Simply put, the Google knowledge panel is the average person’s first look at your school.
So it’s pretty important … and very frustrating if it doesn’t represent your school as you want it to.
Let’s discuss what it is, where the information comes from, and what you can do about it.
What is a Google Knowledge Panel?
The knowledge panel is that box that shows up near the listed search results when you search for what Google calls “entities” (people, places, organizations, things).
- On desktop, it shows up in the margin to the right.
- On mobile, an abbreviated version appears in the main feed.
It shows up automatically when Google’s algorithm is confident it “knows” what a user is searching for.
When someone types in the name of your school, Google is eager to supply what it considers facts in the knowledge panel. (These facts come from multiple sources described below.)
The basic structure of the knowledge panel includes:
- An image (or images) Google considers representative of the entity.
- The location displayed in a Google Maps window.
- A summary, often drawn from Wikipedia.
- Factoids Google believes the user will find interesting.
In the case of an institution of higher ed like Western Governors University, it looks like this.
Image, map, and summary at the top:
Additional information on cost is often displayed as well. Here’s an example.
(Note: This is taken from a small college’s knowledge panel, not WGU’s.)
Where Google Knowledge Panels Get Their Facts
The short answer is that Google’s database of facts – called the Knowledge Graph – is populated by any sources Google deems authoritative.
Those sources could be anything from Wikipedia and Facebook account pages to government databases.
For institutions of higher ed, a primary source is the U.S. Department of Education. And DOE’s data comes from IPEDS (the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System).
Given the mix of official and user-generated sources of information, it’s not surprising that the “facts” in the Google knowledge panel aren’t always accurate.
The other common problem is imagery, which may be:
- Less than ideal. The images that greet visitors to your home page are much nicer!
- Wrong. Google tried for representative imagery and botched the job.
- Missing. Nothing but the map box appears at the top of the panel, meaning you’re missing out on an opportunity to make an impression.
Thankfully, even though you don’t own this space, there are steps you can take to improve your knowledge panel.
How to Update and Improve Your Google Knowledge Panel
Here are a few things you can do.
Make Sure Your IPEDS Info Is Up to Date
The Google knowledge panel for your school may be displaying outdated information based on old survey data taken from IPEDS.
- First, search for your school using the IPEDS College Navigator tool. If the information there is outdated, you’ll need to report new numbers.
- Check with your institutional accreditation officer to determine whether your data is being reported annually through your accreditation partner.
- If not, initiate the process of data collection and participation in IPEDS surveys. It takes a full academic year for IPEDS to collect all survey data.
If you do need to update data, you’ll need to participate over three periods: fall (September to mid-October), winter (December to mid-February), and spring (December to mid-April).
So this is not a quick fix, but it’s a great start in supplying Google – and the world – with accurate information.
TIP: As a general rule, it’s a good idea to keep a master list of all digital sources of information about your school that you do control and to update them all regularly.
Create a Google My Business Profile
Google My Business is the main reason why.
Google account holders can claim a business or organization by going through a verification process. Once verified, you can manage how Google displays your school’s information.
Note: This gives you control of what is displayed in your Google My Business box in search results, not the Google knowledge panel for your school. But it’s still useful.
Essentially, creating a Google My Business profile gives Google another source of what it considers authoritative information. It makes you, the Google account holder, an authority on your own institution.
And having a Google My Business profile could be even more beneficial in the future.
Understanding that most users don’t know the difference between a Google My Business box and a knowledge panel (or care), Google is reportedly beginning to merge the two.
Claim Your Google Knowledge Panel
If you have a Google account, you can also claim your knowledge panel.
In case you’re wondering why I listed this tip last, it’s because “claiming” your panel isn’t exactly what it sounds like.
Unlike claiming your school with Google My Business, which gives you a profile you manage directly, claiming your knowledge panel only gives you the right to suggest changes.
Google won’t accept your suggestions at face value. You are an authority, not the authority.
Items Google may change upon request include:
- Featured image
- Adding/removing social profiles
- Some stats
Items Google won’t change upon request include:
- Social profile listing order
- Removal of images (unless they violate Google’s policies)
If, for example, you suggest an increase to your enrollment rate, Google will direct you to the data source (e.g. Dept. of Ed).
But if you request a different featured image, and you can verify its validity (it’s from your school’s website, for example), your chances are good.
You can’t fully control your school’s Google knowledge panel. Let’s focus on what you can control.
There is a lot you can do to improve your visibility and representation in Google search results besides trying to improve your knowledge panel. And these strategies help indirectly, too.
- Redevelop your website with an eye on search engine optimization.
- Publish more search engine-optimized content.
- Promote your content more heavily via social media platforms.
- Publish content through other publishers to increase backlinks to your website.
And because Google’s reputation hinges on serving up relevant, useful, accurate information, authority means influence. The more you have, the greater control you have over your image.
If you’re struggling to navigate the murky waters of Google’s algorithms for greater visibility and authority, my team and I can help. Just reach out to schedule a no-commitment chat today.
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