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What is an Entity & How They Impact SEO

Feb 22, 2021
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What is an entity? An entity is a thing or a concept that is singular, that is unique, that is well-defined and that is distinguishable. Today's internet is truly a  semantic web of linked data. It also allows people to search for information faster and more easily. Entities are extremely important because they enable us to give meaning to documents in a way that a machine can understand them.  Check out the video below to learn more!

 

Video Transcript: 

The question we're looking at today is what is an entity? This is a definition from Google themselves. "An entity is a thing or a concept that is singular, that is unique, that is well-defined and that is distinguishable."

Entities are extremely important. And when we talk about the world of the semantic web, that's the world that we live in today. While many people may not know this or understand it, the web that we're using today is the semantic web and large companies have really started to tap into this because of what the semantic web provides them with.

The Semantic Web Provides Data

That is data. When we look at the semantic web, we can think of it as a web of linked data. What this enables us to do is give meaning to documents in a way that a machine can understand them. When a machine looks at a website page, it may not infer the same understanding as a human would, like we can read the text, we can walk through the document and we can understand what that document is saying. A machine has a little more of a difficult time in doing that because it's a machine. The advancements of structured data, usage of common data languages and vocabularies, like schema.org, have allowed our content to be machine-readable.

Let's look at this from an analogy. When we look at this text, like "my name is Ryan and I work at SMA Marketing," we have a couple of things going on here. We have two distinct entities, Ryan, I exist myself. I am unique and I'm definable, right? And then we have SMA Marketing, which is another type of entity, but that would be my organization. The English language, like many languages, has rules, and these rules are instituted so that we can formulate sentences and really share and communicate meaning.

Because I understand the English language and I understand the syntax of a sentence, I can infer from the sentence that Ryan works at SMA Marketing. That Ryan is the name of a person. And that SMA Marketing is a place where that person works. I just read that sentence and my brain knows that because it understands the English language and the rules that make that meaning clear.

Now structured data is a set of rules as well. And it enables machines to do the exact same thing that I just did with my own brain. How do entities play a role? Like we just said, entities are things or concepts. They're singular, unique, well-defined, indistinguishable. There's a number of different types of entities that we can look at. An entity can be a person. It can be a place. It could be an organization. It can be just a thing, like a cup. And it can be a lot of different elements. As long as it meets that description above.

More Than Keywords

We have to understand these concepts, like I said, because they're essential today in the world of SEO, and they're going to continue to play a role in the future. It's important to note that entities are not the same thing as a keyword. We are not just marketing to people, but also machines today.

Keywords still play an important role, but they're not the same thing as an entity. Entities are in and of themselves machine-readable. It's something that is designed and created to be machine-readable, and it has linked to data attached to it so there is no ambiguity to the meaning of that entity.

Keywords don't have this. Keywords are terms and common terms that we maybe use in our lexicon as human beings that we also use within our text. Now, yes, search engines can understand and infer meaning, but again, as marketers, we want to control the messaging. We want to control the meaning of things. And this is why using entities is important to set those expectations and to control the messaging. This is really why entities matter. In our previous video, we talked once more about context. Context is the key.

Using Entities to Communicate Meaning

And as I've also said, as SEOs and marketers, we are in the job of communicating the meaning of our messages, and entities help us do just that. Let's take a look at some of these examples right within Google search. Defining entities and understanding the meaning behind them is important so that our message is clear. Let's say you're doing a piece of content on George Washington. And one of your keywords would obviously be Washington, his last name, right? But as you can see here, when we type in the term Washington into the search engine, we are seeing a couple of things.

First, Google is inferring that maybe the most likely thing I'm looking for is the state of Washington. It gives me a URL here for the state of Washington, but it's not totally sure what I'm looking for because right below that I see the Washington Post, which is a newspaper based in Washington, DC. And then below that we see the Wikipedia link for the state of Washington. And then in the people also ask, we see information based on Washington state, as well as Washington, DC. Google's not sure of the intent because this query is too broad.

If I wanted to talk about President Washington, I'm not even getting any information on that. These search engines don't have a clear understanding of just straight text, but let's say I wanted to talk about President George Washington. I would actually want to mark up that term, Washington as a person, not as a state. Type in President Washington, we see that he's the first president of the United States, a lot of other really good information here. We've got other pieces of information attached too, like the portrait, drawings of him, his inauguration cabinet, and more.

When you're creating pieces of content around the person, Washington, you're going to be using person markup and an entity for a person so that the search engines know, as a matter of fact, I'm talking about a person, not a state and not a city. As you can see, this helps disambiguate the terms you're talking about and to be very clear in the things that you're trying to intend to the search engine, as well as the user. As you see, it's tapped in right here to the knowledge graph, which is a giant linked open database of meaning and connections of different entities based on their meaning and based on how they fit in with one another.

If we look at another search query, like marketing, we get a dictionary definition. We have some other things that could be related to marketing. Some other concepts. We have a link to Wikipedia. If we scroll down, we see also digital marketing. Digital marketing is different than marketing. If we're talking about marketing from a broad sense, we would want to mark up the thing marketing. But if we're talking about digital marketing specifically, we'd want to mark up something more specific to digital. The entity shifts, because the intent and the meaning behind the term that we're using changes.

One more example based on location. Let's say you do local business. I live in a city called Melbourne. Melbourne is in Florida. Now, if I go ahead and type Melbourne into the search bar, I get Melbourne Australia. It's on the other side of the world as what I'm targeting. If we scroll down, you see things here on Australia, but now you also see Melbourne, Florida. Google search knows, hey, these are two different cities. This person could be maybe looking for some place in Florida, or they can be looking for someplace in Australia.

We'd have to mark up the location. This plays a huge role in local search, local business search. If I want to talk about Melbourne, Florida, I can mark up the entity, Melbourne, Florida, which is a city. And I can define that city and have the attributes of that city. Again, I've disambiguated my content. Entities play an extremely important role in today's search as we move more and more to leveraging the semantic web, and you don't have to be one of these massive companies to understand it and leverage it. There are tools out there like we talked about on this channel, there's a tool called WordLift that we use quite a bit to help us tag entities and inject this type of structured data into our site.

Entities Are Driving Search

The most important thing to understand is that entities are driving search today, and they're not just driving search, they're driving major social platforms, a lot of other major business platforms because the web is becoming more and more interlinked using linked data. And because of that, we want to make sure that when we talk about concepts, we have the meaning that we intend attached to our site so that we can then get the most correct exposure to the people we are trying to talk to.

If you found this helpful, please comment below and connect with us. I also want to offer a chance for you to check out our course. We have a course built on structured data that helps you mark up your site and leverage structured data a lot more completely. If you're interested in that, you can check it out. It's simplifiedsearch.net. Make sure you use the code YouTube, and you're going to get a generous discount on that course to help you get more out of your digital marketing activities. Structured data plays a huge role. Entities are at the core of that, and we need to start leveraging them more and more so we can increase our visibility online. Again, if you have any questions, please comment below. We'd love to continue that conversation with you. And until next time, Happy Marketing.

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Ryan Shelley, CPBI

By Ryan Shelley, CPBI

Ryan is passionate about helping companies make a more personal connection online with their customers and prospects. He is a regular contributor to Search Engine Land, the largest and most popular SEO news site on the web. His works have also been featured on the HubSpot Blog, Business2Community and by LinkedIn Marketing Solutions.

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