What Happens When Knowledge Panels Aren’t Actually Knowledgeable?
David: Mike, hope you had a great vacation last week! And that our readers will forgive us for being a couple days late with this installment. 🙂
Mike: Yes, it was particularly nice being with all of our children and their significant others … and for Alaska, we had great weather. It was sunny more than not.
What happened while I was off the grid?
David: In the way of tactical bombshells, I can’t say much actually did. GDPR is a big deal for SaaS companies that operate globally, but not so much for the typical U.S. business.
In your absence, though, I did rope myself into one of the more interesting professional Twitter conversations I’ve been a part of. Maybe we could discuss that in more than 280 characters?
Mike: Sure, what’s the gist?
David: My colleague and fellow craft beer aficionado Matt Lacuesta tweeted something that caught my attention: DoorDash Order links improperly showing up in the Knowledge Panels for one of his national-local restaurant clients. I was obviously pretty intrigued to learn what schema was involved in this situation.
Mike: Restaurant ordering links, in one form or another, have been problematic for a very long time. In fact, BeyondMenu, which scammed businesses into allowing them access to the restaurant’s GMB dashboard, was sued by Google this week. There were numerous reports in the forum, and Tim Capper did a good job unmasking the perfidy.
David: Well in this situation, the “perfidy” doesn’t entirely lie with DoorDash. The connection between this Knowledge Panel and the DoorDash ordering link is apparently not happening anywhere within Google My Business, as the GMB team told Matt that he needed to contact DoorDash in order to fix the problem.
(Andrew Shotland rightly found this incredible—that a company with Google’s resources would outsource customer service for an error of its own making to the customer. But that’s an entirely separate topic and not the fault of the GMB support team.)
Mike: Right. It seems to be that Google is not putting in place any way for itself or a business to check the quality of the order link or to change it.
David: Current Googler Martijn Scheijbeler and former Googler Joel Headley both indicated that this particular Knowledge Panel injection happens via an approved relationship with a small number of platforms who mark up their content using the appropriate schema—in this case, the OrderAction.
Martijn called this an “MVP-style integration,” and Joel added that it was “up to the markup to define accuracy.”
Clearly, there’s room for improvement on the quality-control front, as you (and Joel) suggest. To say the least.
Mike: This also happened with menus where a third party would “feed” Google the data, and the restaurant couldn’t edit it in any way. Ultimately, after many complaints, Google opened up the field to be edited in the GMB by the business.
David: But here, the approval happens via another Google team, completely outside of GMB—and, in the case of claimed GMB listings, completely without the knowledge or approval of the listing owner or manager.
Mike: This is also similar to the earlier menu link issues. Essentially, Google is picking a few “winners” who are anointed as partners to arbitrarily take a cut of the business’s income.
Even if Google wants to pick a few third-party relationships to seed the ordering links on the Knowledge Panel, why doesn’t Google give every affected business the right to edit it or delete it? Why should a restaurant be forced into an unwanted relationship with a third-party ordering system?
David: There’s the obvious question of consumer harm here, in terms of Google misrepresenting to searchers that DoorDash can indeed fulfill an order for a given business.
But from where I sit, there’s also substantial business harm if Google is going to either be presenting misinformation or giving a cut of revenue to a third-party platform which the business hasn’t opted into.
The Knowledge Panel—especially a claimed Knowledge Panel—strikes me as a qualitatively different kind of result than an organic search listing. This is Google-hosted information.
As I’ve argued previously in our discussion on fake news and fake reviews, because of their monopoly position in local search, at the very least Google should be forced to build an ombudsman department to deal with the real-life consequences of product decisions exactly like this one.
That’s even more true in this case where an explicit partnership is the source of false information and cause of the harm, and not user-generated content.
Mike: It goes beyond harm to the local business and consumer. Google shouldn’t be in the business of “picking winners” by virtue of a company’s private relationship with Google. Google is conferring a special status on the business that has the relationship to the detriment of others in the same field. Google did this with its booking system when it chose which scheduling products would work with GMB.
Google, being the monopoly that it is, impacts ALL aspects of our society with these decisions. And all too often they are not well thought out. Or, you might even argue, contemptuous.
David: If not contemptuous, at the very least callous and obtuse.
Unfortunately, I have little faith that our domestic political leaders have the domain expertise, let alone the appetite, to regulate Google and other tech giants deftly and effectively. But after hearing her unvarnished perspective on Google on last week’s 60 Minutes, I’m a little more optimistic that Margarethe Vestager and her EU team might help force some changes from abroad that may trickle across the pond.
After more than a decade in local search, David Mihm now runs Tidings, an email newsletter platform for small businesses that leverages their everyday social media activity, and his own weekly newsletter, Minutive. In 2012, he sold his former company GetListed.org to Moz, helping over 3 million businesses get better visibility in Google and other search engines. Along with Mike, he’s a co-founder of Local University.