A branded search for colleges and universities on Google can bring up two unique types of panels. In this article, we will look at these panels, their unique features, and why Google chooses one over the other.
Type 1: Main Entity Panel
The first type of panel is what I am calling the Main Entity Panel. This is the panel that appears on branded searches for the college or university, so they are usually the panel with the highest visibility. These panels seem to be limited to the main entity of the school, though in some cases they can appear for satellite locations or campuses. Currently, they are only available for schools in the United States.
Features of this Panel
The Main Entity Panel for higher ed contains two unique features not normally seen in other knowledge panels.
The most noticeable feature of the Main Entity Panel is the section highlighting school data – financial aid, average annual cost, graduation rate, and acceptance rate. There can be some variance in terms of the data; for example, Google may show in-state costs for state schools. Other times, Google may not have all the data and just leaves it blank.
According to Google, these details come from publicly available datasets from the US Department of Education – specifically IPEDS and College Scorecard. From discussions I’ve had with schools, the data is accurate – though it can be a few years old.
Another unique feature of the Main Entity Panel is the list of rankings from other sites. In this section, you will always see a list of 5 awards or rankings for the school, each featuring the name of the recognition, the school’s position, and the organization or website awarding the recognition.
This is clearly Google’s attempt at stealing the playbook from U.S. News and their famous Best Colleges Rankings. And while some of the big players in higher education rankings appear (like U.S. News and Niche.com), the vast majority of these lists are populated by unknown, unhelpful, and even spam rankings. I’m sorry, but I’m not choosing to attend Penn State University because it ranked #5 for Largest College Campuses by a lawn care website.
Type 2: Expanded GMB Panel
The second type of panel for higher education institutes is what I would call an Expanded GMB Panel. It is the most common listing for colleges and universities that do not qualify for a Main Entity Panel, as well as schools outside the United States.
In the US, these Expanded GMB panels show up for schools within the university – like a graduate school. These are also used for standalone graduate schools, seminaries, and some campus or satellite locations. In addition, they are used for notable public, private, or religious secondary schools.
Features of this Panel
While at its root it is simply a Google My Business listing, these panels can have additional features not normally seen on GMB. Here are a few of them.
Public figures that have graduated from the school can appear as Notable Alumni. This feature is pulled straight from Google’s Knowledge Graph, so the alumni need to be already established entities. It is also visible on the Main Entity Panels.
This feature can be influenced; I have added several alumni to a school’s panel with just a day’s worth of entity work.
Many of these panels included a lengthy section that gives details about the school – including founding date & founder, leadership, enrollment, tuition, and more. The information and how it is displayed are similar to Knowledge Graph panels for corporations and organizations.
While the Main Entity Panels cited where the college data came from, these Expanded GMB listings do not. If you click on a title, it takes you to the Google Knowledge Graph entry. I believe the majority of these details are pulled from sources trusted and used by Google for the Knowledge Graph. The most common source is going to be Wikipedia; in many cases, there is a short description from Wikipedia at the top of the panel.
Additional Details and Featured Snippets
Another section of this hybrid GMB/Knowledge Panel is the hide/show section of details. When you click on a section, it expands to show a featured snippet and link to the source.
The topics of this section can vary, but usually involve costs, graduation rate, demographics, endowment, rankings, and accreditation.
Both the Main Entity Panels and Expanded GMB Panels have one feature that you won’t find on the branded SERP – reviews. Since both are tied to the GMB system, they have reviews built-in. Yet Google hides review stars and ratings from showing on the main panel of listings with certain educational categories – including colleges, trade schools, and universities.
However, if you go into Google Maps and find the listing, you will see all the reviews on display, including average stars and number of reviews. My guess is that many marketing & communications teams within colleges are not aware that their school has a star rating on Google and is receiving reviews there.
In some cases, I can find select reviews showing on the Expanded GMB. It’s similar to how Google highlights reviews on most GMBs, though without the cumulative total of reviews and rating. Review stars and average will show for some categories – like University Department.
In a Twitter thread about this topic, I was interacting with Jason Barnard, the Brand SERP guy. He noted that these hybrid panels – pulling info from GMB and the Knowledge Graph – will likely head into other industries and become the norm.
They are more connected than we tend to believe (the @LJMU analysis I am doing is down that rabbit hole…
These *hybrids* are going to spread to other industries and become the norm.
— 𝄢 Jason Barnard 𝄢 (@jasonmbarnard) October 19, 2021
As we continue to help our brands and organizations put their best foot forward on the SERP, I encourage you to monitor how Google is displaying listings in your industry and others. That way, you can find the new features and opportunities that may give you an advantage and stand out among the competition online.