Why entity search is necessary for SEO success

Why entity search is necessary for SEO success

Keywords are foundational, but entities may be the future. At SMX Next, a panel of SEO experts shows how marketers can optimize their content for entity search.

“The problem is never about content; the problem is always about discovery,” said Benu Aggarwal, founder of digital marketing agency Milestone Inc., in her presentation at SMX Next.

The way Google and other search algorithms analyze and rank content has changed drastically over the years, and not all pieces of content are primed for it. A website could have the best content on the internet but fail to rank well if it’s not optimized for discoverability.

A slide showing challenges to online visibility and discovery.
Source: Benu Aggarwal

“Traditional [content] systems are not designed to think about discovery, they are designed for user experience,” Aggarwal said. “That’s why the new Core Web Vitals update from Google has made such a big shift — it’s all about the discovery of content.”

Google and other search engines now discover content primarily through entity search, which is the method bots use to understand user intent while mapping other related sources to search queries. Marketers who fail to ensure their content aligns with this framework will find their SEO campaigns falling short.

Here are three reasons why marketers should adopt an entity search strategy.

Google has moved from term-based search to entities

Ever since its inception, Google has undergone numerous algorithm changes to provide better search results for its users. One of the most impactful shifts is the primary focus on entities as opposed to keywords.

“These changes are being rolled out not only to find it [content] but to remove the ambiguity of it,” Bill Hunt of Back Azimuth Consulting said during the same presentation. “A lot of these updates are moving Google from ‘strings to things.’”

A timeline of Google's updates and what they addressed.
Source: Bill Hunt

Entity search has largely grown out of the shifts in the way people perform searches. Voice search, additional search-supported devices and personalized search results all affect content discoverability and how it’s presented, so adapting your content to these formats is vital.

“You may have a brilliant piece of content, but the intent and the expected asset type may affect what is shown to people,” said Hunt.

To optimize content for entity search, Hunt recommends marketers do the following:

  • Integrate verified semantic elements into your web infrastructure.
  • Eliminate ambiguous language in your content.
  • Engage searcher interests in context.

“We often write very simply for the web, whereas a lot of times the language processing is fairly complex,” he said. “If it’s overly simplistic or uses incorrect grammar, written content may not be understood as well. So we want to think about not just text but images and videos and all these other pieces.”

Search engines are much better at understanding user intent than they used to be, so your content should match that. For example, most searchers who use the phrase “how to” will expect a list of steps, and those who use “near me” will expect a map — the content type should match the query. This will also help search engines better understand your content and connect it to relevant entities.

Entities help build the Knowledge Graph

During the same presentation, Dixon Jones, CEO at DHJ Ventures, pointed to a Google knowledge panel of George Washington to highlight the connections the algorithms make.

A Google knowledge panel of George Washington with associated entities.
Source: Dixon Jones

“This is a great example of what Google can understand about an entity and an idea,” he said. “Google knows when he was born, when he died and all sorts of other important critical dates. Google can relate that to other presidents that are around at the time and it can even generate those extra pictures of other presidents as well.”

As an example, Jones provided a graphic of beer and its associated entities (shown below). The chart shows various connections between types of beer, based on style, brand, etc.

a graphic of beer and its associated entities
Source: Dixon Jones

“It [the graph] shows that German beers are an entity within this concept and that German lager is a part of the larger family,” he said. “It’s connected to Munich Lager and Vienna Lager, and an example of Vienna Lager is Samuel Adams Boston Lager.”

“The best way for us to help Google understand all these dots is to provide schema to give it context,” he added.

Schema data helps crawlers better understand entities in content by pointing to connecting topics. Using JSON code, marketers can create schema that gives search engines a clearer picture of their organizations. There are plenty of free schema generators to help with this task.

“You need the content to explain the right kind of entities, you need the schema to help describe the right kind of entities and you need to make sure that the intent is correct,” he said. “Make sure that everything that happens in your content is breaking things down into the underlying entities.”

Entities help identify gaps in topics and intent

“If you want to optimize [content] in a modern-day world of MUM and BERT, you need to look at entity, topic and schema gaps,” said Jones.

Jones provided an example (shown below) of this identifying process using the location page of a Los Angeles cupcake shop called “Sprinkles.” Using crawling software, he was able to point to topic, entity and schema gaps it was missing when compared to competitors.

A competitive analysis featuring a topic, entity and schema gaps.
Source: Dixon Jones

“The pages that are competing for the concept of ‘cupcake shops in LA’ . . . are talking about cupcakes and bakeries and cakes and chocolates and lots of selections,” Jones said. “Sprinkles is talking about most of these things as well, but they’re not talking about cakes or chocolate, so these are entities that they need to talk about.”

Marketers should focus on pinpointing these gaps and reoptimizing their content based on the data. Many tools show what additional topics to cover in written content, but filling the schema gap often takes further analysis, especially with so many technical changes occurring throughout the search ecosystem.

“Google is constantly changing because the intent of the consumer is changing and the volume of content is growing,” Aggarwal said. “The technical infrastructure is changing every single day, and that’s why maintaining it and scaling error-free schema is a huge problem.”

To address these maintenance and scaling problems, Aggarwal recommends marketers adopt a strategic approach to schema creation that plans out the implementation process, measures its performance in published content and enhances it over time.

“Schema is never a one-time goal,” she said. “You cannot just put out schema and forget about it — it’s [eventually] going to break. It’s going to constantly require a well-defined infrastructure.”

Marketers that maintain strong entity-focused infrastructure have the best chance of improving their content’s discoverability and ensuring future SEO success.

Watch the full SMX Next presentation here (free registration required).

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