What is an Entity?

Entities might be a new SEO term for many but recent opinions by experts state that entities are the most important concept to understand in SEO today. An entity, according to Google’s definition in a recent patent, is “A thing or concept that is singular, unique, well-defined and distinguishable”. In other words, an entity is anything that can be defined by a web page as an object with unique distinguishing properties. On the web, the most basic way entities are described is by the information on the page itself.

Our World Is Made of Entities

For a business owner, this means you and your business can be defined in terms of entities, or the things, including tangible and intangible things, ideas, concepts, etc., that make up your business.

For example, if you’re a barber with a shop in your community, your web page would likely describe your business in terms of your business name, services, and products that you offer your customers. The information you use to describe these things includes all the related descriptions, specifications, warranties, and pricing information.

Additionally, your store address, phone number, email contact information and hours that you are open, all distinguish your business as unique, well defined and distinguishable from all other businesses. Add to this any concepts or ideas you use or own. These can also be included in this list of definable entities that distinguish your enterprise from others found in the world or on the internet.

According to Google, an entity, … is “A thing or concept that is singular, unique, well-defined and distinguishable”.

Your website can be defined as an entity, your organization can be another entity. In the case of the barber, the shop itself can be defined as an entity. Even your logo and images on your web pages can be described as entities. Your brand is an important entity for Google and I’ll write more about that in a future blog. If there are multiple stores in unique locations, they can all be described as unique entities. These are just some of the things that can be described as entities. For a full list of entity types and specifications for how to configure them, go to schema.org.

Structured Data vs Unstructured Data

Google and other search engines create entities using two types of on-page data – unstructured data, and structured data. Unstructured data is found in the HTML semantic content of the web page. While this content can have structure, there is no established standard format for the information. It’s basically just text. Its structure is flexible and definable by the page author, so its architecture can take an infinite number of forms. Defining or creating entities from unstructured data is considered inefficient given the variables. This is likely one of the reasons Google supports the creation and development of structured data formats.

Structured data, on the other hand, has a consistent format that is quickly and easily processed, which is a huge priority for search engines like Google, Bing, and Yahoo. Having the important and defining data in a structured format saves search engines the step of creating or interpreting an entity structure by verifying, confirming and extrapolating the information from unstructured sources.

Structured Data is also called ‘schema’. Schema is a word that means a framework or an outline of something. This is exactly what structured data is. It provides a definition or framework for an entity.

Structured Data Formats

Schema or structured data can take one of three forms on a web page, Micro-data, and RDFa, which are forms of HTML markup, and JSON-LD, which is the format for describing objects in JavaScript. All three are designed to sit somewhere in the code or markup of your web page and define the content of the elements of your pages as entities.

I like defining entities on my pages using JSON-LD (as does Google). It’s easier for me to see the properties and definitions in the JSON arrays rather than trying to visually extract them from the semantic HTML markup.

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The relationship between entities, keywords, content, RankBrain, and Google search results.

What Does This Mean for SEO?

Entities matter because entities (or things) make up our world. Google is very serious about knowing how to match-up their users with the entities they seek. The content we produce and publish describes the relationships between these entities. This is the reason content is also important as a ranking factor in the equation. One of the largest goals of RankBrain, Google’s machine learning engine is to interpret from the content the relationships between the entities.

A well defined and established entity has the advantage among entities that are more ambiguous or undefined. John Mueller of Google has said that structured data makes it easier for Google to know what the page is about. When Google knows this information, it can establish relevance more easily. The key here is to remember that when searchers use keywords, they are looking for those things the keywords represent, and not websites that are packed with the keywords they are using. For Google and other search engines, the search goes deeper than the language we use to describe things to the things themselves, to get to their relevance to searchers, and that is what Google is trying to deliver.

Using schema to define your business, venture, organization, website, etc. as entities, or the “things” as clearly as we can is how we establish relevance. That is how to rank better using structured data.

More Benefits of Establishing Entities

The advantages of creating and defining your website entities can be immediate. One benefit is the presence of rich snippets in your search results. While Google makes no guarantees of rich snippets in results when structured data is present, rich snippets are additional information about you and your business that visually show up in the search results that can make your results pop.

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Local business schema with star ratings and pricing data can produce a “rich snippet”, as shown above. The rich snippet is highly visible on the results page.

These include star ratings, pricing information and other features depending on the type of entities described on your pages. Some catalogs, such as recipes can be displayed with image information on “cards”. This visual advantage may seem a bit small, but when your competition has no rating stars, and you do, the results unquestionably draw the eye on the page. This is true even for results that are not at the top of the page.

A Word About Content

In the modern SEO world, it is said that ‘content is king’. When you consider what the real purposes are for the content of your website, you should remember that search engines are seeking definition in order to establish relevance. One important role of your content is to define the relationships between the entities in your business, on your pages. The more clearly this is done, the more success Google, Bing, and other search engines will have in understanding your business and connecting it with searchers who are looking for what you offer. This means avoiding fluff or irrelevant content in your copy. Writing in active vs passive voice is much better since it’s more direct. Appropriate use of headings and heading structure also helps.

So, as you evaluate your website’s rank and organic SEO performance, it’s a good idea to evaluate your use of schema and see if there are ways to use it to better define your business and the entities or things that comprise it. You might find some good opportunities to help your rank and visibility on Google’s Search Engine Results Page. If you need help with this, you can find me here.