Entity

Entity, in a technical sense is synonymous to “unit,” whereas in a philosophical sense it denotes something concrete or tangible in contrast to an idea or concept. In the field of search engine optimization, the term “entity” is almost equivalent to a generic term for a whole semantic range. Entities now play a major role for SEO. In this sense, SEO has evolved from a once keyword-based discipline to a marketing discipline that is oriented around the semantics of content.

Background

The technology of search engines has evolved steadily since its inspection in the late 1990s. While the algorithms of the software were mainly oriented towards the frequency of keywords within a document at the beginning in order to determine the ranking of a website, more ranking factors have been added successively. But even then, the fixation on keywords was still present up to the 2010’s. Whether it be the presence of keywords in the page title, meta description, heaaders, or text of the website, as a general rule it is primarily important that keywords are harmoniously coordinated. But ever since the introduction of the Hummingbird update in 2013, Google made it clear that the semantics of text is more important than keyword density. Thus, you can get from the Google One Box, for example, what factors Google deems important when it comes to entities such as cities, famous people, or companies. For search engine optimization, the change towards optimized entities is analogous to the development of the search engine and with the rediscovery of TF*IDF provisionally reached a climax.

Current trends such as the frequently quoted “linkless ranking” (in other words the ranking of websites without inbound backlinks) contributed to this paradigm shift. Examples of websites that ranked well for a particular keyword set were already found without the actual key word in question ever being in the text. As a consequence of this new “semantic search,” SEO changed over to “semantic SEO” where the optimization with regard to entities plays a major role.

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Examples of entities

One might define entities as a kind of generic term that defines itself based on clearly assigned individual aspects. These individual aspects may be concepts, terms, people, or things. The totality of these words provides clarity in the definition of an entity. Google itself uses entities for its searches. Thus, individual search queries are decomposed into entities to understand the semantics of the request. Specific examples of entities would be as follows:

  • Companies / brands: A known entity would be Apple Inc. Text describing this entity in detail would certainly contain the terms “Steve Jobs,” “iPod,” “iMac,” “Macintosh.”
  • Persons: If you consider “Matt Cutts” as an entity, words such as “Google antispam team,” “Google” or “blogger” would need to be used to uniquely identify the entity.
  • Cities: The entity “city” includes semantically appropriate keywords for a particular city. Munich is associated with the Oktoberfest, BMW, the English Garden, the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, or the Marienplatz.
  • Recipes: To understand that the entity “recipes” is being referred to, general content such as “ingredients” would be necessary. A specific recipe such as “white sausages” would have terms like “sweet mustard,” “snack” or “something light.”

How it applies in SEO

From the realization that Google can identify entities and uses them as a general rule for the classification of sites or content, it follows that content of a website needs to cover an entire semantic range and may no longer be confined to a small amount of selected keywords in the future. This form of optimization, in turn, provides the possibility that Google recognizes a website itself as an entity and will assign it specific features and terms with the algorithm. Consequently, websites may rank high for certain keywords which they were not primarily optimized for. By focusing on semantic ranges, Google expects in this case that the content is relevant to a particular search query. One possible example: A website that takes up the topic “winter tires” in detail, could consequently rank well for “summer tires” if Google has recognized that the content describes the entity “tire” very well and user signals and inbound links indicate that it must be of high quality.

Despite the focus on the text alone, Google will include even more elements for the determination of entities. It may therefore be recommendable to include semantic markup in the HTML as well.

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