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Are Search Engines Making Informational Sites Obsolete?

Posted by drew on April 6, 2014, 6 p.m.

Bing announced recently that they have added an additional 150 million entities to their Snapshot tool. Bing’s snapshot is their version of the Google Knowledge Graph, a block of informational text held directly on a search engine results page (SERP). Many content writers and SEOs have bemoaned the use of tools like these because of their possibility to decrease clicks through to a search result. If users can get their answers in a Google or Bing SERP, why would they continue clicking?
Many SEOs have asked this question directly, and Google’s Amit Singhal answered by assuring that Google’s Knowledge Graph is only a small portion of information, and that someone in need of more information would still be compelled to click on a search result. This isn’t much of a comfort to webmasters, given that the Knowledge Graph and Bing’s Snapshot are continually adding information to their libraries, eroding more and more the need for users to visit sites beyond the search engines.

Here, for example, is a screenshot taken from Google’s Knowledge Graph for the query [nicole kidman]. You can see there is information from Wikipedia, as well as showing a filmography etc. The only link in this tile that leaves Google is the one labeled “Wikipedia.” All other links merely open a new Google search for that item (e.g. Honolulu, Moulin Rouge, etc.).

nicole kidman Google knowledge graph

There is a lot of Information in the Knowledge Graph, and Google seems more likely to keep you on Google rather than send you to the source of this information. The same can be said of Bing’s Snapshot.
Google was recently embarrassed when it was called out for being the biggest scraper site on the internet. This behavior of scraping content from other websites and posting it on your own is dubious, regardless of whether you accurately cite the source of the information.
Google defends its activities by referencing its goal of improving user experience. The faster that Google can get information to users, the better the experience is. In doing so, however, Google effectively reduces traffic to sites that may rely on impression-based advertising for revenue.

The strategy of giving users information directly to users is valuable up until a certain point, at which, the sites are no longer incentivized to produce informational pages, given that they would quickly be made irrelevant by search engines. Search engines may be moving from being aggregators of information sources to directly delivering that information to users, which leaves the sources of information wondering why they bother.