Episode 95: Brand SERPs and Knowledge Panels with Jason Barnard

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What's in this episode?

In this episode, you will hear Mark Williams-Cook discussing brand SERPs and Knowledge Panels with SEO expert Jason Barnard, CEO and Founder of Kalicube.

Together, they'll cover:

  • Why are brand SERPs so important?

  • Does people searching for your brand help your rankings?

  • Are links less important now Google is paying attention to brand?

  • Is the Knowledge Graph the future of SEO?

  • How do you get a Knowledge Panel for yourself?

  • Why does Google think Jason's a musician and not an SEO?

Show notes

Yoast Entity Based content model experiment


Kalicube 70,000 brand SERPs

Track your Brand SERP, knowledge panel

Sign up for the Beta version of the Kalicube platform that simplifies and semi-automates the process of triggering and managing your knowledge panel

Punk Folk version of the ace of spades

Blue dog and yellow koala songs

How the featured Snippet algorithm works

Three pillar approach to SEO / SEO in a Nutshell: Understanding, Credibility & Deliverability


MC: Welcome to episode 95 of the Search With Candour podcast, recorded on Friday the 22nd of January 2021. My name is Mark Williams-Cook and, today, I'm going to be joined by Jason Barnard, founder and CEO of Kalicube - also known as the Brand SERP Guy. Jason is an expert in brand SERPs and knowledge panels, and is going to talk to us today about the importance of controlling your brand search results, and talk to us about knowledge panels, what they are, how we can get into them, and why they're important.

Before we start that interview, I want to tell you, I need to tell you, I have to tell you really, about Sitebulb, who are the wonderful sponsors of this podcast. If you've listened to this podcast before you'll know, every week, I have something lovely to say about Sitebulb which does come from my heart because I am a customer of theirs, I have been for a long time, we use their software and it's super helpful. Normally I talk about some of the features and ,today, I just want to talk to you about a general use, as an SEO freelancer or an agency, a thing that I use Sitebulb for, which is actually a sales tool, so any time that I speak to a client I am running Sitebulb and doing a quick SEO audit of all or, if it's big, just part of their website, because it always throws back something very quickly for me to digest in their hints section.

Literally today I spoke to a client and, during the call, we were just doing the usual chat about SEO, and I was running this crawl in the background, and immediately I started seeing Sitebulb flagging up issues with their canonical tags were wrong, and immediately on the call then, I could show them some of their key pages, where the canonical tags were on, and show them that Google was therefore ignoring these pages, it was paying attention to those canonicals and it was one of the reasons they didn't have the visibility they wanted.

Sitebulb if you haven't still somehow heard of it, is a desktop Windows/Mac-based SEO audit piece of software, they've got a great deal with us, which is that you can get a free trial for 60 days, no credit card required - Very important you put in the /swc, because that's what gets you your 60 day free trial, go and give it a try.

Today, we are joined by Jason Barnard who is founder and CEO of Kalicube, self-pronounced “the Brand SERP Guy”, who specializes in brand SERPs and knowledge panels. He is a regular contributor to leading digital marketing publications, such as Search Engine Journal and Search Engine Land, and regularly guests on others, such as Wordlift, SE Ranking, SEMRush, Search Engine Watch, Search Metrics, and Trustpilot. He also speaks at major marketing conferences worldwide, including BrightonSEO, Pubcon, SMX Series, ITB Berlin and YoastCon. He's got over two decades of experience in digital marketing, starting in the year Google was incorporated with a site for kids that he built up to become one of the 10,000 most visited sites in the world, how is that for an introduction Jason?

JB: That was pretty good actually, I'm beginning to think I actually know what I'm talking about.

MC: Let's dive straight in; tell me about this site, that's quite an athlete saying you've built a site that became one of the 10,000 most visited sites in the world. 10,000 sounds like a big number but the web is incredibly big, so that's quite an achievement, so what's that all about?

JB: Well, it was less big in 2007, which is when that figure was from, but even so, for any kids site to be in the top 10,000, it means we're competing with the CBBC, the BBC kids programmes, PBS in America, we were competing with Disney, it was nuts, and we were a little company, 10 employees in Mauritius, just off the coast of Madagascar, building this mad site for kids. It was such a lot of fun and it actually started because I was a musician, or I am a musician, and the band I was in, I was a professional punk folk musician playing the double bass, the band split up and my wife and I created these characters, first off as as a music project where I wrote song songs for kids. I ended up writing 96 songs for kids over seven or eight years and we set up the site because we couldn't get the record released.

