Entities and SEO: a complete introduction

You may have already stumbled upon a SEO entity detector or an article on Google’s Knowledge Panel and wondered what exactly an entity was. If you’re not familiar with the term or what it means then take note: it’s time to dive into the subject. Entities are arguably one of the most powerful ideas in search.

I’m going to take a risk and predict that in the near future entities will surpass links and content as a key area for SEOs and all those seeking rankings. However, as we will discuss, entities rely on these two factors to build their influence. In this article, we will look at how to use links and content to strengthen and connect entities.

Great… But what is an SEO entity?

At this point you are no further along than when you read the title. First of all, I wanted to emphasize the importance of entities in search. Now we will delve into their definition, then I will illustrate these statements and highlight some approaches to help you use this information to save or build your rankings in the future.

Let’s start with Google’s definition from one of their patents on the subject (yes – there are several patents):

Entity: a thing or concept that is singular, unique, well-defined and distinguishable.

So, does that clarify things?

I’ve long thought of entities as names (a person, a place or a thing). I was wrong, they go far beyond that. An entity can be an idea, an adjective, a concept… Anything that can be uniquely defined. The color red for example. Or the Pythagorean theorem. Or this article. Or the concept of entities. Or a word of the concept. Or a letter of that word. Or a pixel of that letter. All of it. Even an author who still hasn’t precisely addressed his subject after 300 words.

So, what’s the point, Dave?

Let’s look at Dave’s name as an entity. Actually, ‘Dave Davies’ is an entity. There are four (at least) in my town. There are three in this picture alone:

Each one of these entities has a connection. They’re all named Dave Davies. They have other similar features like the ‘male’ gender and many other similarities but their points of differentiation are much more numerous. And this is where the entities appear.

Let’s use as an example the very famous ‘Dave Davies’ in this image and look at a basic illustration of the ‘Dave Davies’ entity of The Kinks. If you don’t know him, this is who we’re talking about:

Now, let’s take a look at a small part of his entity graph that you can see in this illustration based on one of Google’s patents and designed for our example:

What you can easily see here is the entity graph (the circles) and their relationship (the lines). If the plot of these relationships looks familiar to you it’s probably because it looks a lot like :

Are you starting to see the connections? Knowledge Panels are just the tip of the iceberg but they make an excellent visual example of the entities and their relationships used directly in the search.

What do you think Google uses when responding to “nearby” searches? Google needs to specifically understand the relationship between a website or any other data source, a business and what it offers to get a result like this:

Google needs to understand the entity of the location, the businesses, the many entity attributes (notes, images, etc…) that are also entities in themselves and then connect these business entities to the “pizza” entity. So we can see through these few examples, the usefulness of entities and their relationship in local searches and Knowledge Panels. Google’s many patents on the subject deepen the subject even more.

Google and links

But then, why is Google interested in links? It is interested in them because it treats them as a “vote” from one site to another. What it really wants to do (although Google’s teams didn’t know this when they created PageRank) is to understand the relationship between an entity (the linked site) and the target (the site linked to). And they started to incorporate other factors such as the PageRank or the mesh of a site (the PageRank score is an entity), the text anchor used (entity), the relevance of the topic (the topic is also an entity), and many others (excuse me, they didn’t provide me with their list of PageRank factors or I would have included it in the article).

All this work on linking was intended to answer a basic question: How is one entity linked to another?

So the question we can ask ourselves is: if Google gets a better understanding of the entities than it has of the links, would it use the links?

The short answer is no, or at least not in the context in which we see it today. It could use them to confirm associations, but not as a primary factor.

But why would Google… Why?

And why would it do that? The answer is simple if you think about the way you use your devices. We have our computers, of course, but we also have our laptops, we have Google Homes, we want to watch our videos on our TVs, we want Google to know where we are in time and space and direct us to our destination as quickly as possible, we want Google to tell us where the nearest pizza place is… We ask, that’s why.

Let’s consider the SERPs themselves for a moment. All these Featured Snippets, Knowledge Panels, answers… these formats are only possible because of Google’s understanding of how entities connect.

What can you do with these SEO entities?

I hope I helped you to understand the entities and especially that I made you want to keep your eyes and ears open for more information. This is not a very technical area of SEO. I recognize that it can be, but no more so than meshing, content strategies or analytics. In the meantime, what can you do to improve the value of your entity?

This question has several answers. Enhancing the value of your entity that is your website (which itself contains countless entities) simply requires strengthening your value and the relationships between the entities you wish to associate.

Create content that not only talks about your products and services but also about the topics related to your site. Content that reinforces the association between your site and the topic you want to rank for. This will have the secondary benefit of improving your chances that Google will see your site as a response to users’ intentions.

Build reliable links and ensure that your brand and your site are mentioned on relevant pages. Links are better than mentions but as Google works harder and harder to understand your entity, it is possible (if I dare say probable) that it no longer needs links to make the association between entities.

Add a diagram to your site. A diagram is a very simple way to add information to your site to specify your link to specific topics, brands, products or services and many other benefits.

Keep your Google My Business updated. If you don’t have a Google My Business listing, you should probably get started now instead of reading this article (but you’re almost done so you can wait until the end of the article before doing so). This is where you specifically provide Google with a ton of information about your site, your business, the relevance of your topic, and other details. You can also use it to add additional information to your Knowledge Panel to bring more detail to users.

There is still a lot of important things to know about the entities, we have only scanned the surface. Pay attention to what happens with the media and everything you hear about the entities. This is the future.

Now go and find an entity that is coffee inside another entity that is the cup with a relationship to the entity that is your favorite temperature and go for it!