How Entities are Shaping the SERPs and What That Means for SEOs

Jan 17, 2024


min read

Entities have become the driving force behind the transformation of SERPs, and businesses failing to recognize and adapt to this evolution are at risk of being left behind in the digital race.

As search engines like Google continue to refine their algorithms to better understand and serve user intent, entities will play an increasingly pivotal role in SEO strategy. 

Understanding and optimizing for entities is no longer an option but a necessity for businesses striving for online success. SEO agencies that can provide expert entity SEO services will be worth their weight in gold, as they hold the keys to unlocking enhanced visibility, credibility, and competitive advantage in the digital landscape. 

Embracing entities is not just an SEO tactic; it's a strategic imperative for businesses aiming to thrive in the era of entity-driven SERPs.

What are entities and where did they come from?

Entities in SEO are often misunderstood components of Google's algorithm. In their simplest form, they are defined data points that represent individual people, places, things, organizations, or concepts. They are not keywords, but instead the concept that gives keywords meaning. 

To illustrate, consider the "dog" entity, which encompasses everything related to dogs, including their fur, breeds, history, and more. In contrast, the keyword "dog" merely consists of the letters that form the word. In essence, keywords lack meaning without context, much like language itself. The word "dog" has retained its entity's core concept over time, even as language evolved. (You can find one of my more in-depth entity illustrations here.)

This perspective simplifies our understanding of entities but also shines a light on the need for a semantic web – a search engine that uses entities to process search queries. With over a billion websites on the internet, analysing information based on keywords alone will not work as it would require an analysis of each letter without understanding its true meaning. In short, entities optimize natural language processing algorithms while also transcending linguistic barriers. 

As I see it, the web as we know it could not rank based on usefulness and helpfulness if entities were not a foundation. This article tries to highlight the outdatedness of the longstanding practice of optimizing for keywords in your business strategy by exploring how the SERPs have evolved to work mainly, if not wholly, in an entity-based approach. 

The move to the semantic web dates back to when Google acquired Metaweb’s Freebase, a global resource that allowed computers and people to access information quickly, in 2010. Freebase was a huge, collaborative, and cross-linked resource that connected data points. If this sounds familiar, that’s because it is! This is the whole foundation of what a knowledge graph is. By acquiring data that had been built and interconnected from the bottom up, Google had started to create the beginning of its entire knowledge graph. 

Now we can start to see true evolution in the SERPs. From a search engine that previously looked like this:

Google search results in the past

Photo credit: Michael O’Neill

To one that now showcases entities and connects data like this:

Google search results nowadays

How entities help your content

We can talk all day about what entities are, but I know what you’re here for is a deeper understanding of how Google practically uses these entities to help rank your business and how that has changed over time. They are not traditional ‘ranking factors’, but more of a strategy that, if fully incorporated into your SEO, can help boost your online visibility greatly.

These are the 5 different aspects of how Search Engines capitalise on entity SEO:

  1. They inform Contextual Understanding

  2. They help Google understand what is important

  3. They can strengthen internal linking structures

  4. They can disambiguate your content through Structured Data

  5. They get to the root of user intent

Below I’m going to explore each of these aspects in more depth, and with each section I’ll give a practical tip for you to start working on right away!

1: They inform Contextual Understanding 

In its very basic sense, search engines use entities to get to the true meaning of the content. By using a Natural Language Processing algorithm (NLP), crawlers can pick out and list the concepts that are being talked about meaningfully on a page to offer users the best, most useful experience.  

You can ensure that your content fulfills contextual understanding by covering relevant entities/concepts that surround your website’s core meaning. I recommend using entity extraction tools such as InLinks, which gives you an insight into which entities Google is expecting to see when trying to rank for a particular topic. 

Here is an example of all of the entities Google is expecting to see around the concept of Search Engine Optimization:

Google entities, SEO

These entities do not need to be on a single page. That would not be conducive to a successful SEO strategy. Instead, you can focus on covering these entities across your website and interconnecting them based on internal linking. More can be found on this in the third point in this list.

Top tip: 

Take your 3 most important pages and use the free InLinks Entity Analyzer tool to see how many of your page’s entities have been indexed by Google.

 InLinks Entity Analyzer tool

If the number is not what you’d expect, audit that page with entities in mind. Make sure you’re talking about your entities in context, but also consider marking them up with schema (go to point 4 in this list).

