In October 2021, I wrote an article for Local University on the two types of panels appearing for colleges & universities on Google. In this article, I detailed the difference between Main Entity Panels – which are a unique type of panel connected to Google’s Knowledge Graph – and the Expanded GMB Panel – which is a hybrid panel that is based on the location’s Google Business Profile.
In December 2021, Google made some significant changes to the Main Entity Panels in higher education. These panels include an updated design, new data sourced from the US Department of Education, and a unique connection to LinkedIn.
New Design for Higher Ed Panels
The most noticeable change to the knowledge panels for colleges is that they have adapted Google’s new UI styling. First appearing in April 2021, this design expands out of the right-hand box on desktop, moving the school’s name, location, logo, and summary to a top bar. In addition, this bar has filter buttons linking to specific sections of the knowledge panel: Admissions, Costs, Rankings, and Notable Alumni.
Because of the number of filter options, the buttons may bleed onto a 2nd row, which can be activated by the carrot at the far right.
One interesting thing I noticed during this study: the color of the filter buttons seems to change to match the school’s logo or brand color. I could find at least five colorways for the filter buttons.
New Data for College Knowledge Panels
This update to higher Ed knowledge panels also includes new data and information. Many of these are connected to the filter buttons, and all are expanded in the main pane of the SERP.
If the entity has an Admissions filter button, it will pull up relevant admissions data. This can include a featured snippet-style display of admissions dates and information which are attributed to the school’s admissions page or site. In some cases, it can also link to financial aid information, as well as average test scores (sourced from the Department of Education).
Another new section in the knowledge panel is one outlining the most popular programs at the school. Similar to other data points, this is pulled from the US Department of Education. For this, section, the top 10 programs or areas of study are shown, along with the latest year’s data on the percentage of graduates. Further down, the SERP features the school’s major/degrees pages.
Probably the most intriguing of all the recent updates to college & university knowledge panels is the section titled Outcomes. Accessible via the Outcomes filter buttons, this blends several data sources to show how students fare after graduation.
Data pulled from government sources include Graduation Rate, Typical Annual income, and Federal Loans & Debt.
Two other sections appear in the Outcomes tab, both sourced from LinkedIn: Top Employers and Common Careers.
Top Employers displays a set of cards with the logo and name of companies that hire graduates from the school. While these cards look similar to other cards in the SERP, these do not connect to entity listings or to the Knowledge Graph at all. Instead, they link to a specific page on the school’s LinkedIn Profile – a list of alumni from that school who have worked at that company.
What’s interesting is that the list of 5 top employers on Google does not always line up with the top employers as listed on the school’s LinkedIn page. For example, Google lists these companies as top employers for the University of Buffalo:
When logged into my LinkedIn account, I can see that UB’s LinkedIn page tells a different story – only Microsoft appears on the top 10 in LinkedIn and Google’s SERP.
So where does Google get this information? Turns out LinkedIn shows a different list of top employers if you view the LinkedIn school page without being logged in. Sure enough, if I open an incognito browser and click on the SERP feature, the list LinkedIn provides lines up with what is on Google.
Similar to Top Employers, the Common Careers section gives a list of careers that alumni list on their LinkedIn profiles. When you click on the link in the SERP, it takes you to the school’s LinkedIn people page with a filter applied by the career.
Changes Not Always Visible, Sometimes Welcomed
While these changes did roll out in December 2021, they are not always visible for all colleges & universities. For example, while writing this article a search for Columbia University shows the Main Entity Panel without the new features; yet on December 23 I was able to trigger the new panel for Columbia.
And of course, these updated panels do not show for any schools that have the Expanded GMB Panel. In the previous article, I mentioned that these panels, which are hybrid Google Business Panels with other entity information, usually appear for schools within a university, standalone graduate schools, seminaries, and some campuses or satellite locations.
The new changes to the higher education Knowledge Panels do provide some interesting information to searchers. And it is positive that this information is being sourced from the Department of Education, the college itself, or a profile that the college manages – as opposed to the often spammy sources for Rankings. It will be interesting to see how Google’s Knowledge Panels and even SERPs continue to splinter, fragmentize, and evolve on parallel tracks in the months and years to come.