Google’s Knowledge Graph has claimed its first “victim,” if you will: The content box that showed “People and Pages On Google+” is gone. In its place? A variety of Knowledge Graph-related content that will show up differently depending on the search query.

In making the changes to this prime real estate on a search results page, Google is lessening somewhat the visibility of Google+. But it’s still using the space in the upper right of its search results to keep searchers on Google — something well within its rights, but something that may attract criticism in the same way that the Google+ box did.

Let’s look at what’s going on now….

Background: People and Pages On Google+
When Google launched “Search Plus Your World” in January, it made content from Google+ much more visible in the search results.

Part of the Google+ push was a content box called “People and Pages on Google+” that would appear adjacent to the top organic results. It didn’t matter if you were logged in to a Google account, or used Google+ — there was the “People and Pages on Google+” content box in the top right of the search results page. It showed primarily for generic search terms like “music,” “cars” or “Facebook.”

Search results like that — especially the one for “Facebook,” which has been the most popular search term in the U.S. for the past three years — brought on a lot of criticism because Google was promoting Google+ ahead of what were often more relevant social profiles. In the third example, Google was leading searchers to Mark Zuckerberg’s inactive Google+ page rather than to his Facebook profile. Danny Sullivan covered that and several other relevance issues in his article, Real-Life Examples Of How Google’s “Search Plus” Pushes Google+ Over Relevancy.

Now: People and Pages on Google+ Is Gone
Now that the dust is settling on last week’s Google Knowledge Graph launch, we’re no longer able to see the “People and Pages on Google+” content box on any searches. It’s gone, replaced instead by different Knowledge Graph-related content boxes.

That search (from above) for “music” now shows a Knowledge Graph box for “People related to music.”

A search for “cars,” which used to include links to the Google+ pages of brands like Toyota, Nissan, Ferrari and others, now shows a Knowledge Graph box that invites searchers to “See results about” the Pixar movie Cars.

Other searches that previously showed the “People and Pages on Google+” content box, like “Facebook” and “seo,” don’t show anything from the Knowledge Graph. Search Engine Land’s editors did a number of searches yesterday and none displayed the old Google+ “People and Pages” content box.

Google: We’re Blending Content
A Google spokesperson explained that Google is blending different content sources, including Knowledge Graph connections and Google+ profiles, to return the most relevant content on the search results page.

And it’s true that searchers are seeing content from different sources; a search for Google CEO Larry Page, for example, shows this in action. The photo is from (and links to) his Google+ profile, and further down the Knowledge Graph box is a clipped version of his most recent post there.

There’s also text from (and a link to) his Wikipedia page, along with several links related to the Knowledge Graph data. And, even though those links don’t promote Google+ like the old “People and Pages on Google+” did, they do keep people on Google and may lead to some of the same criticisms that Google faced before.

Possible Knowledge Graph Criticisms
To be clear: It’s Google’s search engine and I’m a big believer that they can link to their own properties if they want. But, as with the Search Plus Your World examples from January, if they do so in a way that’s not relevant and/or not user-friendly, they leave themselves open to vocal critics. (And if they do it in a way that appears anti-competitive, those critics may include the U.S. government.)

A search for “seattle mariners” offers an example of what I’m talking about:

In this case, like many others, the Knowledge Box is showing a mix of content — text from Wikipedia, latest post from Google+, and other information. The possible issues are:

the Mariners’ logo and the light text below it send searchers to the Mariners Google+ page, not to the Mariners’ official site, which would seem to be the most authoritative, relevant and user-friendly link for that spot in the Knowledge Graph box (and the fact that the team logo says “Mariners.com” is likely to mean users will think a click there leads to the official site)
the links on “Eric Wedge,” “Safeco Field” and the others are links to conduct more Google searches; will users expect to get links to search results there? or will they expect to be linked to the official Safeco Field page? or, since Wedge doesn’t have an official site, will they expect to be linked to his Wikipedia page or his bio on the Mariners website?
I don’t know the answers to those questions. But I do know that, when a Knowledge Graph box about the Seattle Mariners doesn’t contain a single link to Mariners.com, and has several internal Google links instead, critics have an opportunity to continue accusing Google of promoting itself at the expense of relevancy.

The Knowledge Graph box has its pros and cons. The data is, in many cases (but not all) excellent — it’s very cool to be able to scroll through the Mariners’ roster right from inside the Knowledge Graph box, for example. But the fact that all of the links keep searchers on Google, either sending them to Google+ or creating another search, probably won’t quiet the criticism about Google promoting itself too heavily in search results.

Bottom line: The “People and Pages on Google+” content box brought Google a fair amount of flak, but what’s replacing it isn’t necessarily going to change that.

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