Published on Impression December 17, 2019 (Laura Hampton)
Google has been working for years on how best to understand entities – from the very earliest days of the Knowledge Graph through to building its own entity engine to making use of Wikipedia as a means of populating its own banks of information on the people and brands that exist in the world.
At the same time, Google has been working to better digest language and to understand it as people do. I wrote a blog recently on the impact of BERT on named entity determination and within this, referenced the implied links patent held by Google since 2012.
Last week, Jason Barnard wrote an article for Search Engine Journal which is worth a read for anyone interesting in salience and the role of the Knowledge Graph. Here, I’ll be exploring more specifically the impact of the so-called “Budapest update” on the importance of digital PR.
What is the “Budapest update”?
The “Budapest update” is so-named by Jason Barnard and refers to changes in the volume and depth of Knowledge Panel entries for brands and people according to his research. It’s not a Google-announced update, so must always be taken with a pinch of salt, but it does provide some interesting insight through the research Jason has conducted.
Specifically, the research has been tracking the number and depth of entity entries in the Knowledge Graph by querying its API; Jason noted a marked growth in the number of entries for brands and people this summer, with brands seeing the biggest increase in Knowledge Graph visibility.
The research also showed an apparent correlation between the number of ‘fresh’ citations/mentions of a brand/entity and the depth of Knowledge Graph information achieved.
Why is this important for SEO?
As the rise of ‘zero-click searches’ continues to encourage users to remain in Google’s search pages rather than navigate to a website, brand owners moving into 2020 will undoubtedly be considering the best way to:
- Entice users to click through to their site by ensuring they’re providing a wide array of high quality, valuable content
- Make more of the SERPs (search engine results pages) so that their brand occupies more space through SERP features
The so-called Budapest update is of particular relevance to the second point here, with much of the SERP features being driven by Google’s understanding of the entity being queried. In essence, the more Google knows about you/your brand, theoretically, the better equipped it is to surface this information to users.
Another area noted by Jason in his Search Engine Journal article was that of ambiguity and salience (something I also covered in my previously mentioned blog post). The idea here is that the information contained in the Knowledge Graph can assist Google when it needs to decipher which version of a ‘thing’ is being requested by the user. For example, someone searching for ‘Impression’ might well mean our fabulously excellent agency… or they might mean an artist’s impression, be referring to ‘impression share’ or even be looking for another business of the same name. That ambiguity can cause challenges for Google in its mission to serve users what they want, and for users who have to find a way to “dis-ambiguise” their search.
What Jason found was that the entities with greater depth, breadth and recency of Knowledge Graph information were more likely to be served first and to be served more frequently. Plus, the more information Google holds, the better able it is to respond to longer tail queries relating to the entity (meaning that someone looking for our agency can append additional keywords such as ‘marketing’ or ‘Aaron Dicks’ etc and expect to find our brand).
Why is it important for marketers?
Beyond even just SEO, the impact of this is potentially much further reaching. As marketers, much of our role is about raising awareness of our brands and this is made tangible in many ways, but is still difficult to quantify in others. When it comes to brand salience, what we may be seeing in this research is an additional method to quantify the impact of our work.
In particular, tactics like PR will become increasingly prevalent and important as we move into the coming year; layer in the impact of EAT considerations, and it’s easy to see how activities like thought leadership and comment placement will be more key than ever in a successful brand building strategy.
How to use PR to benefit from “Budapest”
Though there are certainly many aspects to the Budapest research put forward by Jason, one area which is particularly interesting to those of us working in PR / digital PR is the notion that freshness and frequency of mention will play a part in the depth and breadth of our Knowledge Graph – and therefore our visibility in the SERPs.
Building up brand affiliations
One step to take in ensuring your brand/self benefits from the findings of this research is to invest in activities that build up brand affiliations or associations. Basically, use PR / off page activity to make sure Google knows what you’re all about.
At its most basic level, utilising platforms like Google My Business and relevant directories will communicate the categories of relevance to your brand. Listing Impression as a ‘marketing agency’ in GMB, for example, is one sure-fire way to let Google know what we do – so be sure to cover off this important, yet simple, point early on.
Further on from this, consider how your current PR strategy communicates what you do. There have been a lot of really exciting campaigns in 2019 that have showcased a great deal of creativity and there’s certainly an ongoing place for these – but consider also the use of arguably less ‘sexy’ tactics like thought leadership or comment placement to align your brand/self with topics of relevance. For example, here at Impression, we write for a wide range of external publications where our brand name is mentioned alongside terms like SEO, PPC or PR, and on website relevant to marketing and business. These activities are not just great for getting our name (and that of our colleagues) out there, but also in building Google’s understanding of us.
Growing personal profiles
This is another area where your PR activity can help. Select your spokespeople appropriately in order to gain not just brand affiliations, but personal associations too.
For example, you might use tactics like thought leadership or comment placement, or think even broader into areas like speaking at events or sponsoring an exhibition of relevance. All these links and associations will support Google’s understanding of your brand and broaden your Knowledge Graph by associating individual names with the brand, too.
‘Relevance’ as an essential metric
It’s important to note that nothing I’m saying here is ‘new’ as such, more than it’s a new way of framing it. In the same way, the notion of relevance is not ‘new’, but this should be further argument for the importance of PR / other promotional campaigns that fall safely within the circles of focus – i.e. they are relevant to what the brand does and not just created for the purposes of achieving coverage.
The more aligned our brands can become with the topics that are relevant to them, the easier it will be, theoretically, for Google to reduce ambiguity and better serve our information up in the SERPs.
How big a deal is this?
The impact of this research will depend on how you choose to use it. The bottom line has got to be that it isn’t an update from Google, so the extent we want to take it on board will depend on how much weighting you put on the research – but it does show some interesting data around the growth of Google’s entity understanding.
What is clear is that a complete strategy has got to consider relevance as well as quality, especially when it comes to link acquisition, and that affiliations with your brand continue to be important.