How Google Decides What to Know in a Knowledge Panel

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What is a Knowledge Panel?

A knowledge panel is an information box that provides additional information about an entity that appears in a query. The information shown depends upon the type of entity mentioned in the query, and there are templates associated with specific entities that may be mentioned in a knowledge panel.

A transformation was triggered at Google with their announcement of the Knowledge Graph in the Official Google Blog post, Introducing the Knowledge Graph: things, not strings. That transformation was one less concerned with matching keywords, and more concerned with matching concepts, understanding entities, and bringing knowledge about entities to searchers in knowledge panels next to search results.

Google published a patent application last week that describes the knowledge panel that appears next to search results as part of the new knowledge graph. Here’s the video that accompanied the post (note the reference to a “panel” in the presentation):

Google’s post tells us that there were three things we need to know that Google would be doing with a Knowledge Panel, from the announcement:

Finding the Right Things – by giving us a choice as to the entity that Google might be showing information about in a knowledge panel.

Getting the Best Summaries – by organizing and presenting information about an entity that appears within our queries in a meaningful way by studying in aggregate what people have been asking Google about each entity to be displayed in a knowledge panel.

Going Deeper and Broader – by including information about a followup search that you might perform about those entities that show up next to search results.

How does Google know what to show about these things in a knowledge panel? One hint from the patent, echoed in the video, is that what people ask about in Google can determine what Google will display in the knowledge panel. If people tend to ask about Abraham Lincoln’s height, for instance, the search engine will show it in the knowledge panel:

the panel for Abraham Lincoln, including his height listed as a fact about him.

When we look at the knowledge panel for George Washington, height isn’t included. Height also isn’t part of the information shown for William Howard Taft, Franklin Roosevelt, Bill Clinton, and Jimmy Carter. People must ask Google a fair number of times how tall Abraham Lincoln is for height to show up as an attribute for Lincoln and to not show for these other presidents.

The patent describes different templates that might be presented in a knowledge panel for different types of entities and the kinds of information that could be shown within them.

Providing Knowledge Panels With Search Results
Invented by Jeromy W. Henry
Assigned to Google
US Patent Application 20130110825
Published May 2, 2013
Filed August 3, 2012


Methods, systems, and apparatus, including computer programs encoded on a computer storage medium, for providing knowledge panels with search results. In one aspect, a method includes obtaining search results that are responsive to a received query.

A factual entity referenced by the query is identified. Content is identified for display in a knowledge panel for the factual entity. The content includes at least one content item obtained from a first resource and at least one second content item obtained from a second resource different than the first resource.

Data is provided that causes the identified search results and the knowledge panel to be presented on a search results page. The knowledge panel presents the identified content in a knowledge panel area that is alongside at least a portion of the search results.

Knowledge panel information can include answers to common questions that searchers ask, image files, sometimes chosen with an image search for an entity as the time of the original query where the knowledge panel is created. The patent points to the possibility of audio files and video files and other interactive user interface objects being provided in knowledge panels as well.

Some optional items indicated in the patent might include at least two images for a factual entity, a title for the entity, and facts related to the entity. We’re also told that the knowledge patent area “can consume a larger area than each of the search results.”

The content might be identified to be displayed based upon a ranking of content for the entity and upon “user search events” related to it – like “height” being chosen as a fact to display for Abraham Lincoln.

If a query might be associated with multiple and distinct meanings, we might see content for two or more meanings displayed in a knowledge panel area.

A knowledge panel for a person can include a placeholder for an image of the person, a description of the person, and at least one fact about the person.

A knowledge panel for a place may include an image showing a map associated with the place, a description of the place, and at least one fact about the place.

The Purpose of Knowledge Panels in Search Results?

knowledge panel results and search results

Providing Relevant Data – The first, is to provide data about particular entities identified as relevant to a query.

Speeding up time and effort – Reducing the number of pages that searchers would have to visit to obtain factual information and the amount of time they would have to spend to satisfy their informational needs.

Improving users’ search experiences – Especially when it comes to queries aimed at “learning, browsing, or discovery,” by providing basic factual information or summary information about an entity

Assisting Navigation – By providing links to topics that people tend to select as a follow-up query to the initial one, in a “seamless and natural way.”