The site I built it in Flash, I bought a copy of Flash, at the time it was Macromedia Flash 3 in 1998, and built the site learning Flash. We created these characters Boowa, a blue dog, and Kwala, yellow koala. Over the 10 years from 1998 to 2008 it built up steadily, it was great quality content, we had an amazing set of animators in Mauritius. My wife's a brilliant illustrator, we did some great content for kids and, by 2007, 2007 was the key year when we hit the peak, after that the company fell apart and I'm no longer doing it. It still exists but nobody ever visits it, my business partner took it over and he just threw it in the bin, as far as I'm concerned he's rubbish.

MC: Let's not get into it. This explains to me though why, when I Google your name and I get your knowledge panel, why it says British-French musician maybe.

JB: Yeah, well my history in music is much much stronger and much deeper than my history in digital marketing. That's the thing about Google is, it understands what it can find on the web, and typically music, films, all the entertainment stuff, has typically been very well documented in databases such as IMDb, Wikipedia would tend to have a lot of this stuff on it, MusicBrainz, Discogs, all of these databases of structured data that Google can digest have traditionally been created by fans and therefore been very well documented over the years, which makes them much easier for Google to grasp. One of the challenges, here we're going to talk about a big philosophical challenge as businesses we have, is to start documenting businesses and the world that we're living, the real world where we're not famous, we need to document that so Google can understand it. The reason that Google's understanding is very much biased towards this musical aspect of my career is simply that it hasn't found enough documented information about my current career yet.

MC: I think we're already touching on things here that we want to get into it but, before we kind of dive into stuff about brand SERPs and knowledge panels,this is how you're kind of specializing right? You're self-describing as someone that specializes in brand SERPs and knowledge panels, this is what you're good at, and some of the other guests I've had on, we've talked about how, as SEO has evolved over the years, it used to be 15-16 years ago, when I started in SEO, you were just an SEO and you did everything. Now, when we look at even things like job titles for agencies you've got specialists that work in technical SEO; I've certainly seen lots of people who specialise now in local SEO, so you've picked this niche for yourself around brand and knowledge panels. Do you want to explain, why have you chosen that something to specialize in?

JB: Right, well before I start, it's a niche that isn't a niche. It's a universal niche, which is kind of unique i.e, within our industry it's niche, but it's universal. Everybody, every brand, and every person in the world needs this, so I've got a big market open to me potentially. I can't remember what the question was now.

MC: The question is ‘why did you choose brand and knowledge panels to at least specialize in’ then, if we won't call it a niche, why that slice of SEO?

JB: Sorry, I wasn't trying to correct you, although I did. In fact, it's the blue dog, interestingly enough, the blue dog! Basically, what happened is, by 2007 the blue dog and the yellow koala were very famous online and we had a TV series produced by ITV International aired in 25 countries, I'm terribly impressed with how all that panned out, but I was still a blue dog and Google recognized me as this blue dog, and when when I left the company, I moved back to France and I was trying to get work and the easiest work I could get was as an SEO, as you say pure SEO.

I would go into these meetings and I would talk to my clients and I'd say "oh yeah, we're gonna do this, this is gonna be great, look at this and we can improve the technical stuff here in the content” and they go “right, yes, we're going to start next week” and then they would email me and say “oh, actually, we've changed our mind” literally 50 of the time and it turned out, I learned after a while, the clients who did sign on said “the first thing we did when you left the room was Google your name and the blue dog appeared” and some clients saw that as being that I wasn't credible as an SEO digital marketer.

Others just thought it was fun and the fun ones are the one I got, so I got good clients that I enjoyed working with, but it occurred to me that my business card that I was giving them in the meeting was fine but the real business card was when they looked me up on Google after I left the room. That's true for brands and it's true for people, and I just sat down and thought “right, I'm going to sort this out, I'm going to make it show how much of an expert I am”, or I think I am, and, honestly, I thought this will take me two months. In two months it already looked better, and I was already converting better, I wasn't losing quite so many clients, and then I realized it was actually much deeper and more interesting, and more intricate, than I had initially thought.

