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How Google Treats ‘See Photos’ in the Local Knowledge Panel – A Story of 2 Parts

Updated: Apr 4, 2023

Picture this.  You’re working through the ultimate guide to optimising Google My Business and YOU’RE KILLING IT (in the pacifist sense):

  1. Business description optimised?  ✅  Still need to do this? Check this out

  2. Making excellent use of GMB posts ✅ No?  Read this for ideas

  3. Getting reviews, responding to reviews and generally being the pinnacle of good customer service ✅ Read all the things from GatherUp if you’re in any doubt

  4. Using ‘Products (beta’) if it’s available to you ✅ Read this if you have ‘products (beta) ‘access and need to make the most of it

  5. Researched the categories of your competitors and ensured you choose the correct primary category ✅ Great tool for this here

  6. Using ‘Services’ if you have that option in GMB ✅  Some ideas for how to do this here

  7. Use video uploads for increased user engagement in GMB ✅ Ideas for how to get started with video here

  8. Added a load of great images that accurately represent your business, choose your cover photo wisely as this will *most likely* accompany your GMB listing ✅ Read this

Your business knowledge panel is looking great, your posts are looking fabulous, you’re having a party in your Q&A, you’re responding to your reviews and PEOPLE LOVE YOU.  Damn, you actually prefer your business knowledge panel to your actual website (not really, but sort of really).

WOAH!  Wait a minute.  That photo, that photo in the knowledge panel.  That’s not my cover photo – it’s like, 10 years out of date! 😲

*Clicks on the image* *clicks on ‘see photos’*

What happened next

SHIIIIT!  Why is ‘see photos’ in the local knowledge panel linking through to Google image search rather than the images in Google Maps which include my own carefully curated images rather than this dumpster fire of dated imagery from third-party sites?  AAARGH.

Google tells us this:

“Adding a cover photo automatically sets it as your listing’s preferred photo. This action doesn’t guarantee that it populates as the first image for your business, but it does tell Google that you prefer to display this photo.” 

What Google doesn’t explore on this page is why it would populate the ‘see photos’ results from what I guess we could call 2 different databases – in some business knowledge panels ‘see photos’ links through to Google Maps images making it far easier for a business to influence the leading image in their business knowledge panel (I’ve switched a few of these and it’s generally been pretty easy) and in others ‘see photos’ links through to a Google image search – the primary image in the knowledge panel is then chosen from a third party site (or your own site if you have the secret sauce).  

If you’re a business that has this happen to them, getting this image switched for one that you judge to be more appropriate is a fundamentally tricky proposition.

From the horse’s mouth

When I discovered this I reached out to GMB support via Twitter, as always they were pretty quick at responding, good natured and friendly.  But they couldn’t see the problem…

Houston (or Michigan, or wherever the GMB team are based in the US) – we have a problem.

 Google My Business support, based in the US are telling me on March 18th 2019 that the feature is working as intended and works THE SAME for the UK and the US.

Maybe I’m not very good at explaining, and maybe I’m seeing something that no-one else is.  Let’s just park that here for a couple of weeks.

After this interaction with GMB support normal life resumed (mostly prepping for my BrightonSEO presentation), and then I picked this up again in May.  

Why is this awful photo here? I WANT IT GONE.  Also. WHY IS THIS HAPPENING TO ME?

[Insert hilarious GIF here]

The power of the hive mind

I turned to Twitter:

And finally, after having conversations at cross purposes I made an explainer video to show what I was seeing and explain the conundrum:

It became clear that everyone in the US and Canada when clicking ‘see photos’ see image results from Google Maps.  Regardless of the entity. People in the UK…not so much.

