The Ever-Changing Face Of SEO
We were saddened to hear about Bill Slawski’s recent passing. In 2020 we had the honor of interviewing Bill to dig deeper into the concept of entities and how to apply that concept to our SEO efforts. Thanks, Bill for sharing your knowledge with the entire SEO community. You will be missed. Here, he shares his insights from researching Google patents and digging into the technical aspects of search. Understanding what an entity is will help you connect content and search engines better understand your website.
Here, he shares his insights from researching Google patents and digging into the technical aspects of search. Understanding what an entity is will help you connect content and search engines better understand your website.
What is an entity?
Spectrum: We know that an entity is defined by Google as “A thing or concept that is singular, unique, well-defined, and distinguishable.” It’s not some “thing” that needs to be a physical object. It can be a color, date, an idea. How do you define an entity?
Bill: Google started collecting information about business entities, including citations (mentions of an entity without a hyperlink), early in their search engine development. Entities are people, places, or things. As the algorithm evolved, Google matches entities and presents information about those entities via The Knowledge Graph.
Are entities becoming more important in SEO?
Bill: No, they are not becoming more important in search. It’s always been important. Google’s first semantic search invention was patented in 1999 by Sergey Brin.
By understanding entities, you understand how Google looks at web pages and interprets the information contained in them.
[Entities] have always been important…By understanding entities, you understand how Google looks at web pages and interprets the information contained in it.— Bill Slawski, Google Patent Expert
Let’s use an example of a baseball player. A baseball player plays for a specific team, holds a baseball position, has statistics related to his performance, etc… Mickey Mantle was a baseball player who played center field and right field for the NY Yankees. The entities in this example are:
- Mickey Mantle
- Baseball player
- Center fielder
- Right fielder
- NY Yankees
- American League East division
How can entities help with content?
Spectrum: Are entities related to the change in how people search?
Bill: An entity matters to a web crawler that looks at entities as nodes and relationships between those entities. They look for facts about those entities and connections to them. Links on the Web are edges between webpages, which are nodes. Google has recently added attributes such as UGC and syndication links to provide knowledge about those connections.
Spectrum: So basically, Google is not just looking for the topic (entity), they are looking for everything that’s related to that specific topic, and each of the related topics are entities in themselves. And the connectors are citations and links.
Bill: Yes. A web page is full of entities. Entities are connected with or without links to other web pages (nodes).
How do entities affect voice, text, or visual search?
Spectrum: So do entities affect voice or a visual search? For example voice search. If so, does that mean they help algorithms better understand the intent behind the question/query?
Bill: I don’t think there’s not too much difference between voice search and textual search. The traits I’m really excited about is visual search. Google is connecting machine learning to certain objects that appear in images.
So, if you search for a bank like the Eagles and if they are on tour, Google may associate the machine idea with the image you recognize of the band. You say “more information about the Eagles.” The machine finds schema on some websites and connects a searcher with that information, like concert tickets for sale.
How do you optimize a page with entities?
Spectrum: Are keywords dead?
Bill: No. Search phrases contain keywords that are entities. Making sure you have contextual entities in the content will help optimize that page.
Spectrum: So the practice of providing in-depth content that answers a searcher’s question, that’s linked to relevant and related topics (entities), is still a valid approach. Making sure the link text is rich with relevant information helps in showing the relationship between entities, nodes, web pages. You’re not putting a link to just put a link on the page. You’re looking at what is considered high value (relevant entities), not simply nouns or “things” on the page.
Bill: Yes. Let’s say you have a person on your team named “Michael Jackson.” You want to make sure that he’s not confused with the singer or the former head of Homeland Security. You put information unique and specific to that Michael Jackson. You disambiguate the “Michael Jackson” entity by linking to his LinkedIn page or website bio.
Here’s another example: “horse.” To an equestrian, a horse is an animal your ride. To a carpenter, a horse is a tool. To a gymnast, it’s a piece of exercise equipment. You want to put context terms on your page to make it clear what meaning of “horse” you mean.
Spectrum: Therefore, you put information on the page that explains the context of the entity.
Bill: Yes. In the early days of SEO, you literally had to have an exact match of keywords on the page for Google to figure it out. Contextual words don’t literally have to be proximate to each other. It just needs to be somewhere on the page.
About Bill Slawski
From a law career in the Delaware courts, Bill shifted to writing on the web and SEO in 1996. He contributes to Search Engine Journal, Moz, Search Engine Land, and Search News Central to name a few. For additional information and other articles from Bill, visit his blog SEO by the Sea.