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.
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.
If you search this term in 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’
- ’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-occurence to improve the clustering of topics. This is 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. 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.
One more thing: no LSI keywords
Recently, the term LSI keywords started to pop up 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. LSI 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.