Some clever people had some clever hunches

David Mihm – @davidmihm

HUNCH: prominence of the entity, quality and availability of third party images

“I don’t have a good answer for you. My hunch is that it has something to do with Folly Farm being a prominent enough entity in the Knowledge Graph, perhaps a prominent enough entity with a certain quality of third-party images, that Google gives more credence to third-party images than Business-Owner images. But that doesn’t explain the difference between US and UK results, and I have no answer for that”

Cindy Krum – @Suzzicks

HUNCH: the type of entity

“This could be related to points of interest and entities with historic relevance that are for some reason being treated differently in the UK and the US.”

Britney Muller – @BritneyMuller

HUNCH: possibly related to searcher intent

Dan Root – @GoogleBizTog

Dan’s a Google trusted photographer and he knows a thing or two about maps and images.

HUNCH: Types of entity related to Points of Interest (POIs)

“This is probably one of those unique examples that’s kinda stuck halfway between because it will have someone who administers it as a business listing whereas it’s merged with the POI equivalent. These POI listings could be somewhere like Stonehenge which isn’t a place of business and therefore wouldn’t normally have someone administrating the google dashboard to keep info updated so that would used web generated content”

But what about this…

I already mentioned in my YouTube video (above) that France and Italy get the same results at the UK.  Hang on, could this be related to Google deciding they need/want to serve countries in Europe different results to those countries that haven’t hit them with a 1.5 billion antitrust fine?

And remember that thing where Google was adding ‘establishment POI’ to a load of listings?  Related in any way at all, or not?  I think *not* but you might think differently if your hat is made of tin foil?

Cue roping in some wonderful people to conduct some (potentially not very scientific) preliminary research into how Google treats ‘see photos’ functionality in a small selection of EU and non EU countries.

The results are in

This is what we found – it’s a small and informal dataset – please don’t judge my first foray into quantitative research too harshly:

We checked the results of a limited set of entities, choosing a cross-section that included well known and lesser known points of interest/attractions, some small to medium-sized retail outlets, and a few dentists, in the following countries: France, UK, Germany, Canada, and Australia.

We then checked the treatment of the ‘more photos’ from these knowledge panels from the following countries – the UK, France, Germany, Norway, the US, Australia and Canada.

For the desktop results individuals made the searches in their country of residence.  For the mobile results I used Mobile Moxie’s Mobile SERP Test tool.

The results

  1. 100% of ‘see photos’ for all entities linked through to Google Maps from the US, Canada, Australia and Norway

  2. The UK, France and Germany were consistent in their treatment of all 17 entities.  10 of them linked through to Google image search, and the other 7 to Google maps images.  

But Y tho?

I don’t know.  People have hunches.  What do you reckon?

I hasten to add this treatment for some entities in European countries is relatively new.  On the 19th March 2019 I made a video to further illustrate my original findings to GMB support.

A VERY well known attraction in the UK, Alton Towers, linked through to Google Maps images.  This changed sometime between then and the start of May, when I checked again and ‘see photos’ linked through to image search.

I’m a bit like a terrier with a bone on this one so I followed up my original support request on twitter with another:

And then with this:

Still waiting on Brad’s response.  If there is a Brad. I kind of hope there is. He seems nice.


Brad was busy.  But his lovely friend Liz took the time to explain.  I like Liz.  Thanks Liz.

So – it’s a EUROPEAN thing.  And note the ‘WHEN’ (I did not that wasn’t an ‘if’) it will affect knowledge panels in the US, Canada or Australia. 

DISCLAIMER.  *maybe*  this will come to other countries, and maybe this will roll out across more GMB profiles.  I can confirm that another of my small biz profiles switched from GMB photos to images search TODAY.  We love Liz – but you know, ahem, GMB support aren’t always the fountain of all correct knowledge.  Liz might have made this up because she’d had enough of me asking questions.  And she wanted to have a cup of tea.

Next steps

Whatever the reason for this treatment of ‘see photos’ – this might still leave you with the issue of a naff image in your knowledge panel.  Stay tuned for my next blog post, where I’ll discuss tactics you can employ to fix that.

PS If you know the tactics please tell me. 😂


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