Entities are hot digital marketing trend at the moment.

But they aren’t really a trend – and they aren’t going anywhere.

Beginning in the late 2000’s, links became the gold standard in SEO. Flash forward to 2020 and they’re still king. But they’re now fueled by more advanced technology than before.

Google is now using entities in order to better judge the relationships between links.

Not only links, but they’re also using entities to better judge our content. 

What’s this mean? We better know and understand entities. Oh, and it means you can’t keyword stuff your page about puppies and get links from sites about weather and expect to rank.

What Are Entities?

Put really simply, entities are just things. They can be a person, place, thing, concept, or idea. Entities do wonders for search engines like Google in understanding the relationship between things. 

For instance, when you search for “who is the president,” you get served a featured snipped of Donald Trump.

How does Google know? Entities.

They recognize “Trump” as an entity and “president” as an entity. 

Because these two entities are often found within the same text all across the web, Google can say with confidence that they’re strongly related. 

It’s pretty easy to see the SEO implications of entities. If you want to rank for “president,” of course you need to write good content and get relevant links. But even moreso, you need to be sure that search engines recognize the relationship between your post and other entities closely related to “president.” 

Where Do We See Entities?

Image Search. This is a great place to see what entities Google associates with a topic:

Knowledge Panels. Everything that lives in a knowledge panel is itself an entity.

How Entities are Used to Rank Pages

Entities aren’t necessarily a ranking factor – at least in the traditional sense. And we don’t really know exactly how much weight they carry as quality signals. But we know there are two key categories of ranking factors (among many others) heavily influenced by the entity graph / knowledge graph

Content

Keywords have historically been the judge of the relevance and quality of content. Keywords aren’t dead, but entities give better insight to search engines on the relationship between words in a search.

For example, let’s look at the search “best shoes for basketball in Atlanta.” Sure, we could create a post and stuff it with the keyphrase. But in a world of entity-based indexing, Google is looking for semantics around each of these entities, and signals that indicate their relationships.

You might recall the explosion of “LSI keywords”. Whether or not latent semantic indexing is used in Google’s algorithm, this fascination with semantics is rooted in entities. All search is now semantic.

Links

It’s pretty common knowledge in the world of SEO that not all links are created equal. Entity-based indexing amplifies this sentiment. A post aiming to rank for “best shoes for basketball in Atlanta” needs links and references from authoritative sources on shoes, basketball, and the city of Atlanta in order to really own that SERP.

How to Optimize for Entities

Let me be clear: there hasn’t been a ton of testing on this (that I’m aware of). However, there are some things we can know

  • Google leans on entities for rankings
  • Google uses entity relationships to better understand links

So we know that we can optimize for entities to a degree. A few ways:

  • Use Google’s Natural Language API to dig up insights about high ranking posts on topics we too want to rank for
  • Look for links surrounded by text relevant and related to the entity we want to be associated with

Using Google’s NLP API demo to evaluate competition

Find the top few ranking articles for your target keyphrase. Now we will look at how Google views the entities found within their articles. We’re going to use Google’s NLP API demo:

Natural Language Processing demo

This is just a sample demo of their Natural Language Processing cloud product. Nonetheless, it provides really valuable data. Before we dive in, we need to define one key term.

Google’s API demo looks at a handful of things: salience, sentiment, syntax, and categories, but we’re really only focusing on salience in this article.

Salience is a score of how important the entity is in the context of the whole text. The higher the score, the more salient the entity is. We’ll use salience to help guide our content. Here’s what to do:

  1. Click on one of your competing posts in the SERP
  2. Copy and paste the content into the demo editor
  3. Click “Analyze”
  4. Check out for which entities Google reveals high salience

Google's NLP API demo

We see the entities with the highest salience are “player,” “best basketball shoes,” and “basketball shoes.” Seeing as Google ranks this page well for the keyphrase we desire, we can conclude these are entities we should seek to optimize for in our post.

Provide context throughout

How can you optimize your content for these entities? As you begin writing, your goal should be to establish the relationship between the entities you’re targeting in your keyphrase and give Google all the context you can to associate your target keywords with their entity graph. This isn’t done by keyword stuffing, but by using some of the language and semantics we’ve gleaned from the above sources.

Google Images and Wikipedia should help you choose semantically related keywords and language to use throughout your article, while “People Also Ask” can help guide your overall topics and headings. Again, the aim is not to stuff keywords in, but to have a toolbox of individual words, phrases, language, and topics to guide our writing in a way that prioritizes our target entities.

Once you’ve finished writing, run your own article through Google’s NLP API demo to get a feel for how you stack up. If the desired entities show low salience, it may be worth going back to the drawing board. At the very least, you can analyze articles that show more entity success to gain insight into how Google associates your targets.

Again, I want to make it clear that I know of no sound research on exactly how to increase your salience score and thus increase your content’s relationships with certain entities. But I have seen ranking success with this approach.

Entities are the future of search, and as of now, Google’s NLP demo provides a ton of insight into how Google views entities and the knowledge graph.

It’s time to get familiar.

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