I talked to Craig Campbell about it and he said “oh yeah, that takes five minutes, I could do that in an hour” or whatever, I'm exaggerating, and I said “I think you're underestimating it and he came back to me a few weeks ago and said “you were right”. It's really complex, well it's complicated it's actually very simple as a process, but it's very long, very involved and requires a very wide skill set, and is surprisingly important and surprisingly interesting. I've been doing it for seven years and I still discover something new every day from looking at brand SERPs; I've got a database of 70,000 brands tracked over time with 10 million brand SERPs. You were talking earlier on the AlsoAsked has got gazillions of Google requests a month, so do I. I'm filling up this database of brand SERPs, and I'm only filling it up with brand SERPs, what appears when your audience searches your brand name.

MC: What are you learning from that database?

JB: To bring those two topics together, People Also Ask on brand SERPs is incredibly common. 35% of brand SERPs have got People Also Ask and I think it was 9%, there's an article in Search Engine Land, 9% of brands have actually got control of any of it! It's not even all three questions, or four questions depending on the brand SERP, only 9-10% have got any questions answered by themselves. Who is answering the question? It's all these forums, the platforms, and the competitors. That's like rubbish point number one, for most brands. Now they've moved into the knowledge panel, which we can talk about later, which is even worse! Brands are not answering the questions around their own brand even, and the brand SERP is a very good way to visualise, for brands, and for me to show brands, you're not answering your users questions, because those questions are the questions that Google feels are most relevant and valuable for that brand. If you're not even answering those you're not doing a very good job. That's a bit of advertising for AlsoAsked.

MC: Thank you very much. I've noticed, with People Also Ask and brand results, it's interesting actually some of the questions that Google picks; I've seen a lot of things that I would construe as negative around a brand's Google, it might be the question that comes up is “is this company legitimate?” and, as a user, if I don't know that brand, that already sows the seeds of doubt about it. I guess my question to you before what, we're diving straight in here with it, this is great, this is fun, is how would you go about answering that, as a brand then? If someone starts saying “is this company legit?” because that's quite a difficult question isn't it, for you to answer as a brand?

JB: 100% For me, there are three different types of questions in those brands’ People Also Ask. First is questions that you can answer directly; “what's the price?” “who's the CEO?”, for example, those are things typically you can easily get with your own site, because you're an authority about yourself, so that's obvious. If you don't have them, it just means you haven't answered the question on your site in a way that Google has managed to digest it, you haven't packaged the answer if you've given it, or you just haven't answered it. The second are those, for me, that question “is it legit?” is on the cusp you could potentially answer it, potentially you're not the best person to answer it, but Google doesn't always get that one right and there isn't any reason why you can't answer that specific question, or one of those cusp questions, you just need to tread very carefully. You are an authority on yourself and, for that question, I would write a Q&A, or an FAQ, saying “is it legit?”, “here's where we come from, we are legit, and here's the proof, here's the reviews, here's our customer”, and so on and so forth. I would argue that a lot of the time you can still get those, even though it doesn't seem you can.

The third type are the generic questions; if you search for something like “SE ranking”, around that it will ask questions like “how do I track a keyword?” or “what is domain authority?”, at which point, for example there, you might have Moz who would rank. There's no reason you can't answer that question about your industry better than Moz, better than somebody else, another competitor, that would typically be a case of a competitor being that. That would then, for me, imply that you need long-form content because you're answering a deeper question about your industry.

The interesting thing from a brand SERP point of view, and a knowledge panel, which we'll come to later is, once Google starts putting those questions on your brand SERP, it means it's understood who you are and what you do. Once it starts putting relevant questions about your industry, it's nailed your industry, and there we're looking into the topic layer which Gary Ellis was talking about at the end of last year. The topic layer is what topics are you specialised in and Google is now starting to understand that. If you think about it as a brand, that's fundamental to everything you're doing in SEO and digital marketing, for that matter, that these machines, and it's not just Google, it's Facebook, it's Apple, it's Amazon, it's Bing, Microsoft, is that they understand who you are what you do and who your audience is. That's the little triplet, if they've understood that, they can potentially offer you up as a solution to their users, which is what they're all aiming to do. If they don't understand who you are, what you do, who your audience is, how can they possibly do that? That last one ‘who your audience is’ is really interesting from Google Discover, which is Google now pushing content to people is, if they've understood who your audience is, then they can push your content to the audience. If they don't understand who your audience is, you can't be part of discover, full stop.