2: They help Google understand what is important 

More than just listing the entities, search engines also assign an entity salience number to ideas they find in content. These scores help in identifying which entities in a document are most significant, relevant, or central to the document's meaning. 

Prominently featuring key entities can help improve rankings as it aligns with the Knowledge Graph and enhances the user experience. The theory behind entity salience scores can vary depending on the specific techniques and algorithms used, but here are several common approaches:

  1. Term Frequency-Inverse Document Frequency (TF-IDF)
    This is a formula for weighing the importance of entities which account for the fact that some concepts (like common words ‘the, a’) will be mentioned more heavily than others naturally, without useful meaning. Here is the formula where Term frequency, tf(t,d), is the relative frequency of term t within document d:

    In information retrieval, even the most sophisticated algorithms use a variation of this equation. To explain it simply, entity salience relies on knowing relative frequency as opposed to just understanding the pure frequency of an entity. It’s a way to avoid ‘entity stuffing’, meaning that just mentioning an entity 100 times will not be a ranking factor. 

  2. Positional salience
    This considers where the main entities appear in the document. Placing your most prominent entities at the beginning of a text can often indicate that it has a higher weight. To make sure you are conveying the importance of an entity, make sure you are putting it in the title text of your content piece, or high up in your content.

  3. Semantic salience
    More than just understanding single entities and their frequency, importance, and positioning, Large Language Models (LLMs) can also take into account how entities relate to one another based on pure semantic relevance.  

This means that by talking about multiple interconnected entities on a single page that all contribute to the understanding of a single concept you are more likely to rank as the knowledge graph will be far more informed on the content. 

In my opinion, moving forward with this in mind is probably the most useful understanding of salience! 

Top tip: 

Try adding the main entity of your page into the heading and a short intro describing in depth what that entity means.

3: They can strengthen internal linking structures 

Search engines examine how entities are related to each other within a website (see semantic salience explanation above for a more in-depth understanding of this). 

For example, they may look at how a webpage discusses the relationship between a specific product and its manufacturer or between an author and their works. The quality and relevance of the content interlinking entities play a significant role in ranking. 

internal linking structures 

(taken from an extensive resource  - specifically this page  - something I highly encourage you to read to better understand practical benefits)

Entity data on a website can be shown through its internal linking structure. By internally linking webpages based on entities, you start to force a topic map within your site which can in turn mean that search engines have a better idea of what you’re talking about in context.

A good rule of thumb is to try and keep to one main entity per page. What I mean by this is to ensure your site’s service/category pages can be defined by one entity, then start to write web content that links toward those main pages with relevant, contextually informed anchor texts. 

Hub pages built like this, to which many surrounding pages can link are essential. They serve to: 

  • Educate and answer all the questions that Internet users have on this subject.

  • Link to useful resources (internal and external)

  • Help the user find what they are looking for.

  • Promote engagement.

  • Be the authority page of the site on the subject concerned.

Top tip: 

Are you internally linking with synonyms? Google can understand internally linked anchor texts which deviate from the ‘keyword’ you’re trying to rank for. Try adding internal links towards your most important pages FROM sources like blogs/articles with varying lengths and synonyms to truly improve contextual analysis.

4: They can disambiguate your content through Structured Data

When ‘marking up’ your entities, there’s no room for misunderstandings! Schema markup is “code that describes code” and can be used to disambiguate entities on a page (among many other things!). 

Here is an example of a piece of webpage schema for a page about “synonym analysis”:

"@type": "WebPage",
"@id": "",
"headline": "Better Synonym Analysis - InLinks",
"URL": "",
"about": [
   {"@type": "Thing", "name": "Synonym", "sameAs": ""},
   {"@type": "Thing", "name": "analysis", "sameAs": ""},
   {"@type": "Thing", "name": "link", "sameAs": ""}
"mentions": [
   {"@type": "Thing", "name": "project", "sameAs": ""},
   {"@type": "Thing", "name": "property", "sameAs": ""},
   {"@type": "Thing", "name": "page", "sameAs": ""},
   {"@type": "Thing", "name": "confusion", "sameAs": ""},
   {"@type": "Thing", "name": "site", "sameAs": ""},
   {"@type": "Organization", "name": "Google", "sameAs": ""},
   {"@type": "Thing", "name": "knowledge", "sameAs": ""}
} <

Let’s break down part of this Schema... 

