanukahHannukah20.00%ChanukahHannukkah20.00%ChanukahHanukkah30.00%HannukahHannukkah90.00%HannukahHanukkah80.00%HannukkahHanukkah80.00%

The tool shows something quite interesting here: Not only are the results different, but depending on spelling, the results may only be 20 percent identical, meaning eight out of 10 of the listings on page one are completely different.

I then became curious about why the terms weren’t canonicalized to each other, so I looked at Wikidata, one of the primary data sources that Google uses for its Knowledge Graph. As it turns out, there is an entity with all of the variants accounted for:

I then checked the Google Knowledge Graph Search API, and it became very clear that Google may be confused:

KeywordresultScore@idnameDescription@typeChannukah8.081924kg:/m/0vpq52Channukah LoveSong by Ju-Tang[MusicRecording, Thing]Chanukah16.334606kg:/m/06xmqp_A Rugrats Chanukah?[Thing]Hannukah11.404715kg:/m/0zvjvwtHannukahSong by Lorna[MusicRecording, Thing]Hannukkah11.599854kg:/m/06vrjy9HannukkahBook by Jennifer Blizin Gillis[Book, Thing]Hanukkah21.56493kg:/m/02873zHanukkah HarryFictional character[Thing]

The resultScore values — which, according to the API documentation, indicate “how well the entity matched the request constraints” — are very low. In this case, the entity wasn’t very well matched. This would be consistent with the varying results if it weren’t for the fact that a Knowledge Graph is being returned for all of the spelling variants with the Freebase ID /m/022w4 — different from what is returned from the Knowledge Graph API. So, in this case, it seems that the API may not be a reliable means of assessing the problem. Let’s move on to some other observations.

It is interesting to note was that when searching for Channukah, Google pushed users to Chanukah results. When searching Hannukah and Hannukkah, Google pushed users to Hanukkah results. So, Google does seem to group Hanukkah spellings together based on whether they start with an “H” or a “Ch.”

Chanukah, Hannukah, and Hanukkah were also the only variations that received the special treatment of the Hanukkah menorah graphic:

What a retailer selling Hanukkah products should do

Clearly, if we want full coverage of terms (and my wife to find your Hanukkah pajamas), we cannot rely on just optimizing for the highest search volume variation of the keyword, as Google doesn’t seem to view all variants as entirely the same. Your best bet is to include the actual string for each spelling variant somewhere on the page, rather than relying on Google to understand them as variations of the same thing.

If you’re a smaller player, it may make sense to prioritize optimizations toward one of the less popular spelling variants, as the organic competition may not be as significant. (Of course, this does not bar you from using spelling variants in addition to that for the potential of winning for multiple spellings.)

At a bare minimum, you may opt to include a spelling beginning with H- and Ch- and hope that Google will direct users to the same SERP in most cases.

Future experiment

I started an experiment to see whether the inclusion of structured data with sameAs properties may be a potential avenue for getting Google to understand a single spelling as an entity, eliminating the need to include different spelling variations. As of now, it’s a little too early to know the results of the test, and they are inconclusive, but I look forward to sharing those results in the future.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

Google's latest search updates brings more content to Featured Snippets & Knowledge Panel info

Google has announced three new search updates around featured snippets, knowledge panel information and suggestions for related topics.

According to a post on Google’s The Keyword blog, a selection of featured snippets will now include more images and related search suggestions within the box displaying the featured snippet content.

It is also expanding the information displayed in the Knowledge Panel to include related content.

“For example, while looking at the Knowledge Panel about skiing, you’ll see related searches for sports such as snowboarding directly inside the result,” writes Google product manager, Michael Galvez.

Google says the expansion of related topics has not only been updated within knowledge panel information, but at the top of search results as well.

Using an example of searches for the famed soccer players Neymar and Messi, Google says searchers will see suggestions for related topics, “… to discover other athletes during your search session.”

In addition to these confirmed updates, it appears Google is also testing a new feature that displays a carousel with a list of answers directly within the search results snippet, as we reported earlier today.

“Search is not just about answering your questions — it’s also about discovery,” writes Galvez, who goes on to say the updates are meant to help searches further explore the topics they are researching.

Google testing an answers carousel within the search results snippets

Google has started testing and potentially rolling out a new feature in search that shows a carousel with a list of answers directly within the search results snippets. It shows the main search result snippet, and below it, it shows a carousel of answers picked from the content on the page the snippet is linking to.

This comes in handy with forum-related threads where someone asks a question and multiple people give their answers. In addition, Google is labeling which answer is the “best” and shows that answer first in the search results.

Here is a picture from @glenngabe:

I suspect Google is picking the best answer from a label in the thread itself.