For me, those elements are fundamental and the questions that you're seeing on your brand SERP, but in fact the brand SERP as a whole, should always reflect who you are, what you do, who your audience is, where to find you, and it must be accurate, positive, and convincing. It's really simple.

MC: So really then, if we're getting these People Also Ask questions that are appearing when we do a brand search, and they're relevant to our industry, that's a really good sign, that the machines have started to understand that we are a brand, that we are involved in this industry.

JB: Before that leads you to the next part, those People Also Asks, I don't think everybody in the industry agrees with me but I've started to identify what I'm calling “entity elements” I call everything that isn't a blue link on the SERP a “rich element”. It's such a generic term that can include anything that isn't a blue link, and I'm, like everybody else, incredibly interested in how we can dominate, how we can get presents on the SERP through these non-blue link rich elements, and you can divide them into multiple categories, different types. Some of them are answers, some of them are entity based and, this is where I think I'm sticking my neck out, is a knowledge panel on the right hand side is entity based, People Also Ask is entity based, it needs to understand the topic and the entity in order to be able to present them. I would argue, as soon as you see People Also Ask, you're entering into Google's understanding of the world, which is entity based search and maybe that's the point at which you can start thinking about that SERP, and what you're actually looking at a little bit more differently. That was rubbish English wasn't it? Sorry.

MC: I think brand has always been the gold standard of marketing, before SEO existed so, to translate that into SEO terms, I would prefer, for instance, if someone was after an SEO agency, rather than Googling SEO agency it would be great for me if they just typed Candour into Google because they wanted they wanted our SEO agency and that's what we're known for, and all of our marketing strategies, so it'll always contribute towards putting equity into this brand pot, getting people to Google that and understand that that's what we do.

I'm interested, and you you have touched on this, about how it's changed over time specifically with SEO, and specifically with Google, because you've touched on entities, that's something we've talked about on the podcast before, which is entities are ‘things’ and Google wants to understand ‘things’ and their relationships, rather than just understanding search strings. How do you see now the importance of entities, and how is that related to knowledge panels, because you said they were connected.

JB: Right, there were about 15 questions in one there. I mean the whole thing about brand though, if we come back a step, John Mueller has started talking about pool queries. When he says pool queries he actually means brand queries, and he sent me a message saying basically brand brand SERPs are going to be important, this is something big, because Google are now explicitly saying you actually want to encourage those pool queries, you want to encourage people to search for your brand name, and once you say that obviously the brand SERP becomes phenomenally important.

The other thing is we used to be obsessed by domain names, and inbound links to domains, and domain authority, and all those measurements that we managed to invent as an industry, that don't really mean very much. It's now about brand, if Google's understood your brand, your website is simply a representation of your brand and the domain name is a representation of the website, or it's the place you can find the website. Brand is way above your website, or your domain name, in terms of how important it is to your business. Theoretically you could switch from one domain to another, if Google's fully understood your brand and you do a good job of the migration without missing a beat, because the domain name, although obviously it still is important, I wouldn't advise anyone to do it that would be terrible advice, but, theoretically, we're moving towards a world where Google will understand the brand sufficiently well that the actual URL, the domain name, that you're using, becomes very secondary.

Brand is what you need to be building and understanding of that brand is obviously fundamental. If Google has to choose between sending its user to a domain that has boatloads of inbound links, and sending its user to a brand that it understands, it knows is credible, and knows can deliver the solutions to its users, it's going to choose the second. That idea of counting links and strings of characters is outdated and, even if it's still part of the algorithm, it's definitely not something Google is relying on as much as it used to, and is definitely relying on less and less. It's going more for the understanding who you are, what you do, and who your audience is, and what you can offer its users.

