For years, the first image that popped up after a Google search of “Edmonton” was the Rossdale power plant and water treatment plant. Now, it’s an artistic shot of the downtown skyline.
The new knowledge panel image includes the Muttart Conservatory and part of the North Saskatchewan River. It appeared to have been taken at dusk since the orange and rosy colours of the sunset are reflected in the glass of buildings on the north side of the river valley.
“It shows a bit more of a colourful side to our town,” Edmonton Tourism’s Renee Williams said. “It focuses on the river valley, one of our key features, that green belt in the centre of the city. But it’s really about all the other elements that are going to come together now to help us sell the city.”
When you do a Google search for any city, a knowledge panel comes up on the right side of your screen. It contains an image that is selected by a Google algorithm, a map and the city’s Wikipedia page.
“The City of Edmonton connected with Google about the image they had selected to represent our city,” marketing manager Ryan Barkway explained in an email to Global News on Wednesday.
“Our goal was and remains that the image Google chooses reflects the vibrancy of our beautiful city.
“We appreciate Google’s swift response and are continuing to work with them,” Barkway said.
The image that used to show up for Edmonton wasn’t incredibly attractive or alluring and people felt another picture might better represent the city.
A Reddit thread described the image as “ugly” and “terrible” and asked: “Can we tell Google to update our city’s image?”
“It’s not like you can call up somebody at Google and say, ‘Hey, do you mind flipping the switch?’ That’s not how it works,” explained Dana DiTomaso, president of Kick Point digital marketing agency.
“Google’s algorithm is extremely complex. There’s hundreds of different pieces,” DiTomaso said. “Google’s image search algorithm in particular is what’s involved here, and in that case, it’s what’s been uploaded by someone in Edmonton, what’s been geo-located as being close to the city’s centre, what’s the most interesting image, what’s been linked to a lot, what do people click on as well.”
DiTomaso explained not only is it not a simple fix; it’s also not a quick one.
“If the city, for example, wanted to influence this, they would have to invest in Search Engine Optimization to get a photo that’s the right size and then start to put that work in to educate Google’s algorithm that this is the photo that should be showing up.”
On Wednesday, the city said it couldn’t pin down a time frame for the change but said “it was fast.”
“We definitely heard from the public and the community and a lot of people voiced their concerns,” Williams said. “The city did a great job of reaching out to Google and being persistent and Google connected back.
“Whether that’s an image or the first interaction that a visitor has at an attraction when they get here, it’s a first impression,” Williams said. “It’s that first open door to a conversation. For us, having a really great image is that first impression that a potential tour operator or international travel media person or traveller might see of Edmonton.”