Amazon & Whole Foods: Whose Job Is It To Get Facts Straight? (Hint: Not Google’s)

Last week, in those last few hours of the workweek when people were closing their laptops and double checking their weekend plans, the world was hit with the big news of a bombshell wedding. Amazon was buying Whole Foods for more than $13 billion dollars. For the romantics in the business world, this was like hearing of the elopement of Romeo and Juliet.

Whole Foods, the symbol of fresh, organic, and expensive food, had just said “I do” to Amazon, a paragon of ecommerce and all things efficient, scalable, and storable in warehouses.

In the hours following the announcement, searches on Google for “Amazon” and “Whole Foods” spiked as people scrambled to their computers and phones to learn more about these brands and their new arrangement.

(From Google Trends)

I was one of those people, eager to brush up on my knowledge of each of the companies involved in this major announcement. So I Googled “Whole Foods.” And saw this:

As a researcher who spends much time following Fortune 500 companies, I was struck that this information was off. Wasn’t Walter Robb out as co-CEO already last year? Yes – his departure was announced in November and effective Dec. 31.

I was curious and poked Google again, searching “CEO of Whole Foods.” Google’s answer was quite clear:

And just for good measure, I searched directly for “Walter Robb.”

Wow, really? Isn’t it someone’s job at Google to keep on top of this stuff?

Actually, there’s no one at Google with that job description. It was Whole Foods’ job and they dropped the ball. A glance at Wikipedia reveals the source of the misinformation.

In light of the big announcement, people have been seeing this misinformation, both in Google search and directly in Wikipedia:

The day of the announcement, Walter Robb’s Wikipedia page, which had until then averaged fewer than 25 views a day, spiked to over 1400 views.

In advance of the buyout announcement, Whole Foods should have examined the information about its brand online. They could have worked with Wikipedia to correct such an obvious factual error so that – knowing interest in the company would spike – they would have been assured that people would see accurate information.

In fact, a brand should constantly be checking what is out there about them. While Whole Foods knew this announcement was coming, there are many other scenarios where news breaks unexpectedly. That’s certainly not the time to be scrambling with brand information.

A bride and groom wouldn’t send out their wedding invitations without first checking everything is spelled correctly. Doesn’t it behoove brands to do the same?


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Wikipedia’s Role in Creating Your Brand Online

Establishing yourself or your company as a brand online is important.

By “brand” I mean getting to the point where Google is certain that your name (or company name) is associated with a specific entity – so that Google “knows” what most searchers mean when they search your brand. There are several reasons why achieving this is important:

  • Brands are treated much better. Their own website is invariably the #1 result in Google. Oftentimes an additional owned page ranks in the second position as well.
  • Search results for Google-recognized brands include a knowledge graph – the box of images (logos or images) and information appearing on the top right section of the Google results page.
  • Searches for brands tend to yield results that are relevant, timely, and useful (actionable).
  • When you search for a Google-recognized brand, you will find the results you seek more quickly – often without needing to click through to specific results.

More than a year ago our team began to see a strong connection between having a Wikipedia page and being presented as a Google-recognized brand online.

We found that a full knowledge graph (more than just the brand name and a map) was almost always dependent on having a Wikipedia page.

Wikipedia is pretty powerful. It is perhaps the only ubiquitous platform online free enough to accept input from virtually anyone, and at the same time strictly policed to ensure accuracy.

The end result is very useful for Google.



1) If a brand or individual is important – you should expect to see an entry for them in Wikipedia. This is correlated more often for politicians and celebrities than it is for executives at companies.

2) If you find content about a well-known person or brand in Wikipedia – you can bet its content has been peer-reviewed for accuracy.

As Google pursues structured knowledge in an effort to be more effective in sharing information, Wikipedia has become an important de-facto source. This is true both for its ability to source so widely and for its army of active editors who police new content in real-time. The fact that Freebase, Google’s community-curated database of well-known people, places, and things, relies heavily on content from Wikipedia indicates its primary relevance.

Wikipedia is perhaps Google’s most accessible and accurate measure of whether a person or company is important to people. Wikipedia calls this ‘notability‘. Notability is the standard with which Wikipedia determines whether or not an entity ‘deserves’ its own Wikipedia article. Google relies on Wikipedia’s standard to ascertain which brands are worthy of a knowledge graph rather than simply looking at volume of searches.

Apart from a Wikipedia article, other branding signals include:

–       Forbes profiles

–       Inclusion on lists of distinguished companies or individuals appearing in distinguished publications

–       Existence of active social media profiles that match the name of the brand or individual

If you are concerned with online branding for a company or individual here are some suggestions:

If the brand doesn’t have a Wikipedia page, engage the Wiki community to create one.

  • Realize that Wiki content has to be factual (sourced), relevant, and non-promotional.
  • Make it easier for Wiki editors by collecting and providing sourced background information about the brand.
  • Look at similar brands in Wikipedia to get ideas about the type of content that should be in the Wikipedia profile.

If the brand has a Wikipedia page:

  • Monitor the page for any changes.
  • If you see inaccuracies, use the Talk page to bring the issue to the attention of Wiki editors.
  • Keep an eye on traffic to the Wikipedia page – Spikes in article views are an indication of increased interest in the brand, which your communications and marketing employees will want to be aware of.
  • Make sure that new relevant content is being included in the Wikipedia page – Use the Talk page to point out to Wiki editors content that should be included.

With the central and increasing role that Wikipedia plays in the treatment of brands by search engines, make sure that your brand is properly covered there. If you are not satisfied, take action and strengthen your brand.

Google’s Search Suggest Now Includes Disambiguation

As of this morning, we are seeing Google’s search suggest include disambiguation.

They seem to match exactly the knowledge graph version – which, in the example below, represents the first three Wikipedia entries.

Another example of how Google is working to get searchers where they want to be as quickly as possible.


Important to keep in mind when you are planning your brand’s digital footprint.

It is even more important to think about when you are choosing a new brand name.

Editors note: this was mentioned previously here. We had not seen it until now. Perhaps it’s still in beta.