Of course, this can be a concern for those who run answer sites. Instead of a searcher clicking from Google’s search results to an answer site webpage, the searcher can quickly see a snippet or the full answer in these answer carousels.

Google tests 'notable moments' carousel in knowledge graph cards

Google is testing a new feature for some of its knowledge graph cards. The feature shows a section for “notable moments” in a carousel format in the knowledge card.

Sergey Alakov shared a screen shot of it on Twitter:

The “notable moments” shows webpages that have timeline-based information about the individual. So in this example, b Justin Trudeau, the Prime Minister of Canada, shows an imdb.com card for the year he was born and a site named “thefamouspeople” for the year after he was born. It continues to scroll with more timeline-based information.

I have been unable to replicate this, but the concept of this carousel looks interesting and useful to me.

Google Manufacturer Center for product data expands scope, launches API

With the growing importance of Google Shopping campaigns in paid search results for brands and manufacturers, getting product data correct and consistent has become an increasingly urgent task. It’s been a somewhat sleepy product, but this week, Google announced new features and an expansion of Manufacturer Center.

Launched in 2015, Google Manufacturer Center was designed to be a central repository for the product data that powers Google Shopping campaigns. Now, Google is using that data in knowledge panels in the US, including product features, images and descriptions. Earlier this month, Google began showing much more content in knowledge panels on mobile, including product features as shown in the example below.

Google Manufacturer Center is now available in more countries: Australia, Brazil, France, Germany, the Netherlands and the UK.

With the launch of a new Manufacturer Center API, brands and third-party data partners can add, update and delete products without having to rely on manual feed uploads.

In addition to streamlining product data quality management, Manufacturer Center offers analytics about how individual products perform on Google within their broader categories. The analytics show overall impressions for the category, the product’s share of category impressions, total clicks and how the click-through rate compares to the category benchmark click-through rate on a week-by-week basis over a four-week period.

Google showing knowledge graph data in local panels

Google has started showing more information about local businesses in some local knowledge panel results. It is implementing this by showing additional tabs of information above the local panel for (a) locations (b) about, and sometimes (c) Google Posts.

Here is a screen shot showing a search for [kfc] which brings up locations for nearby KFCs and an “about” tab for knowledge panel information about the chain.

Sergey Alakov, who first spotted this, said it “looks like Google started combining knowledge panels and local packs in mobile search results for businesses that have a knowledge panel displayed for their brand name search and local presence in the user’s area.”

I cannot consistently bring this up, so it might be Google is testing this feature still or it is currently still rolling out to searchers.

Is the featured snippet bubble bursting?

This article was co-authored with my colleague at Go Fish Digital, Chris Long.

We’ve been bullish on answer boxes (also known as featured snippets) for a while now. Six months ago, we wrote about unique strategies we’ve been using to obtain those featured snippets. That coveted “position 0” is just so juicy, for a number of reasons:

It ranks above all of the organic search results.It takes up a lot of SERP real estate.It attracts a ton of eyes and drives a lot of organic traffic.It is often the answer to questions asked to Google Home/Google Assistant.

In May, Ahrefs ran a study of 2 million featured snippets. Out of the 112 million keywords in their database, they observed that ~14 million (a little over 12 percent) were triggering an answer box in their results. That data point aligned with what we were seeing anecdotally, which is that they were popping up all over the place.

Something happened at the end of October

We recently noticed that some of the answer boxes we worked really hard to get were just gone. No notice, no goodbye. We looked across the industry, as well as our tracked keywords for clients, and there did indeed seem to be something going on.

Take a look at what the Mozcast SERP Feature history shows over the past 30 days (pulled November 2, 2017) for Featured Snippets:

That is a drop from around 16 percent to 14 percent over just a couple of days, and after a fairly long period where we’ve seen them generally increase.

We use STAT for keyword tracking. In the example below, our client experienced a 6 percent drop in answer boxes appearing for keywords they track.

Although not a huge dip, it is enough to see a reduction in traffic — definitely not a trend we’d want continuing for them.

What are we seeing in its place?

The interesting thing is that we are seeing an uptick in knowledge panels. Historically, the main knowledge panels in search results were about companies, people and other entities. But now we are seeing generic knowledge panels popping up for all types of queries in ways we hadn’t seen before.

For example, this generic “lunchbox” knowledge panel isn’t a type I had really seen before. Frankly, it isn’t all that helpful either.

When we revisited the Mozcast SERP Feature, we observed a dramatic increase in the number of knowledge panels it’s been discovering:

Since October 27, there has been about a 14 percent increase in the number of knowledge panels Google has been displaying (at the time of this writing). This lines up fairly well with the timeline where featured snippets declined. Returning to our client example, we also saw an increase in the number of knowledge panels observed in their SERP landscape.