MC: I think that's definitely a contentious point within SEO about the how important links are, and have been, and will be, and but one thing I just then want to get your view on is, assuming I'm a website and I've done everything I can on my site to show that I'm a legitimate brand that answers questions, what do you think then, because Google must be using external signals, because you can't trust the salesman about their own product, their own brand, so aside from links, what do you see as the external signals that Google use to verify the authenticity and trust of that brand? Is it things like, if there's a co-occurrence between people searching for product, services, types, and what Google understands as a brand entity, what kind of things is involved there?

JB: That last one is a great example of what people are searching for, and what groups, topic clusters, Authoritas, Laurence O'Toole is a big fan of those from Authoritas. The idea of topic clusters is incredibly interesting; what are people searching for within the context of your brand? Incredibly important, but the idea of linkless links, i.e mentions, is something that isn't that old, it's a few years old, but phenomenally important already. Links are important, I would never say they're not important, but they're just one of many signals, they used to be the only one. Fine, it's not the case anymore. By definition that means that they have been diluted in importance, there isn't a debate about that. The question is how much have they been diluted and how much will they be diluted in the future?

Now my experiments, I've got 500 ongoing experiments on knowledge panels, so we'll move into the knowledge panel world, because that's really where I'm specialising and I think this demonstrates where links are and maybe aren't as important as we think. With WordLift, I'm building an entity-based content model and it's a semantic SEO tool using AI that generates schema markup for Wordpress sites, basically, and I've partnered with them to build this entity-based content model around my podcast and, interesting enough around the blue dog in the yellow koala.

MC: Ok.

JB: That's given me 500 ongoing experiments where, basically, what i'm trying to do is, with the blue dog and yellow koala, the blue dog has a father and a mother and a sister, and the yellow koala has a mother, a father, grandmother and her grandfather, and so far what we've managed to do is build that family tree in Google's brain. If you search for “daddy koala” on Google you will see a knowledge panel, the knowledge panel did not exist six months ago. That knowledge pal says “Daddy koala is a fun yellow koala who likes gardening. Reference site is”, which is my site, which is where the experiment is going on. “Significant other: Mummy Koala”, Google knows that Daddy Koala is married to Mummy Koala. Same thing with Grandma Koala and Grandpa Koala and it's almost understood that Kwala is their child. It's understood, it just isn't showing it on the knowledge panel and it's understanding who voiced Kwala, and that's my wife Veronique, whereas before it thought that I did it, it said, if you typed in “who voiced Kwala?” or “who did the voice for Kwala?” it used to say “Jason Barnard”. I have educated Google, so it now understands that it's a Veronique Barnard, so the credit, where it credits you, I didn't do that voice, I did the voice of the blue dog.

All of that to say, you were saying you can't trust the salesman, well, I have based all this on my site; I am the most trusted source about Jason Barnard. Jason Barnard created Boowa and Kwala. The Boowa and Kwala family were, by extension, created also by Jason Barnard. Google did not believe me, to start with. I didn't build links to get that understanding, and to rank my site for the term Daddy Koala, I went out and I got corroborative evidence and pointed to it from my site. If you want Google to understand who you are and what you do. You need to explicitly state it on your own site; you're your own salesman, obviously Google doesn't believe you only on your own good word, but, if you then take that and signpost all the corroborative information that is out there, Google will end up believing you, you will have educated it, you will have convinced it and it will become confident it has understood.

At that point, and this is really interesting, you can then feed Google information without corroborative information, because you are trusted, and the example of that, and this is really silly, it does get even sillier, because another experiment I'm running is on the punk folk group. We did a version of the Ace of Spades, the Motorhead song, and I built a page on my website that says “did Jason Barnard play the double bass on the Ace of Spades?” and the answer is “in a manner of speaking, yes” because we did a version of the Ace of Spades and I played double bass on it. I managed to get a featured snippet where, if you type “who played double bass on the Ace of Spades” it says Jason Barnard, which is great. That's me messing with Google's brain, basically, and what's now happened, and I think I might have gone too far is, if you type “who play bass on the Ace of Spades?” it says Jason Barnard and Lemmy no longer get to look in. This is really illustrative of how much you can inform Google and build its understanding, and build its trust in what you tell it, as the original source. For me, this all comes from brand SERPs, I said I'm learning new things every day, I only learned that particular last piece of information a few days ago just looking around, messing around and thinking about this kind of thing.

