Steph | 7 Jan 2020
As Search Engine Marketers, we are constantly looking to expand our knowledge of everything search. We want to know how it works, how it’s going to evolve and most importantly – how we can use that knowledge. So, a huge concept in SEO right now is… entities. Not just entities, but also directional relationships between entities, neural matching and a little bit of RankBrain thrown in for good measure!
“Okay Google, what is an entity?”
Glad you asked! The Google definition of an entity is “a thing or concept that is singular, unique, well-defined and distinguishable” – meaning that an entity isn’t necessarily an object – it could be a colour, an idea, a date, a time and so on. These entities are then connected by directional relationships; each entity can have a vast network of connections to other entities through different relationships. Put simply, search engines are a huge spider’s web of entities and relationships that Google are constantly evolving, to help their machine learning and artificial intelligence serve relevant answers to search queries.
Let’s get a few cat themed examples in here, because cats make everything better:
This cat is a Tabby
(My tabby, called Simba. He is the best.)
So, this sentence above contains two entities, cat and tabby that are connected by the ‘is a’ relationship.
Cats like to sleep
Again, the sentence above featured two entities – cat and sleep that are connected by a ‘likes to’ relationship.
All seems simple so far, but it is important after establishing what entities and relationships are,
to understand how they shape the world of search.
So, why is everyone talking about entities?
There are some huge clues that Google is moving to user intent-based search, and trying to understand natural language better each day. Over the years there have been more and more patents detailing entities and their influence on search. Not to mention that Google’s RankBrain and Neural Matching are both concepts centred around entities. When you consider entities, and have a strong understanding of how Google processes them, they contribute towards two of the main current ranking factors – content and links! Hold up though, what are RankBrain and Neural Matching?
- RankBrain – this is Google’s machine-based learning system that helps Google relate pages to concepts and decides where you should rank for a user search query, by examining relevance to the query and historic user data.
- Neural Matching – an AI based system that started being used in 2018 which looks at how words relate to concepts.
But how does this relate to my rankings? Or my website traffic? Well, artificial intelligence learns independently, and machine learning is used to apply it, so put simply – Neural Matching is constantly learning the way users are communicating with search engines and RankBrain is using that learning (amongst other things) to decide where search results rank!
So, what are the key takeaways here?
Let’s skip to the most important part, if the way Google learns is changing… what do we do to change with it? It’s actually a very simple answer – just be natural and relevant!
- Intent-specific keyword research is your most powerful weapon in the world of SERPs. Understanding at what stage of the buying journey your user is in and guiding your website content around this.
- Gather those authoritative backlinks – when we do internal/external linking we are easily establishing a relationship between two entities and helping Google to learn!
- Make sure that anchor texts are relevant, as this is an entity, the page you are linking to is an entity, and you linking is establishing a relationship.
- Explore the topic, not just the keyword. This one may be something that rocks the boat but… watch your rankings at a distance. The world of ‘getting hung up because you aren’t number 1 for a keyword’ is long gone. It is still important to keep an eye, though, and optimise based on the multitude of ranking factors, because the higher your rankings for the keywords you are watching, the higher you are going to be ranking for those all-important synonyms that contribute so hugely to natural language in search! How, you say? Established relationships between entities is how.
So, as a parting note to summarise, the most simplistic way to look at this is – the whole web is made up of relationships between entities, like a giant spider’s web that is getting bigger each day. You want your business to go and get stuck in the part of that spider web related to your services, and a deep understanding of entities is the way to get there!