Google Knowledge Panel: what local businesses need to know

If you’ve used Google in the last few years, you’ve probably come across the Google Knowledge Panel. Our handy guide will help you make the most of it and boost your business’s online presence.

What is Google Knowledge Panel?

Simply put, the Knowledge Panel is a box that appears on the right hand side of certain Google searches. It is a feature of Google’s SERP (Search Engine Results Page), which displays information about entities and how they relate to other entities.

So if you Google a small business, a famous person, a corporation, or another specific term, you’ll usually get a Knowledge Panel as part of your results.

The Knowledge Panel contains brief, useful information about the item you’ve searched for.

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As you can see above, for director J J Abrams, it gives a brief bio with a link to the full information on Wikipedia, as well as books and films for which he is responsible. For Sainsbury’s, it again gives a brief overview and, in this case, a main contact number.

Google Knowledge Panel, the Knowledge Graph, and semantic search

In 2012 Google started using the Knowledge Graph to enhance its search results with semantic information gathered from a wide variety of sources. In Google’s words, the Knowledge Graph is “a massive graph of real-world things and their connections”: essentially a huge database where Google stores information about entities and their relationships.

Using the Knowledge Graph, Google is now able to understand entities, as opposed to keywords, or - to use a common catchphrase - to move from ‘strings’ (finite sequences of characters on a web document) to ‘things’ (the entities they refer to).

From search engine to answer engine

In the last few years Google has gradually evolved from a search engine - which provides a list of search results in response to what you type in - to become what we could call an ‘answer engine’ as well: providing answers to users’ queries directly on the search result page itself.

To be able to do this, Google needs to understand the semantic information contained in web documents. In other words, it needs to understand entities and how they relate to one another.

What is an entity?

In practical terms, entities are people, places, or things that are identifiable by being distinct from one another.

Let’s start with an example: the word ‘Rio’ might refer to many different things, including the 2012 animated movie or the Duran Duran album. It’s the same word, but it’s two different entities.

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Google considers how entities relate to one another. ‘Rio’ the animated film relates to entities like ‘Anne Hathaway’ and ‘Twentieth Century Fox Animation’, while ‘Rio’ the album relates to entities like ‘Duran Duran’ and ‘Save a Prayer’.

By understanding these relationships, Google is able to display rich information on its search result page, for example listing the songs on Duran Duran’s Rio album or listing actors starring in the animated movie.

Why Google Knowledge Panel is important for your business

But how is all this relevant to your business? Okay, let’s go back to the Knowledge Panel. For Google, your business is an entity, which relates to others, such as your location, your industry, your products, and your competitors (similar businesses within your industry).

This semantic understanding of businesses as entities allows Google to provide a great amount of information about them, joining the dots across many different data sources. Google Knowledge Panel is one avenue through which Google makes use of this semantic knowledge.

For local businesses, Google Knowledge Panel can display information such as your contact number, opening hours, peak times, reviews, and location - with a link to Google Maps to help customers find you. This is particularly relevant for businesses with a bricks and mortar store.

This makes life easier to users, who can find information about your business directly on the search result page: instead of having to click through your website, or check out different review sites, your customers can easily see information such as how others rate you and how long it will take for them to get to you.

While this can be a concern (as it can reduce traffic to your own website), it is also an opportunity, because Google dedicates a prominent area on the search result page to your business.

How does Google Knowledge Panel work?

Google may display a Knowledge Panel in return to ‘branded queries’ - searches that contain your business name or the name of a product of yours, as opposed to more general searches like ‘independent bookshops in York’ or ‘pubs in South Northants’.

Google uses what it knows about your business and your products (which are related entities) to provide users with relevant information directly on the search result page.

How can my business appear in the Knowledge Panel?

As Google itself states, “whether or not a business’s information will appear in the Knowledge Panel is determined by a variety of factors. Relevance, distance and the prominence of the business all contribute to its standing in local search results”.

In other words, Google uses an algorithm to assess whether or not a user is interested in information about your business. If the algorithm decides that information about your business with enhance the user’s experience, then your business will likely appear in the Knowledge Panel.

However, while that sounds a bit wishy-washy, there are ways to be proactive and feed Google the right information, so that your business can appear in a Knowledge Panel for relevant searches.

Google Knowledge Panel: local and for brands

There are two main types of Google Knowledge Panel: local and for brands. Brand panels contain information such as company name, logo, a description (often taken from Wikipedia), social profiles, and so on. Local panels contain locally focused details and features, including a link to your location Google Map, popular times, Yelp pages, reviews, and more.

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If you Google ‘Coca-Cola’ you’re likely to see a Brand Knowledge Panel. If you Google ‘The Wharf Bugbrooke’ you’re likely to see a Local Knowledge Panel.

Here we will focus on the Local Knowledge Panel, which is most relevant to small businesses.

Google Local Knowledge Panel and Google My Business

Making sure that what Google displays in the Knowledge Panel in relation to your business is accurate and provides a good overview is really important, as incorrect information can lead to a bad user experience and therefore put potential customers off.

If, for example, you have your opening hours listed incorrectly and someone tried to visit you thinking you were open, they may well decide not to come back in future.

The most straightforward way to have some level of control on what Google may display in the Local Knowledge Panel for your business is to have a verified Google My Business profile. If you’re not familiar with it already, check out our small business guide to Google My Business.

Once you’ve set up and verified your Google My Business profile, Google will use it as a source of information to build the Knowledge Panel for your business. While Google may also use other data sources in combination with it, your Google My Business profile allows you to feed information directly into it. For example, you can specify your opening times and contact details, or provide images for Google to display.

Note that having a Google My Business profile doesn’t guarantee that your business information will be displayed in the Knowledge Panel. It is, however, the most immediate way to have some control over it.

Google testing calls-to-action directly on Google Local Knowledge Panel

Google are always innovating and making changes to the way they work. Mike Blumenthal, an expert in SEO for local businesses, reported that Google is now testing a new feature, which allows businesses to add a call-to-action directly within their Local Knowledge Panel.

The test was visible on the search ‘theme park collection orlando fl’, where a call-to-action was directly displayed in the Knowledge Panel for this Florida-based retailer.

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This appears to be part of Google’s mysterious new Posts. Google Posts is an experimental feature that allows people and businesses to create content which gets displayed directly on Google’s search results page for searches relevant to their names. This feature is not publicly available yet; if you want to give it a go, you have to join a waiting list.

Whether or not Google will roll out Google Posts and the recent call-to-action functionality on Knowledge Panels for all small businesses remains to be seen, but it’s worth keeping an eye on, and we’ll keep you updated.

Are you making use of Google’s Knowledge Panel? Let us know in the comments

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