This post was updated March 20, 2017, to reflect new changes to Google’s processes.
If someone were going to redesign your company’s website, you would demand to have a voice in the process. The website is your brand’s first impression, online storefront, and unique voice in the digital marketplace. You would never let someone change it without being directly involved.
But the truth is, someone is changing how users interact with your brand online, and too many marketers and business owners are sitting on their hands and letting it happen.
The Knowledge Graph is Google’s big data machine all grown up. Instead of just storing data points and facts, the brains at Google have been teaching the machine how to recognize relationships between those data points and facts. Google knows that Coca-Cola is a brand of beverage, and that Barack Obama and George W. Bush do have at least one thing in common.
There are several expressions of the Knowledge Graph showing up these days, but the sidebar panels are the ones that have the biggest implications for brands. Panels show up for all kinds of queries, from the latest pop culture news to subjects of ancient history.
These panels are training users to look to the sidebar for quick answers, and to trust the information they find there. As more brands show up in panels, users are increasingly expecting to see your brand there, and when it does they will trust what they see.
Your brand’s Knowledge Graph panel is your new digital business card, your brand’s first impression, so here’s how you tell Google what needs to be there:
Google allows official representatives of brands to suggest changes to the information in the knowledge panel. The module appears directly above the knowledge panel for users who are recognized as official representatives of a brand:
To get Google to recognize official brand representatives, users who should be able to edit the knowledge panel must meet all of the following requirements:
Once users meet all of the requirements listed above, they should be able to suggest changes directly from search results using the suggest changes module. Click “Suggest a Change,” and edit incorrect information directly in the knowledge panel using a WYSIWYG editor.
Unfortunately, changes are not made immediately. Once changes are suggested, Google will send the user who requested the changes an email stating that the changes will be reviewed. Before changes are accepted, they must be validated. For this reason, it is good to take some additional steps to ensure that brand information is consistent across all properties that Google pulls knowledge graph data from.
Wikipedia is one of the main sources that feeds the Knowledge Graph. For brands, that means displaying basic info and a synopsis of your business model. This panel for Grasshopper, for example, leads with a short description of their services, and tells us it was taken directly from Wikipedia.
Disclaimer: Grasshopper is a Propecta client, although we’ve had nothing to do with their Knowledge Graph optimization.
Even if you’ve never set up a Wikipedia page, you might already have one that someone else set up. Start by creating a free account and searching for your brand name. If Wikipedia finds a page that represents your business, you can edit it to make sure it is accurate and complete. If you don’t have a page, Wikipedia will give you the option to create one.
Pro tips before you jump in: First, there are experienced, trusted Wikipedia editors who make their services available to brands. Using one of them will get you the best representation possible. Second, make sure your brand meets Wikipedia’s General Notability Guideline before creating a new page.
A lot of marketers and business owners have ignored Google+ since it’s less-than-inspiring launch, but you can’t afford to anymore. Consider the cautionary tale of Egg Harbor cafe (a Propecta favorite here in Lake Geneva — I personally recommend the quinoa breakfast bowl if you’re ever in the area).
The information is accurate and, fortunately, their fan base has left some good Google reviews, but do you see what I see? Is that Ronald McDonald — tragically appearing in the top left (the Start line for western readers) corner of their panel? Guess where it’s coming from:
Egg Harbor has a Google+ page that looks like it was either automatically generated from a Google Place listing, or created and forgotten about. Another user uploaded that picture to the social channel and told Google it was related to Egg Harbor, so there it sits, waiting to make a bad first impression.
Update: Egg Harbor Cafe has updated its Google+ profile since this article was originally published and now features much more appropriate and enticing photos.
It’s time to embrace Google+ for your business.
Once you’re up and running on Google+, use it. Note in the Grasshopper panel, above, that the Knowledge Graph pulls in a thumbnail and meta from their most recent Google+ post. Adding Google+ to your content marketing strategy will help develop your authority, but now it will also enrich your Knowledge Graph panel.
Like Wikipedia, Wikidata.org is another source of data Google uses to populate knowledge graph data. But while Wikipedia is written in encyclopedia style, Wikidata is a database containing bits of information that are pulled into Wikipedia pages. For example, information for McDonald’s on Wikidata includes its logo, date of inception, and founders:
Another step to take to ensure knowledge panel data is accurate—or to increase the likelihood of suggested changes being accepted—is to add or update brand data on Wikidata. If your brand already has an item in Wikidata, you can perform edits directly on the brand’s page:
If no page exists for a brand, you can add a new item. However, first make sure you meet Wikidata’s guidelines for notability. This generally means that your brand has a preexisting Wikipedia page, but there are a few other qualifying conditions as well. Suggested additions to Wikidata that do not meet notability guidelines will not be accepted.
Schema is a kind of language code that tells search engines what the words on your page actually mean. They isolate key pieces of data, so that Google knows which words/phrases are your brand name, business hours, founder’s name, address, etc. Google is getting really clever about recognizing entities on its own, but it doesn’t hurt to help — especially if there is a piece of data you really want to see in your panel.
The Grasshopper panel, again, displays clear links to LinkedIn, Twitter, and Google+. Their competitor’s panel, however, doesn’t have social links:
Grasshopper’s social networks aren’t linked to their Wikipedia or Google+ pages, so the Graph is pulling that info from their website. The search engine might have index that data on its own, but if your social profiles aren’t showing up on your panel, a little schema markup can help Google find them.
Knowledge Graph panels are the new norm for Google search results. They are big, eye-catching, and usually very accurate. They offer fast answers to users’ questions, and Google is heavily invested in continuing to make them better.
You wouldn’t let someone else design your website, business card, or logo. Don’t give Google carte blanche to redesign your first impression, brand voice, and/or social audience either.