What Are Entities & Why They Matter for SEO

Entities are, in my not-so-humble opinion, the single most important concept to understand in SEO right now. Full stop.

Think I’m just another SEO professional spouting the latest “silver bullet” that will die on the table along with many before it?

Consider this:

Three of the most important ranking factors, at last disclosure, were:

  • Content.
  • Links.
  • RankBrain.

All these areas have evolved since that disclosure, but there’s a good chance that the overall importance of them has remained.

We know that an entity is defined by Google as:

“A thing or concept that is singular, unique, well-defined and distinguishable.”

It’s important to understand that the thing does not need to be a physical object, it can also be a color, a date, an idea, and more.

An entity is anything that is:

  • Singular.
  • Unique.
  • Well-defined.
  • Distinguishable.

Now let’s look again at these three ranking factors.


Content, from an SEO perspective, is the connection of entities by relationships.

In the statement, “SEO is dead” there is the entity “SEO”, there is the entity “dead” and there is the relationship that one connects to the other and the direction of the said relationship.

All content is fundamentally like this.


Links are, at their very core, a connection between entities even before we (or Google) thought of them as such.

They declare a relationship and direction between pages on the web. Those pages are entities that contain other entities.

Further, the entity of the anchor text is connected through a relationship to a topic (also an entity) and that topical entity is then connected via a directed relationship (the link) to the entity of the target page.


RankBrain is not a ranking factor in the traditional sense. Its job is not to act as a signal but rather to adjust which signals carry what weight.

For a query like [best holiday gifts], RankBrain would interpret which signals make the most sense to produce the best result.

Time itself being an entity, its importance would be weighted more strongly as a list from 2014, no matter how many links it has (for example) would be useless.

For a query like “American civil war” however the entity of authority rank would be a more important factor than freshness.

Essentially, RankBrain itself simply determines which entity metrics and relationships are most important for a specific query.

What Do We Know About Entities?

What Do We Know About Entities?

The majority of what we know about entities (or at least, what I know) is taken from some patents, some smart folks, and from what makes sense.

While patents generally need to be read with a grain of salt, the ones I’ll be referencing below make so much sense there’s little doubt they’re incorporated into Google’s systems.

That said, there are various ways Google could be using these patents. So I’m not going to pretend I know specifically how. So, we’ll talk about them generally and what direction they lead us in.

Ranking Search Results Based on Entity Metrics

Ranking Search Results Based On Entity Metrics is the title of a Google patent they were granted in 2015 and was the first patent on entities I read. It was not the last.

You can find my analysis of the patent here but it’s a lot of reading and dealing with formulas and in this article, we’ll save you that and cut to the chase.

According to the patent, the ranking of entities for search involves considering four factors. They are:

  • Relatedness. Relatedness is determined based on the co-occurrence entities. Basically, if two entities are referenced frequently on the web (for example, “Donald Trump” and “President”) you get something like:
    president of the united states
    This is because they exist frequently enough together and on authoritative enough properties to yield a single result. This same process connects other entities with the term when we pluralize it:presidents of the united statesEach of these people is an entity and they are associated with the entity “President” and thus, when the query is plural– we see all of them.
  • Notability. Google uses a fairly simple formula (in the patent) to determine how notable an entity is. Avoiding the formula, it basically breaks down that the more valuable an entity is (determined by things including links, reviews, mentions, and relevance), the lower the value of the category or topic it’s competing in, the higher its notability. On the surface, this doesn’t sound altogether logical, but basically what it means is that if you’re a big fish in a small pond you have higher notability than if you’re that same fish swimming in the ocean.
  • Contribution. Contribution is determined by external signals (e.g., links, reviews) and is basically a measure of an entity’s contribution to a topic. A review from a well-established and respected food critic would add to this metric than Dave’s rant on Yelp about the price because their entity contribution in the space is higher.
  • Prizes. The prize metric is exactly what it sounds like, a measure of the various relevant prizes an entity has received. These could be a Nobel Prize, an Oscar, or a U.S. Search Award. The type of prize determines its weight and the larger the prize the higher the value attached to the entity in question.

When all is said and done the process begins with the user requesting information on an entity.

I may enter into Google [best actresses].

After that, Google runs through their process in this order:

  • Determine the relatedness of other entities and assign values.
  • Determine the notability of those entities and assign a value to each.
  • Determine the contribution metrics of these entities and assign a value.
  • Determine any prizes awarded to the entities and assign a value.
  • Determine the applicable weights each should have based on the query type (sound familiar?)
  • Determine a final score for each possible entity.
  • Produce a SERP that looks like…

best actress query

Hey, we didn’t say their algorithms were flawless. But not bad.

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