Supplying new content – By presenting information that might not have otherwise been seen by a searcher with them selecting several of the search results

Some Possible Implementations of Knowledge Graph Information

Knowledge panel results may contain information from multiple web pages, such as an image from one page, and a set of facts from a second page and a different publisher.

The Knowledge Panel Results patent describes the possibility of knowledge panels being presented either adjacent to search results or in line with them.

A wide range of different types of entities within queries can have knowledge panel results, and the patent provides a list of examples: “a person, place, country, landmark, animal, historical event, organization, business, sports team, sporting event, movie, song, album, game, work of art, or any other entity.”

The patent tells us that a knowledge panel for a country might include a map, a flag, information about the official language of the nation, and other related facts and information. Here’s part of what is shown on a search for “England”:

The panel that shows up for England, with flag, map, facts, and points of interest.

Knowledge panel results could potentially be much larger than standard search results, and could be longer than three or more search results to give them room for the content items, and to “draw attention to the knowledge panel.”

Knowledge Panels may contain information from a social networking page related to an entity as well as the other types of content I’ve mentioned above.

Some types of content are deemed to be more relevant and/or appropriate. For example, an image of a person’s face is likely to be displayed over a picture of a person taken from a long-distance away.

While there are many example templates in the patent that might show what kind of information may be included within a panel, such as one for a famous actor or another for a famous musician, if someone is both an actor and a musician, information for both might be displayed, such as a list of movies the person has acted within, and a list of albums they have performed upon.

If the person is an actor or a musician, and they have won awards like an Oscar or Grammy or Golden Globe, those might be displayed. If they haven’t won awards like that, those types of facts wouldn’t be included.

When a query references an alias for a person, the knowledge panel might use that name as the title for the knowledge panel entry or include it within the entry itself, as we see below for Mark Twain.

A knowledge panel results: the knowledge panel in Google for Mark Twain, using his pen name as the title, but his real name to start a summary.

This system might include templates for different entity types that contain place holders for images, titles, descriptions, and associated facts. The Knowledge panel results patent filing refers to the following types of templates for a knowledge panel:

  • “person” templates,
  • “place” templates,
  • “landmark” templates,
  • “movie” templates,
  • “business” templates,
  • “game” templates,
  • “sports team” templates,
  • “sports event” templates,
  • “disambiguation” templates.

There may also be specific templates for entity subtypes, such as within the “person” templates, there might be one for actors, another for singers, a third for “historical figures.”

A large part of the Knowledge Panel patent is given over to providing examples of different templates for different types of entities, from different person subtypes to publicly traded businesses (with stock market information, to big-league sports teams, countries, and more. It might be more beneficial to perform many searches of different types from a list like that I provided above and see some of the kinds of information that shows up. Here are a few:

The knowledge panel for Bruce Springsteen includes images, biographical summary, songs, events, albums, and related people other searchers search for. The sections for songs and events are scrollable embedded sections, which makes this a pretty long knowledge panel. I only captured part of it with my screen capture.

Bruce Springsteen in a knowledge panel in Google for Mark Twain, using his pen name as the title, but his real name to start a summary.

This knowledge panel for San Francisco includes a map, information about the city, 10 events in a scrolling section, and local places of interest. Under it is a separate knowledge panel section for the San Francisco Giants, which seems to be a disambiguation entry in case a searcher wanted that result as a knowledge panel instead – it’s preferenced with “See results about” and if you click through, you see a pretty rich knowledge base entry for the team. I do like the “events” sections listed for cities.

The San Francisco knowledge panel, with a very interesting events section.

Interestingly, the patent describes a template for publicly traded businesses and inclusion of a stock market graph, and yet when I searched for Google or Apple, there wasn’t a knowledge panel for me, and when I searched for Exxon Mobile, I saw a knowledge panel for the nearest Exxon gas station instead of for the company. Will Google treat knowledge panels for big companies with lots of locations as a local search feature, or as a way of providing information about the company itself?

Does anything surprise you in any Knowledge panels that you’ve seen?

