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Understanding Google My Business & Local Search

10 Reasons that the Google Knowledge Graph Sucks More than the Local Graph

Screen Shot 2013-07-21 at 12.03.55 PMThe Knowledge Panel sucks much more than Google Local these days. Its like “Déjà vue all over again” (for those Googlers and other readers too young to know the reference go here).

With the Knowledge Graph, like local, Google is attempting to reflect real information about the real world in their search results and, like in local, the disconnect between the real world and Google’s understanding of it can lead to erroneous results and bad outcomes.

Here is how Google described the Knowledge Graph upon its release in May of last year:

It’s not just a catalog of objects; it also models all these inter-relationships. It’s the intelligence between these different entities that’s the key.

The Knowledge Graph enables you to search for things, people or places that Google knows about—landmarks, celebrities, cities, sports teams, buildings, geographical features, movies, celestial objects, works of art and more—and instantly get information that’s relevant to your query

Knowledge results seem to suffer from many of the same fates as local listings such as merging and duplicates. And like Local in the days of old, there are very limited support mechanisms, no support team and no dedicated UI to feed trusted info. I suppose if the Grand Canyon has a wrong fact no one is likely to be hugely impacted but a certain percentage of Knowledge Graph entities are also real world businesses and brands and misinformation can be costly  for them.

Typically the Knowledge Graph Panels seem to have different content than a local listing and it is more based on the structured data of Freebase, Wikipedia entries, the CIA Factbook and other sources that are NOT clearly identified. However if an entity already has a local listing then the Knowledge Graph Panel will draw some information (address, phone, reviews) from the canonical local data as well. It is at this intersection of landmarks and local where the impact of mistakes are obvious and the lack of full fledged support options become problematic for a business. And it is at this intersection of a business as cultural icon and local where the search volume is very high and the implications of even a few errors can impact a huge number of searchers and have a significant economic effect on the business.

Screen Shot 2013-07-21 at 3.16.18 PMThe process for repair of a Knowledge Graph panel is simple enough. Perhaps too simple so as to be not very obvious. One only has to click on the small, grey “Feedback/More Info” link at the bottom of the panel to report bad information. The panel then offers the opportunity to flag any field of information as wrong.

Why is this problematic?

  • First and foremost a business has to understand that there is a difference between a Knowledge Graph Panel result and a purely Local Panel result. Right. They have trouble understanding how Google handles a local listing so this level of knowledge seems unlikely.
  • A business then needs to learn another new interface to report erroneous information to Google. Keeping up an accurate local listing given Google’s propensity to insert unwanted or old information is hard enough. But now some of them have to worry about a new way that Google can misrepresent them and a new way to fix it.
  • The repair process does not allow for the input of the correct information so subtle errors can not be explained. It just allows you to mark something as wrong.
  • The report process is slow if there is more than one field in error. You need to keep clicking on the feedback link for each error of the possibly several errors on the panel that you wish to report. And there is no way to fix an erroneously selected field once you have done so.
  • There is no end-user feedback after fields have been marked as erroneous. Not an acknowledgment nor an indication that Google gives a rat’s ass cares. Like in the early days of “Report a Problem” it feels like the report is going into a deep, dark and silent well. It would seem that an email or response from Google that they are looking at the data would provide some comfort.
  • No “time to fix” is indicated. Again a business that needs the high volume of potential visitors to view correct information in the main search results is clueless whether it will be a day, a week or never before Google gets around to a fix.
  • The repair process is distinct from the local repair process. What business really needs a totally new way to interact with Google?
  • There is no support team to call and explain the nuances to. If you call the Local team for support about a local Knowledge Graph result with problems you are told, variously, that Local support doesn’t handle “front page results”, that it will need to be referred to an engineer or that you should go to Wikipedia and correct the information yourself (hello?).
  • Some of the data clearly comes from local, some from Wikipedia and the like but some data comes from sources unknown and there is no obvious way to even track that down even if you did want correct it yourself.
  • With results that are also local, the Knowledge Graph panel shows up in an arbitrary way and only on certain searches. Very similar searches for the same entity might result in the Knowledge graph result or pure Local Panel results.

How are businesses supposed to know or appreciate the difference between one panel type and the other? And then deal with a totally different set of rules for fixing it? A daunting task becomes even more so for most businesses desirous of showing accurate information and helping Google show that accurate information.

Here is a recent case study in a Local Knowledge Panel hybrid and the problems that I have encountered in attempting to get it correct:

The search Busch Gardens Tampa brings up a prototypical local Knowledge Graph Panel that has elements of both the Knowledge Graph and of a Local Result and one that has wrong information that appears to be the result of a merge of two entities, Busch Gardens and Adventure Park. (On a related side note, the Adventure Island pinned result not the Busch Garden pinned result shows in the organic results).

Even slight variations in the search phrases brought up both the Busch Gardens local panel and the Adventure Island local panel. For example the search Busch Gardens near Tampa brought up a “pure” Local Panel with no Knowledge Graph fields. Adventure Park and Busch Gardens Tampa both have non merged Local pages that showed properly in both Plus and Mapmaker.

Here is the Panel as I first saw it on July 11th. I called support and was told “We will have to refer to engineering” and they said that they “have no easy fix as the info is generated automatically”. Subsequent to that call, on July 15th, I “discovered” the Feedback link and made a report.

Items marked in red were wrong and items marked in black were correct. The Wikipedia article as well as the area, opened dates and rides fields are indicative that it is a Knowledge Panel rather than a Local Panel (click to see full screen shot):



Today, only 6 days later, I see that some of the errors have been corrected but not all. The remaining errors were reported again on 7/20. We’ll see how long it takes to get fixed.


However when a search is done on Busch Gardens Tampa in Maps, the Adventure Island result is shown so some form of merging beyond the specific erroneous data fields is still occurring. Nothing was visible in MapMaker that would provide insight into this thus another call to Google’s local support by the business will be necessary. Aargh.

Screen Shot 2013-07-21 at 2.26.59 PM


The good news in all of this? It would appear from the fact that some of the fields were repaired within a week that it is likely to be human curated and that there must be (despite what I was told by support) internal tools to fix the data. Unfortunately those tools are apparently not available to the Local support team. Human support is something that came to Local very late in the game. But given Google’s learning in local it seems that it could be doing so much better with repairing Knowledge Graph data. There is no reason that the local support team is not given the tools to fix these as well.

If Google has learned one thing in Local it should be that ground truth, not just truthiness (ie relevance), matters. The other lessons should be that human curation is critical and real support is important. Sending, what to a business, is critical feedback into the black hole of Google is hardly adequate. The same standards currently in place for Local should be set for the Knowledge Panel and we shouldn’t have to wait for 6 years for them to be implemented in a cohesive, and understandable methodology to get (mostly) accurate data and to have a way to fix it quickly when it does go wrong.

Google, you can do better.