Starting on October 27, we can see that the number of knowledge panels in their SERPs rose by 3.7 percent. While this isn’t a huge number, initially only about 0.9 percent of tracked queries were showing a Knowledge Panel. That number has since jumped to 4.6 percent, accounting for over a 400 percent increase.

Has the bubble burst?

I hope not. Google SERPs are volatile right now, so this could be a temporary machine learning test to compare how people interact with the SERPs without featured snippets. Or not.

Will we change strategies?

In the short term, definitely not. Sometimes Google giveth, and sometimes Google taketh away (see authorship photos). Sometimes Google just tests stuff quickly and then goes back to how things were.

I suspect that they’ll come back. But even if they don’t, it is still a worthy endeavor to obtain a featured snippet when you can. Because of the great branding and traffic that come along with featured snippets, even if their volume is reduced, they can still have a positive impact.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

Google updates mobile product knowledge panels to show even more info in one spot

Google is updating the look of of its product-oriented knowledge panels on mobile to show even more details about specific products in the search results.

In an example spotted by Vlad Rappoport, shown below, the shopping knowledge panel has a blue header and a new carousel featuring third-party editorial reviews and separate tabs for stores in addition to reviews along with several other features, like videos, to provide a one-stop resource for product information. 

In the example above, there is one Shopping ad in the “Shop on Google” section. In other cases, the knowledge panel will feature a carousel of Shopping ads.  The example below also features several product images in a carousel, as well as an additional “Details” tab.

Google pulls in user reviews from various sources, including merchants, manufacturers and brands that participate in the Product Ratings program and from platforms like Influenster.com. The editorial reviews about specific products are surfaced algorithmically.

Google first began showing ads in knowledge panels at the end of 2013. The update comes right before the holiday shopping season, a time when Google competes heavily with Amazon and others for product search volume. It also reflects Google’s move to provide more information about products in the search results themselves with features like side-by-side product comparisons, for example.

Google tweeted a GIF showing the new shopping panel experience:

Get shopping information in a snap. Now with a single search, you can quickly find product photos, videos, reviews, descriptions and more. pic.twitter.com/4w0OXyvAJ2

— Google (@Google) November 14, 2017

Google adds new knowledge panel to provide information about news publishers

Google has announced a new knowledge graph card for news publishers in which searchers can learn more about a specific news publication directly in the search results.

Google said this will help searchers learn about “a publication you’re not familiar with or one you wanted to learn more about.” The knowledge panels also give searchers faster access to information about a publisher and can help Google address the misinformation and fake news issues it has been fighting for some time now.

The news publisher knowledge graph will show topics the publisher commonly covers, major awards the publisher has won and claims the publisher has made that have been reviewed by third parties.

Here is a screen shot of this feature from Google:

Google explains there is no way to directly control which publishers are able to surface the new knowledge graphs and what information is shown but offers these tips:

Like search results, many factors go into what’s shown in the Knowledge Panel. Publishers that consistently create fresh, news-related online content can improve their chances of having a Knowledge Panel.

Google said these knowledge panels do not influence how a site ranks in the search results.

Additional tabs of content that can show in the news publisher knowledge panel in Google results include:

Writes about: Topics that are frequently covered by the publisher.Awards: Notable awards that the publisher has received.Reviewed claims: This shows up when a significant amount of a publisher’s recent content has been reviewed by an authoritative fact-checker.

Google is testing ads in local business knowledge panels

Google is testing more ad opportunities in knowledge panels. In this case, it’s testing ads on panels for local businesses.

Spotted by Dr. Pete Meyers of Moz, the example below shows an ad from Groupon for the featured club. A call to action to “View Deal” links to the related offer page on Groupon.com.

Looks like Google is testing targeted ads directly in Local Knowledge Panels (can't replicate it live) — pic.twitter.com/AVr0a1TG0r

— Dr. Pete Meyers (@dr_pete) August 28, 2017

“We’re currently experimenting with new ways to surface helpful and relevant local information to users on Google Maps and Search,” a Google spokesperson told Search Engine Land when asked about the ad placement. “Maintaining a good experience for our users is our top priority and based on feedback, we’ll determine whether to roll these changes out permanently and broadly.”

Google has been running various ads in knowledge panels since 2013 — for car dealers, products, movies and TV shows and music — but this is the first time ads for them have appeared in panels for local businesses.

Last year, shortly after removing Maps from the Search Partners network in AdWords, Google introduced plans to expand the presence of ads and experiment with formats in Google Maps. At that time, Google said one-third of mobile searches are local and that local searches are growing 50 percent faster than mobile search overall.