That's where we're going right now, it's so hard to sell to your clients, it's so hard to sell to your boss, because there's no immediate payback but if you're not doing it now, and you start doing it in two years time when there is an immediate payback, it's going to be too late.

MC: The featured snippets thing is interesting. I've always noticed Google sometimes is very easily convinced with featured snippets and the fact checking, if you like, or lack of. I did an article a couple of years ago covering how many arms and legs different animals had on Google, and it pretty much got all of them wrong saying rabbits had 200 legs, whales had four legs, snakes had eight legs and I did it, like you, I messed around with Google. If you type “how many arms does Mark Williams-Cook have?” it gives a big featured number of 512 arms just to show you can push any information into that. The knowledge panel is, I think, a lot more different, and it's harder to get into. I just wanted you to explain to businesses now, just give a little bit of background about what the knowledge panel is, how it differs from kind of the SERP features, if you like, and if you think it's important for businesses’ SEO future-wise.

JB: Just come back a step, that thing with the features, yes you can mess with the featured snippet, the featured snippet is the step before the knowledge panel. “Who voiced Kwala?” There is now a question in the knowledge panel which says “please confirm who voiced Kwala” asking human beings to confirm what it thinks it's understood. I'm not saying it's the step before but it's part of that process.

MC: So those systems are linked somewhere it looks like that, Google is showing some level of understanding. I feel, when Google's not quite sure about something, but it thinks it's got a good stab at it, that's when we see featured snippets. When it's more confirmed, then I see it in knowledge panels. I rarely see things that are completely wrong in knowledge panels but I do see things that are completely wrong in featured snippets.

JB: 100% Knowledge panels are fact, basically what Google considers fact, featured snippet is best recommended answer or best answer we found today, which isn't the same thing at all. Knowledge panels are, Google's really sticking its neck out, that right rail, everything on the right hand side on desktop, is Google sticking its neck out saying this is fact, and once you're in there that means Google's seriously confident.

I talked to Ali Alvi from Bing about the feature snippet that they call the Q&A. Basically, what he was saying, he runs the algorithm, they summarise pages and the algorithm that runs the featured snippet is the same one, or is fed off the same basic algorithm, as the one that writes the descriptions under the blue links.

MC: Okay

JB: The blue link algorithm is one thing, once it's ranked the blue links, it then gets the description from what is the equivalent of the featured snippet algorithm. The feature snippet is fed by that same summary algorithm, which is why Martin Splitt said “always write a meta description because that allows us to check that our summary of your page is the same as your summary of the page” That's Ali Alvi from Bing, who's dealing with that. The description in the knowledge panel probably comes from the same source and pretty much any summary of any text is going to be coming from this same algorithm, which, as you say, is not fact, but when the knowledge graph starts to think “have I understood?” it's using these summaries to base its information. So, if you convince the summary machine, as it were, to start showing things, then you're on the road to convincing the knowledge graph - the true understanding of Google. It's on the path too, I would say the step or before a few steps before you're on the way.

Just one more thing about the featured snippet algorithm, which I found astonishing from Ali Alvi, and it's really obvious when he says it, it feeds into all their other products. When you get a summary on a Word doc, or an online Dicrosoft doc, it's the same algorithm doing it! It's going to be the same at Google, they don't build different algorithms for all their different chunks of their product, so all of this is feeding from the same algorithm. Once you've understood which different algorithms you're looking at you're actually able then to optimise for all the products within any given brand's echo system, Microsoft and Google being the biggies. Once you get your brain around that, you're looking at, for example, the knowledge panel complex contains facts. For example, if you look up IBM, it will tell you who the CEO was, that's a fact. The description it's using is more of a featured snippet, best description we can find today, because it changes over time, unless it's Wikipedia and in the knowledge graph, which is another case. Sorry i'm getting a bit over involved here. That knowledge panel, when you trigger it for your brand, and I'd like to be very clear, knowledge panel Google My Business is not a knowledge panel. Google My Business is a business listing where you give Google the information and it shows it on your own good word basically. As you said, you don't believe the salesman, for Google My Business it does because it's a business listing, like Yellow Pages or something.

A knowledge panel is something different, a knowledge panel is a machine that has understood you, who you are and what you do, independently of you giving it the information. You can of course, as I said earlier on, feed it the information through your site but the machine decides if it's true or not, and that's up to you to indicate to the machine where it can find the corroboration for what you're saying.