Last updated June 25, 2019

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26 thoughts on “How Google Decides What to Know in a Knowledge Panel”

  1. Great write-up, Bill. One thing I’m curious about is the process by which Google picks the images that show up in the KG panel. Sure, there are the usual suspects – especially Wikipedia, IMDB, etc. – but there are any number of sites that Google could pull images from. I’m wondering if it might depend at least partly on which images show up highest in Google Images. Just spitballing here…

  2. Hi Mark

    I agree 100%! That’s part of why I’m blogging about some of the patents and some of the technologies that might make it easier to learn about what we might see in the future, like my prior post about the acquisition of Wavii.

  3. Hi Phil,

    Good question. The patent doesn’t go into a lot of depth in terms of image selection for knowledge panels, but they do mention that an image search query might be triggered after Google decides that a query should be accompanied by a knowledge panel, and the image or images might be the top results of that image search. The patent also mentions that the fact that a “description” or associated information might be from a different source than images is immaterial.

  4. I’m wondering if they will tie the panels into Google Plus Local. Imagine if I have a flower shop in Chicago – and I am able to create a robust and helpful panel about my business (pics, testimonials/reviews, video, video tour) That would be quite helpful for me and the searcher.

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  6. Good point Mark. I also agree that with the constant evolution of the knowledge graph, this is definitely going to help steer SEO into a new and unexplored direction. New test and case studies should be conducted to shed light on how this may potentially affect SEO in future.

  7. Hi Bill,

    I was looking at KG for famous organizations as well and could not find much for companies like Oracle, IBM and even Microsoft. I thought may be this was happening because I am searching from India but then I searched for some some big Indian companies like TCS, Cognizant, Infosys etc. For Cognizant their Google+ page did come up but not for others.

    I believe for the company it would be nice to have their top management profiles, quarter on quarter performance (publick companies) would be a good information to have in KG.

  8. I love this. I constantly ask my phone questions, which in turn asks google, then responds to me with the exact information I’m looking for in the question I asked. I’m thinking part of that functionality has something to do with this.

  9. Hi Allyn,

    I do think we are going to see Google Plus Local information in knowledge panels. I’ve seen more than a couple now. For example, the local Exxon station appears there on a search for [exxon]. The question is though, whether or not we might see knowledge panels on more generic searches, like [gas station]. Guess we’ll see.

  10. Hi Patrick,

    If there’s something that’s relevant to a patent worth sharing, I try to. It also helps me remember those patents and thinking about how they might be applied. 🙂

  11. Hi Daniel,

    I think we’re going to see the knowledge graph grow at a pretty quick pace. When Google acquired Meta Web, and started using them as one of the sources for knowledge base information, there were tens of millions of entities listed within that knowledge base. Google quickly brought that up to a few hundred million, has a pretty robust knowledge base of businesses with Google Maps, and has shown they will mine query logs for even more information. Would love to see ideas that you might have for case studies, especially fleshed out.

    Thank you, Daniel.

  12. Hi Vikas,

    I’m leaning towards Google showing local search results most of the time when a business entity is mentioned in a query, rather than corporate level business information. But I could see that as something that Google might experiment with, to see which tend to get more clicks and more attention. I’m not sure that we’ll need to wait on a Google Glass app that includes cameras pointing at our eyes to do eye-gaze tracking (though it’s a possibility).

  13. Hi Daniel,

    Not so much sure that has to do with Google’s knowledge base, but some of it it might have something to do with the predictive queries that we see power things like Google Now. The idea behind the program is to act as a personal assistant, much like Siri. Some of it might have to do with the personalization Google is doing. Some of it might also have to do with identifying when your queries might be local in nature as well, and providing local maps and/or local results.

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  15. Thank you for the most insightful post about Google knowledge graph so far. I think this is a really interesting development and I was wondering, do you think Google manually chooses which persons, places etc to show manually or based on currect SERPs and search volume?


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  17. How is there NO way to edit the main image Google shows in the KG? We have an ex-employee showing up! There has to be a way to edit/delete this!

  18. We additionally concur which using the continuous development from the understanding chart, this really is bound to assist drive SEARCH ENGINE OPTIMIZATION right into a brand new as well as unexplored path. Brand new make sure situation research ought to be carried out in order to reveal exactly how this might possibly impact SEARCH ENGINE OPTIMIZATION within long term.

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