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Entities: what are they and why are they important

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This month, our SEO guru Kirsty headed down to Brighton to hear about the latest developments in search marketing and SEO.

There is so much to learn about and discuss that over 4,000 people attend this conference, held twice a year.

Every conference, a technique or concept emerges as a top topic, and this September, it was definitely “entities”.

We’ll say right now, you might find this article a bit ‘geeky’ in places but stick with it.

You’ll be hearing a lot more about entities in the future.

Entities and search results

Google are constantly refining the way their algorithms understand what web pages are about. They have realised that many words can apply to a single “thing” or concept, or in their words, an entity. For example, there are many words to describe a mother, but a mother is a single concept. A mother also has fixed connections to other concepts - father, son, daughter, grandchild.

As Google puts it, an entity is:
“A thing or concept that is singular, unique, well-defined and distinguishable.”


Why are entities important for website content?

According to Search Engine Journal:
“Content, from an SEO perspective, is the connection of entities by relationships.”

The premise is that an entity exists outside of language. It is defined by its relationships. The challenge is for Google to identify the connections between entities and content on websites, to ensure that they offer people the relevant results in their searches.

To help them do this, Google has the knowledge graph. That’s the machine learning system that that pops up and tells you an answer to a straightforward question, such as “Who is the current Prime Minister of Canada?”.

Having specific definitions of “Prime Minister” and “Canada” in their knowledge graph enables Google to answer any similar question, such as “Who is the Prime Minister of Great Britain?” It also helps Google know the difference between a Prime Minister and a church minister through their relationship (or not). The concept of entities takes this ability to new heights.

As mobile marketing guru Cindy Krum explains:
“The knowledge graph (weaves) a series of things that are related to other things in kind of a fabric.

Taco is related to hamburger, but then taco is also related to lettuce and tomato and food,.These are multidimensional relationships … that Google knows and that Google can graph. They can meet these relationships and those relationships stay static regardless of what language or keyword you’re searching in. So, taco always has the same relationship to lettuce and to food in every language.

You take out the reliance on language as the primary modifier and the entity becomes the primary point of indexing.” (2)


Latent Semantic Indexing (geek alert)

To our mind, this is the natural evolution of a technique from the very early days of SEO - Latent Semantic Indexing. LSI was the way an algorithm would look at the context of a word on a page, and deduce what the page was about. As Wikipedia says:
“Latent semantic indexing (LSI) is an indexing and retrieval method that uses a mathematical technique … to identify patterns in the relationships between the terms and concepts contained in an unstructured collection of text.”

So, if a page mentions “cats” but also talks about sails, hulls, marinas and moorings, then it’s about the boat not the furry feline. However, in those days LSI was about the actual word, and if the page was in a different language, the words would be different.

Now, Google just needs to know that the entity “catamaran” is connected to the entities sail and marina, which it also has profiles for. Regardless of the language the page is written in, a catamaran will always have the same relationships. S0 Google can ‘understand’ content faster and more efficiently.

OK, how does this all relate to your business profile online?


Your business entity

Your business is an entity. To help Google’s algorithms understand your business better, you need to make connections between your entity and other entities, including location. For example:

If you’re a lawyer based in Toronto, you need to support the entity “Toronto lawyer” by connections with other recognisable entities. In practical terms, you should;

  • Say in your content that you are in Downtown Toronto (location)
  • Detail which kind of lawyer you are (matrimonial, commercial, environmental), • Refine your entity profile using other entity references (divorce, employees, climate change).


Linking your entity

What Google wants to see and learn (because improving machine learning is at the heart of all this) are reliable, authoritative connections between entities. So, if you are a member of the Toronto Chamber of Commerce, make sure you get a link from their site to yours. That supports the entities of ‘business’ and ‘local’ in association with your business entity. If you can, also get a link from any legal-related organisation in Toronto, such as Torontolawyers.com.


Love your entities!

What we love about entities is that it makes you think about what exactly you do, offer or sell, and what it relates to in the real world. Keyword research for “divorce”, for example, won’t necessarily bring up domestic violence. However, as a divorce lawyer, you would work with divorce clients who are victims of domestic abuse. So, you might want to support a charity that helps tackle this major social issue. Equally, you know the connection between divorce and coercive control, but Google may not (yet).

So, think what other websites might further support your own business entity and get links where you can. You could write an article for a divorced parent group, sponsor an event at a domestic violence shelter charity, etc. Content about these niche subjects will support your business entity profile as a whole.

You need to make these connections for Google at every opportunity, to improve its learning. A simple link between websites makes the connection between the entities clear - and thus makes your website more credible and relevant to Google. Win-win!


Talk like a human

The really exciting thing about entities is that it frees you to write content in a natural, human way. Many people still think they have to ”write for Google” or cram in keywords everywhere. Not so.

Keywords are still important, but more because they support the entity connections rather than just producing  search volume. Having said that, keywords are based on how many people search using that term in real life. Google is bound, therefore, to make the connection between entities faster when it's looking at the way the majority of people describe an entity in their search terms.

For example, Google will know that a calzone is a type of pizza, but will probably also define the entity “calzone” as of less status (due to infrequency of searches) than “pizza”.

However, if someone is searching for calzone, and you talk about calzone on your specialist pizza page on your restaurant website, your listing will rise up to the top for calzone-based searches. It just won’t show up so highly on generic pizza searches.

The exception could be if you have won awards for your calzone. Google likes awards, apparently, as it validates the status of your product/business. The larger/higher profile the award, the higher the value of the associated entity. Google included a "prizes" criteria in a patent granted in 2015. So always mention awards!


Coffee is an entity

It's also a reward for having got this far in this article! Have a hot cup now and get ready to take action to improve your business profile with entities!


Entities and Google My Business

Your business is an entity. Your Google My Business (GMB) profile is hosted by Google. Google is bound to trust the information on your GMB profile above a lot of other pages or mentions about your business. Your GMB profile therefore helps Google understand your business entity profile first hand. So max it out!

  • Add photos of staff, products, location.
  • Get customers to review direct to your GMB listing.
  • Post special offers with a great image to grab attention.
  • Add your own FAQs.
  • Add your opening hours (mega crucial for local search!)


Keyword research is still key

It’s now even more crucial to research exactly what people call your products. There is no point in selling “woven pockets of dried leaves of Camellia sinensis” when everyone else calls them “teabags”. The teabag is the entity. The other phrase describes it.

You can describe how all tea is essentially the dried leaves of Camellia sinensis, but it’s the way your special white tea is made that makes all the difference. This kind of descriptive content connects the entity ‘tea’ with ‘white tea’ and probably ‘rarity’ or similar - and connects them to your product entity (e.g. Aardvark Loose Leaf Single Estate White Tea). This kind of content is also more authoritative, more human and frankly, more interesting!


Entities - the low-down summary (TL;DR)

  • Write natural-sounding content that’s clear, engaging and uses lots of related words to your subject entity.
  • Use keyword research to make sure you’re describing an entity by the most effective words and related entities (new car, new SUV, new BMW). 
  • Max the effectiveness of your Google My Business profile using photos, posts and reviews.
  • Build local connections if you’re a local business.



Don’t worry - we get this stuff. More to the point, we know how to apply it to websites and social media, to help businesses of all sizes improve their visibility online. We are also very pragmatic about what we offer - if your business doesn’t need it, we won’t suggest it. (We know you’re on a budget.)

Call us to discuss your website design, content and social media needs - we’re happy to help.



(1) https://www.searchenginejournal.com/social-media-strategies-seo/277839/

(2) https://blog.searchmetrics.com/us/google-mobile-first-crawl/

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

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