A really interesting example is I had a client, she's a Australian author and it was getting her confused with another author, who was from New Zealand, with exactly the same name. It was listing her social accounts, her photo, but the wrong books, and when you get a knowledge panel you can claim it. When you claim it you can then ask employees of Google to change things in the knowledge panel. You can't change everything, some things you can change, you can ask them to add social accounts, and they can do that. You can't ask them to change your subtitle, for example, they can't do that. They can't change your name because that's the machine, that's the basis of the understanding. She got them to change the books and then after a week it switched back. What had happened is, she managed to convince them, or the human beings, could change the list of books that were associated with her, but the machine came back, went round the web, and said “actually no, you guys are wrong” and just switched it back. The machine has ultimate control.

MC: But the machine was wrong in that case?

JB: The machine was wrong and, in fact, why she came to me, was to say “why did it switch back?” What can we do? The answer was find the source of the confusion, find where the machine is finding that information. It's going to be on a reliable source, and it turned out to be her publisher, and you correct it on that source. The machine will then understand and stick with what the truth is.

I had another client who came to me and said “I'm listed as a university teacher, a university lecturer, I would rather be listed as an author. How do I do that? I've asked the Google employees and they say they can't change it.” He's right, they can't change your subtitle. Name of person: Jason Barnard, French-British musician. I can't change that, they can't change that. I have to convince Google I have to demonstrate to Google that I'm a digital marketer. Actually, six months ago it said I was an author and then it switched back to musician. That's the problem. the weight of information about me is still very much music based and I'm currently working on creating the weight of information to change the machine's mind. Come back and ask me in six months, did I manage it and I hope so.

With this particular client we managed to get it switched. It took us five months but he switched from being university lecturer to author. What I find interesting about that, in particular, is we have a tendency to think that we can't control or influence, very heavily, what appears in that knowledge panel, or what Google understands about us and the answer is, we can actually control or influence very heavily to the point of semi-control, if we go about it right. That's what Kalicube is all about. I've built the Kalicube platform basically to do that. I mean it's a tedious process and, from my point of view, I'm getting so bored of this work because it is very tedious.

The other thing is, I have to care about the entity I'm working on and that isn't always the case with my clients, I'm afraid. I don't care about them in an existential, philosophical, emotional manner, and so the idea of Kalicube is to say we crawl Google, we figure out what are the most important sources of information about you, yourself, or your brand? We've got a system by industry, what's important in your industry? What does Google take as being a reliable source in your industry, in your geo region, and then we also managed to dig down and find for each individual entity, brand, or person, and that's what I'm working on. I'm working with Yoast on their brand SERPs and knowledge panels, and part of this process is building it around that. Yoast, who have now jumped on board, and are saying “yes, Jason's right, this is phenomenally important” and I'm boasting because it's a boast with yoast. Emotionally speaking, it's so lovely when somebody I respect so much jumps on board and says “yeah, actually, now you mention it Jace.”

MC: Do you see that knowledge panels are going to become more important than generic SERPs? I've always had this idea that, in a few years time it might seem quite antiquated that we used to search for things and then we had to pick out what we thought was the most relevant result for that, a bit like how you used to go to the library, you'd look up a number of books and you have to crawl around on your hands and knees to try and find the the right book. Are we going to move to a search engine that's less about “here's some things that I think are relevant to what you're saying” to “okay, I understand what you're saying... here's the answer” or “here's one of a couple of answers”.

JB: Oh definitely I mean I did a series a couple years ago - SEO is AEO - and I was saying answer engine optimization, and Dawn Anderson, on the second show, said “actually it's “assistive engine optimisation” so my theory of answer engine optimisation lasted about a week. She's right, it's assistive, it's answers and it's assistive, I mean we're both right, let's let's be generous. Featured snippets are one step in that direction, knowledge panels are another step in that direction, and Google Discover is a big step in that direction. This is what Sergey Brin and what's his face, the other guy at Google, was saying right at the beginning we want to be the Star Trek machine where we give you the answers you didn't even know you had the questions for, or give you the solutions you didn't even know you had the problem. I love that idea, I don't love the idea particularly, but Google Discover is basically saying “we're going to pre-empt your need and we're going to provide the solution before you even think about it”.

