Entities are, in my not-so-humble opinion, the single most important concept to understand in SEO right now. Full stop.
Think I’m just another SEO professional spouting the latest “silver bullet” that will die on the table along with many before it?
Three of the most important ranking factors, at last disclosure, were:
All these areas have evolved since that disclosure, but there’s a good chance that the overall importance of them has remained.
We know that an entity is defined by Google as:
“A thing or concept that is singular, unique, well-defined and distinguishable.”
It’s important to understand that the thing does not need to be a physical object, it can also be a color, a date, an idea, and more.
An entity is anything that is:
Now let’s look again at these three ranking factors.
Content, from an SEO perspective, is the connection of entities by relationships.
In the statement, “SEO is dead” there is the entity “SEO”, there is the entity “dead” and there is the relationship that one connects to the other and the direction of the said relationship.
All content is fundamentally like this.
Links are, at their very core, a connection between entities even before we (or Google) thought of them as such.
They declare a relationship and direction between pages on the web. Those pages are entities that contain other entities.
Further, the entity of the anchor text is connected through a relationship to a topic (also an entity) and that topical entity is then connected via a directed relationship (the link) to the entity of the target page.
RankBrain is not a ranking factor in the traditional sense. Its job is not to act as a signal but rather to adjust which signals carry what weight.
For a query like [best holiday gifts], RankBrain would interpret which signals make the most sense to produce the best result.
Time itself being an entity, its importance would be weighted more strongly as a list from 2014, no matter how many links it has (for example) would be useless.
For a query like “American civil war” however the entity of authority rank would be a more important factor than freshness.
Essentially, RankBrain itself simply determines which entity metrics and relationships are most important for a specific query.
The majority of what we know about entities (or at least, what I know) is taken from some patents, some smart folks, and from what makes sense.
While patents generally need to be read with a grain of salt, the ones I’ll be referencing below make so much sense there’s little doubt they’re incorporated into Google’s systems.
That said, there are various ways Google could be using these patents. So I’m not going to pretend I know specifically how. So, we’ll talk about them generally and what direction they lead us in.
Ranking Search Results Based On Entity Metrics is the title of a Google patent they were granted in 2015 and was the first patent on entities I read. It was not the last.
You can find my analysis of the patent here but it’s a lot of reading and dealing with formulas and in this article, we’ll save you that and cut to the chase.
According to the patent, the ranking of entities for search involves considering four factors. They are:
When all is said and done the process begins with the user requesting information on an entity.
I may enter into Google [best actresses].
After that, Google runs through their process in this order:
Hey, we didn’t say their algorithms were flawless. But not bad.
Moving forward a bit in time, we’re now looking at a patent granted in 2016.
This patent contains some powerful ideas and, thankfully, is easy to summarize.
Here are the takeaways:
With this technique, Google’s capabilities around learning about entities and their relationships becomes significantly stronger.
Combined with their advances in understanding natural language and machine learning and the importance of entities jumps forward even more.
The last patent we’re going to discuss here is simply titled, “Related Entities,” and was granted in its current form earlier this year.
Here’s what we can take away from the patent:
As you can see, the patent itself is quick to summarize but the ideas within it are incredibly powerful.
Entities matter for SEO because, at their core, they are the world.
We ourselves understand everything around us in the context of entities and their relationships. We just tend not to think of it that way.
A big part of the reason we’re just starting to talk about this now is that it takes machine learning to make use of the concept from a search level.
Without machine learning, Google couldn’t understand language well enough to interpret pages and entity relationships.
Without machine learning, and RankBrain specifically, Google couldn’t learn how to prioritize signals accurately and on-the-fly and adjust for unknowns and learn from them.
So now we’re starting to see this all come about and with it a massive change in how pages are ranked.
With entities come:
Links will remain as a signal I’m sure, but they will become simply one mechanism among many for establishing entity values.
To optimize in this new world, we need to change the way we think about our sites and how we market externally.
If we want to rank for “blue widgets” we need to consider that Google can now or will soon understand all the various entities related to them and in which order the searcher intent will most likely be met.
And you need to now consider which entities you need on your site and how they need to be connected to maximize the probability of Google understanding that you are more likely to meet the variety of possible intents than your competitor.
Perhaps more important for SEO professionals will be the change in links.
If I am right, and it seems inevitable, links will become simply one entity connector among many.
Why would a link be necessary to pass value if every other signal and a strong understanding of how entities relate is in place?
Google doesn’t need to see that I’m specifically linking to the site of Dave Davies of the Kinks.
They’ll know from context that this article references that entity and oddly tie it to a variety of entities such as Google Patent US20180046717A1, but their systems will determine that the relatedness is just not there and the association between this article and the Kinks guitarist will be minimal.
One thought to take away is to consider every logical connection, regardless of the type of SEO you’re doing.
If you’re writing content, think of the other entities that should exist on the page or site and make sure they are. Look at the top 10 sites and determine which other entities are on those pages.
And when you’re doing link building, think of the entities you’re most interested in associating yourself with and get links on those sites, knowing even if links diminish in value, you’re still OK.
Are you a realtor in Miami? Get links on realty sites but also on sites related to Miami. You can take it a step further and think about the types of sites that also strongly relate to realty.
Mortgage brokers, for example, would have a strong entity association with real estate and thus make good second-tier entity references.
Entities are necessary for Google to hand us the information we demand when we’re requesting the entity “pizza” with the location relationship of the entity “near me.”
So order one and start thinking about what content you going to tackle next.
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