An Easy Explanation of Entities and SEO

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An Easy Explanation of Entities and SEO

Have you ever wondered why a page that doesn’t list a keyword phrase on the page, in their title tag, or in the URL ranks for a big phrase?  It is because they earned trust with the search engine and they’ve gotten good at building SEO and content entities.

Entities in SEO are when you have a series of related words and topics, also known as elements, that when combined have a high probability of a single answer or solution.  The answer or search result is the entity.  Entity elements range from an ingredient in a recipe to a celebrity, specific words, varieties of plants, date ranges, or buildings in a city.  Search engines use entities to give an answer when the person searching hasn’t been specific enough.

The more elements and modifiers used in the query, the more specific the search result is and the less likely an entity result is to appear.  And entities also generate rich results, especially when combined with schema.

If search engines didn’t use entities, they’d be giving a mix of the elements as the search result instead of the actual answer or experience the user is looking for.

There’s an easy way to see this visually.  Below you’ll find examples of element inputs including music, movies, and ecommerce.  After I share how this can be applied to your business, whether its ecommerce, service based, or you’re a publication.

This first example is changing one element to see how the response from Google changes to give a more relevant answer.  Cher is a perfect entity as her career is triple threat spanning multiple decades and genres.

  • Cher + Jack Nicholson
  • Jack Nicholson + Shelly Duval
  • Cher + Christina Ricci + Winona Ryder
  • Cher + Tina Turner

Each of these are different parts of Cher’s career with example two being the exception since she’s not part of the query.  If search engines didn’t use entities, the search result would be a mix of the elements with a focus on either Cher or the modifier and not the specific movie or song the person wanted to find.  By not using entities, the user would have a bad experience because they have to search again.

When you type “Cher Jack Nicholson” into Google it populates “The Witches of Eastwick” because it is the only major movie or event they starred in together.  If there are two movies that were successful and they were the stars, these elements would cause a mix of those two movies because the query wasn’t specific enough.  If more than two elements are used, or it was a question like “Cher movies” we’ll see a grid of each movie and the user can choose the most relevant one.  Each of the movies are elements in Cher’s moving acting career.

The important thing to pay attention to is that almost all the results are about actors and movie related content.  This is because the elements of the entity are for her movie acting career, not her singing or television acting one.

If you do “Shelly Duval Jack Nicholson” you’ve removed the Cher element and get The Shining.  This is because they were the stars of this movie, and Cher wasn’t in it.

Replace “Jack” so the query becomes “Cher Christina Ricci Winona Ryder” and the movie Mermaids becomes the dominant result as these three leading ladies are the stars.  And when you do “Cher Tina Turner” you get a performance by these two legendary vocalists because Google knows that this is a singing moment and not a movie moment.

The search result should contain YouTube clips, possibly vocal clips, and articles about the two singer’s performance together vs. a focus on movie history and movie acting.

Here’s some screenshots, then I’ll “Cher” some non-Cher examples.

cher and jack nicholson

cher winona ryder christina ricci

cher tina turner

This same concept applies to software, companies, and knowledge panels.  When you type in “Kitty Hawk Wright Brothers” you’ll see information about the first flight (which some argue was actually in Brazil) and a knowledge panel for “flying machine” as these are both elements of the entity for it.  For this post’s sake, the Wright Brothers are credited with the first manned flight and it took place in Kitty Hawk which is why the results look like this.

I typed Kitty Hawk as one word instead of two, but both produce basically the same entities as a result.

more seo entity examples

And this apply to recipe websites and publishers.

Try “cocoa + powder + eggs + salt + flour + sugar + butter” and you get a mix of brownies and chocolate cookies.  Adding the modifier “baking (soda or powder)” and “with or without” will modify the result to show more cookies or more brownies because this extra ingredient makes a difference.  And if you type in “water shampoo bleach” you’ll get results for how to do a bleach bath which is a way to lighten your hair color.  They’re the ingredients in the mix.

seo entities example 2 entity seo example

Let’s go back to Cher before we jump in applying this to your business or publication.  Knowing how to identify relevant elements will help you apply this SEO concept to your business.

If you type “Cher” into Google alone, you’ll see a knowledge panel.  Each of the features in the knowledge panel are entities and elements about “Cher”.  American singer, actress, and television define why she is famous and what she is known for.  Her birthday and her children’s names, and who she had been married to with the date range are also elements in her entity.  The date range is important to pay attention to.

Date ranges are part of her elements because if one of her ex’s remarried, the alternate date range in her ex’s life is an element of the new spouse’s entity and not part of Cher’s elements.  If you combine multiple elements from this knowledge panel, but don’t add “Cher” to the search query, Google knows that she was part of it and will include her in the results or as the answer to a question.  Typing “Who is Chaz Bono’s mom and dad?”  will result in Cher and Sonny.

This is because the elements add up to a likely probability of Cher being a part of the answer to the user’s query.

knowledge panel entities

Using SEO Entities for Content Creation

So how do entities play into your content strategy?  Take apart the pieces or uses of a product, the topic of your site, or service you offer.  Now think about what you can create that is directly related to these elements while making sure the content provides solutions for your current customer base.

If you start publishing copy on your blog or in your publication that is irrelevant for current readers, but an entity of the phrase you want to rank for, you may chase the readers away and lose revenue.  If you start stuffing entities off of the phrase “chickens” to your roasted chicken franchise, you’re taking your content off topic because you are about chicken as a food and not as a pet.  Chicken entities could be about raising them (which is a farming or animal supply store), breeds, and other niches not related to food.  The content is also not localized, but your franchise is, so you may take your content funnels way “out of range” (sorry, I couldn’t resist the pun).

With that said, if you have a farming supply store, and chickens are a big part of your product lines like coups, feed, predator defense, etc… this could be a good topic silo to write about.  You’re providing educational resources for your current customers while building trust by providing solutions.  The benefit here is you’re providing good resources for searcher on Google.

Because you have a store with the products, you can create actual “how to” guides and reviews showing actual experience.  And you can use internal links to help the visitors buy the correct products to create the solution on their own.  These elements work to help your store surface for the big entity queries once you’ve built enough trust.  And these guides based on actual experience can lead to backlinks, but that’s for a different post.

When evaluating entities and elements, if topics will benefit the customers on your site, begin creating the content and see if you get entity searches.  You’re building topical relevance, potentially attracting new customers, and you’re providing relevant solutions for your customer base.  The important thing is to build for your audience and not for SEO.  Building good and relevant experiences tends to have a positive impact on all channels.

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