Google Discover is based on understanding, as we said right at the beginning. If it's understood, for example, that I'm a digital marketer and that I've written an article about the knowledge panel, and it knows that you, as a rule, are particularly looking around at knowledge panel information, in general, and looking into the SEO aspects of why that might be useful, and perhaps even how to control it, I might not appear in the Google results that you're searching around but I might suddenly appear on your Discover.

MC: If we're to wrap this up then, for SEOs working at small, medium-sized businesses, or business owners, what would you say as a 60 second, point them in the right direction, they should be thinking about or doing in terms of their brand SERPs, what can they actually start doing to improve improve their situation?

JB: First thing, it divides every result on the first 3-4 pages into control, semi-control and no control. You want to control your brand SERP, semi-control would be a site you don't directly control but you can control a certain amount of content in it. For example, profile pages or social media accounts. Control would be your own site but also, don't forget subdomains can potentially appear there. The other side, Disney, obviously that's a very big company, but they've got an employment site, they've got a Disney Villages site, they've got a Disney Shop site. Microsoft have got multiple products; I'm about to start an experiment with Kalicube to see if I can create a second domain and rank that, and dominate more of my brand SERP for Kalicube. I'll let you know how that goes.

Then the ones that you can't control, which can be great, they can be very positive, but the danger when you don't control in any way, manner, or form, is that if, it flips on you if suddenly the reviews go out the window, or the person who wrote the article about you suddenly hates you and writes the title, it's really negative, you're in trouble. I would go for control more than I would go for these third-party positive review thingies going on. If somebody really wants a third-party review they will search for it. Divide it into those and then deal with them one by one, the ones I control I can just change it, the ones I semi-control I can change a lot of it, the ones I don't control I can leapfrog them with better content. Leapfrogging is basically pushing up, doing SEO for others, anything on page 2-3 that you think is great, do some SEO for them, build them some links, coming back to that point links do still work, push it up onto your brand SERP. Google wants to put on your brand SERP will always put on your brand SERP what it sees as being most relevant and valuable to your audience, and your role to control your brand SERP, is to indicate, prove to Google, that any given piece of content is more relevant, more valuable, than the one that's already there.

That's number one, the next one, and this isn't going to last much longer, and it's all pulling into the knowledge panel. If you have a knowledge panel you obviously need to start to think about influencing what's in it, improving it. If you don't have one you need to trigger one, and you would be surprised, 45% of brands have a knowledge panel or see more results on the right-hand rails. We're looking at almost 50% already understood, the other 50% shouldn't be very far behind, and it's actually, if you've done ever done local search, it's maps, name, address, phone number, it's making sure that all the information about your company around the web is consistent across all these platforms, you then create a home for your entity on your website, preferably an About Us page, or an About Me page if you're a person, you then write a factual statement about who you are, what you do, who your audience is, and you point to all the collaborative information on third party, trusted third-party independent sites, and Bob's your uncle, you get a knowledge panel, you get control, and it's your only hope of control of Google's understanding of you.

If you don't have an entity home, a home for your entity rather, and you don't do this factual, “I'm telling you this is who I am and what I do AND I'm going to prove it to you; I'm going to educate you like I'm educating a child.” you will never control what Google understands about you. If you don't control what Google understands about you, you're dead in the water five years down the line.

MC: Jason, thank you so much. I don't feel we've even scratched the surface here on your knowledge of knowledge panels and local, but it's really interesting because it's not an angle or something we've really talked about the podcast before, so I really appreciate that. I was gonna say, where can people find out more about you, but I'm quite confident now if you just Google Jason Barnard, you should be able to find everything you need about him.

You'll find some links in the show notes at to Kalicube and Jason's site as well. Jason, if you'd be kind enough maybe if you pop me an email with some of the links to some of the people you've mentioned as well. I'll include them in the show notes but thank you again, really appreciate you joining us.

JB: Yeah thank you very much, Mark. That was absolutely delightful; there was some tricky questions in there.

MC: Excellent. If you are enjoying the podcast please do subscribe or share it with a friend. We are going to be back on Monday the 1st of February and I hope you all have a brilliant week.

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