origin_9661177900To first understand the reason behind entities, picture a bat.  What did you imagine, the nocturnal flying mammal, or a Louisville slugger?  This is the issue that search engines have faced for years.  Language in itself does not explain what someone is thinking and the same language can mean different things to different people.

Last month Google introduced its Hummingbird update which represented a step closer toward successfully using semantic web technology within their search algorithm (which rests primarily on entity use).  Entity classification and organization allows the search engine to better understand the meaning of a user’s query as well as identify the context of content on websites.  Understanding entities and their use is vital for SEO efforts.

What are Entities and How are they Used?

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The internet and all its users have been subject to unstructured data for decades.  Unstructured data is information that has not been organized in a pre-determined method. Through the use of keywords search engine crawlers have been able to identify related websites and recognize patterns of keywords often used together.  However, the search engine algorithm has never been able to determine the meaning of the pages it crawled.  With the introduction of classification systems to label information search is changing dramatically.

People, places, things, etc.  are classified as different entities which are identified and organized to later be used in semantic search to provide more precise and useful search results.  Google’s Knowledge Graph is the perfect and useful search results.  Google’s Knowledge Graph is the perfect example of this.  Entities are semantic data objects that each have a unique identifier.  Relationships are created between different entities allowing Google to begin to understand the meaning.

Google also tracks past behavior of individual searches and uses the relationships between entities to provide accurate results.  In the previous bat example if I had been searching for nocturnal mammals in the morning and then later that day searched for the weight of a bat Google understands which type of bat I am interested in.

The use of schema markup to produce machine-readable structured data to the web allows machines to draw from large databases of associated entities in structured data to match up the most accurate answers for user questions.  In summation, search engines are now better understanding vs indexing information.

Why is Entity Use Important for SEO?

origin_3185410319Google acquired a database called Metaweb two years ago that contained 12 million entities.   In 2012 Google’s knowledge graph contained 500 million entities and over 3.5 billion relationships between entities.  Information in Google’s database has grown since.

The growth in entity use indicates that SEO is in a transitional phase.  Strategists need to shift focus from helping websites get their unstructured data indexed to assisting websites by writing machine-readable, struct

ured data for web crawlers to use.   Not only does entity use affect search engines but it allows your website data to become easily accessible by other search software like Yelp maps and in-car navigation systems.

While keywords won’t be going away for a while it is important to start making adjustments toward future systems.  Learn to use correct structured markup on your website and remember that the user experience is everything.  When using entities, don’t focus on pleasing the search engines; focus on providing accurate answers for the searcher.

Photo Credit: Tiger Pixel, Thomas Hawk, Mr T in DC

Jamie Bates