Search engines love entities. Entities can be people, places, things, concepts, or ideas and they will often appear in the Knowledge Graph. Lots of search terms can be an entity, but specific search terms can also have different meanings and thus, be different entities. Take [Mars] for example; are you talking about the planet entity or the candy bar entity? The context you give these entities in your content determines how search engines see and file your content. Find out how to link entities to your content using Yoast SEO.
Let’s talk semantics
Semantics is the search for meaning in words. In theory, you could write an article about Mars without ever mentioning it directly. People would understand it if you provide enough context in the form of commonly used terms and phrases. To illustrate this, we’ll take the keyword [Mars]. Mars is a so-called entity, and search engines use these to determine the semantics of a search. You can use structured data to support the discovery of entities on your page.
According to Google’s definition, an entity is:
“a thing or concept that is singular, unique, well-defined and distinguishable. For example, an entity may be a person, place, item, idea, abstract concept, concrete element, other suitable thing, or any combination thereof. Generally, entities include things or concepts represented linguistically by nouns.”
If you search for Mars on Google, you’ll most likely get results about the planet Mars. But why? Why isn’t the Mars candy bar in the top listings? Or Mars the chocolate company? Or the discovery district MaRS in Toronto? Maybe the Japanese movie called Mars? Or one of the many Mars-related movies made over the years? This is because Google makes an educated guess using search intent and your search history. Also, it uses co-occurring synonyms, keywords, and phrases to determine which page is about one of these specific search variations and which ones to show.
Co-occurring terms and phrases
Co-occurring terms and phrases are those that are commonly used to describe an entity. These are the terms that are most likely to pop up in content about that entity. Content about the planet Mars will probably contain mentions of the following terms:
- ‘red planet’
- ‘northern hemisphere’
- ‘low atmospheric pressure’
- ‘martian craters’
- ‘red-orange appearance’
- ‘terrestrial planet’
- ‘olympus mons’
- ‘second-smallest planet in the Solar System’
Pages with Mars candy bar content might feature phrases like:
- ‘chocolate candy bar’
- ‘nougat and caramel covered in milk chocolate’
- ‘limited-edition variants’
- ‘nutritional information’
While content about the 2016 Mars movie will probably mention its main protagonists Rei Kashino and Makio Kirishima.
All these words are co-occurring keywords and phrases. It’s a type of content that is semantically related to the main keyword, but that doesn’t contain the keyword itself. This might include synonyms but often expands on that because they clarify the knowledge of the term, instead of saying the same thing differently. Search engine spiders scan your content for these related terms to paint a picture about the nature of your page. This way, it can correctly index the page, ie. file under [planet Mars], not [Mars the candy bar].
Optimize for phrase-based indexing
Over the years, Google was awarded several patents that suggested the development of a phrase-based indexing system and systems using word co-occurrence to improve the clustering of topics. This information retrieval system uses phrases to index, retrieve, organize and describe content. By analyzing the context surrounding an entity – meaning all the phrases that are commonly connected to an entity – Google can truly understand what a piece of content is about.
That might sound complex, but it is something you can optimize for. And you are probably already doing that – to a certain extent. First, do keyword research to uncover the terms people generally search for and keep search intent in your mind at all times. After that, provide context in your articles.
When writing about an entity in your content, it makes a lot of sense to give search engines – and readers for that matter – as much context as possible. Use every meaningful sentence you can think of. This way, you can take away any doubt about the meaning of your content.
If your subject is the planet Mars, you need to take a look at the Knowledge Graph in Google. Scour Wikipedia. Find out what kind of common terms and phrases co-occur in search results and incorporate them into your content so you can give your term the right context. Also, run a search and open the sites of competitors that rank high for your search terms. What are they writing about and how do they describe the entity? What terms and phrases can you use in your content? By doing this, you’ll find out that there will be much overlap with what you had in mind, but there will be many new – and maybe better – nuggets for you to use.
Feed the Topic Layer
Topics are groups of terms that share the same concept. Google’s obsession with entities and knowledge graphs comes to a head in something called the Topic Layer. This Topic Layer is built on top of the knowledge graph and works as the glue that connects entities to topics making it easier for them to surface the correct content once needed. Because the Topic Layer knows a topic inside out — or it should —, it can adapt whatever it shows based on knowledge and need.
Google uses the Topic Layer to power Discover, the mobile app with an endless stream of cool stuff you are bound to like. It is meant as a tool to give you content you weren’t even looking for, so to say. To make your content stand out in this new world, you need to connect your topic to all entities and make sure that this matches what people are looking for as well.
Helpful tools to find topics, entities and concepts
Knowing your topic inside out is key in producing a piece of content that incorporates all essential terms naturally. This is why you should do research. Not just keyword research, but research your topic in general. Leave no stone unturned.
Luckily, there are a lot of tools that can help you fill in those topics, phrases and entities. Try the following to get a good idea of what you are looking for:
- Onelook.com: a supercharged dictionary
- Conceptnet.io: a semantic network for the meaning of words
- Visuwords.com: find connections in a visual way
- Answerthepublic.com: mine autosuggest data
- RelatedWords.org: find related words, well duh
- WordNet: a lexical database
- Google NLP API: find entities in texts
- Knowledge Graph API Search: query Google’s knowledge graph
- Google also asked/related search/knowledge graph panel
- Google Trends: shows which terms are topics
- SEO tools like SEMRush and Ahrefs
How to use Yoast SEO to improve your entity
After you’ve found concepts related to your topic and entities, you can use Yoast SEO to write awesome content. The various analyses help you keep on topic and guide you to producing quality content that not only fits what users want but search engines as well. Yoast SEO Premium lets you do even more.
One of the things you can do with Yoast SEO Premium, is analyze and improve your text for synonyms and related keyphrases. Filling these in, makes sure that your content fully utilizes the power of relatedness.
In short, here’s how to do that:
- Research your subject
- Structure the topic (mind mapping rules!)
- Pick your main focus keyphrase for this post
- Collect synonyms
- Find related keyphrases or concepts
- Find synonyms for these terms
- Enter your focus keyphrase in Yoast SEO
- Enter the synonyms of the focus keyphrase
- Fill in the first related keyphrase
- Include all the synonyms for that term
- And another related keyphrase, if necessary
- Including synonyms
- Write an epic post!
- Check the feedback you get from Yoast SEO and adjust accordingly (remember, not everything has to be green)
With enough research you know your topic inside out so you should be able to write a post that naturally encompasses all important concepts, entities and phrases. Yoast SEO Premium will now help you describe your topic as well as possible.
One more thing: no LSI keywords
Over the years, the term “LSI keywords” started to pop up again and again as a magical way to play into one of Google’s ranking factors. They are not. Yes, you have to provide search engines context. No, latent semantic indexing has nothing to do with it. There’s no evidence whatsoever that search engines have ever used latent semantic indexing to determine rankings. Latent semantic indexing was a document analysis patent from the 90’s that only seemed to work on a limited set of documents, and it has no place in SEO.