The Schema tells search engines that this page is ‘about’ a ‘thing’ called synonym:

@type": "Thing", "name": "Synonym",

This is then followed by the sameAs tag with links to a Wikipedia page for the concept of synonyms:

"sameAs": "

This is a way to provide explicit information for search engines. Wikipedia is used in Google’s knowledge graph, as detailed in the Google guidelines, so connecting these words to data points in Google’s knowledge graph is a great way of disambiguating information. However, you can also link to URLs such as crunchbase profiles for businesses and social media accounts for people- assuming they don’t have wiki pages.

Schema is important, even according to Google experts…

"With regard to using structured data in general for ranking, I think that’s kind of tricky.
So, on the one hand we do use structured data to better understand the entities on a page and to find out where that page is more relevant."
- John Mueller obtained from Search Engine Journal

Top tip: 

A common mistake I often see with this type of schema is that people often try to validate it using Google's Rich Results Testing Tool. This type of schema is not supported by Google for rich snippets, and therefore will not validate in this tool. 

To see if your schema is applied properly, make sure you are using the Markup validator.

5: They get to the root of user intent

User intent is a tricky concept. Until now, most SEOs have indicated user intent based on whether the information provided falls into one of these categories:

  • Informational

  • Commercial

  • Navigational

  • Transactional

But this doesn’t necessarily line up with what we are seeing in the SERPs now. 

For example, if you were to search for “Who is Paris Hilton”, you start to see search results about the person entity Paris Hilton:

Who is Paris Hilton Google Results

This will pull in data from the knowledge graph and provide a huge amount of interconnected data on her – a perfect example of the knowledge graph at work!

However, if you were to slightly change that query to ‘stay paris hilton’, Google starts to return queries around the entity of the hotel located in Paris:

stay paris hilton google results

The difference in the search query here is not so much that the information is completely informational for Paris Hilton, and navigational for Paris Hilton hotels, it’s that the intent through the verb in the initial search query has changed.

Knowledge graphs understand how verbs change intent due to how they understand the relationships between entities. People don’t want to stay inside the person Paris Hilton, that would be crazy!

Often, entities are perceived as these mystical, unreachable things. However, as soon as you start to think of the verbs that are used in conjunction with your core entity as opposed to keywords that might surround it, you immediately position yourself as more authoritative without even really thinking about it! This is because you’re doing the hard work of connecting entities yourself, as every angle of human intent is covered as opposed to the keyword approach which will inevitably be more sporadic and less thorough. 

Top tip:

I would highly recommend looking at the different verbs that are commonly associated with your target entity to start getting a fabulous content structure that is inherently entity-informed. 

To do this, take the top 10 ranking pages for your target ‘keyword’ and start to make a spider diagram of all the ‘doing words’ that are being answered. 

Looking to automate? Add your keyword into Answer the Public and list all of the verbs that pop up.

What can Entity SEO do for your SEO clients?

With evolution of the SERPs making it obvious that Google is organising all its huge data through its knowledge graph, the business imperative for incorporating entities into your SEO strategy is clear. 

This section will delve into exactly why you should take this strategy to your clients. 

Entities and EEAT

Experience, Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness (E-E-A-T) are increasingly important criteria when Google is deciding which content should rank at the top of the SERPs. 

Sites demonstrating these attributes in both on and offsite signals can influence Google’s understanding of your site and encourage it to rank your content over your competitors. Optimizing your site for entities is a fantastic way to convey that your site is a trustworthy and expert place for users to gain information.
Back in the day, it was a good enough technique to optimize pages for a single keyword that existed without context. However, with evolution of Google’s algorythms, E-E-A-T can only be achieved if you optimize concepts in conjunction with semantically related, and authoritative, brands and concepts. 

For example, an online health platform that aligns its content with authoritative medical entities like reputable medical institutions and peer-reviewed research can enhance its credibility and trustworthiness, thereby reinforcing its position in the SERPs.

As outlined by Olaf Kopp in his Seach Engine Land article on ‘Entities and E-A-T’, brands thrive when E-E-A-T is present. A fantastic quote they obtained is as follows:

Eric Schmidt

The internet is fast becoming a ‘cesspool’ where false information thrives. Brands are the solution, not the problem. Brands are how you sort out the cesspool. Brand affinity is hard-wired. It is so fundamental to human existence that it’s not going away. It must have a genetic component.

Remember, brands ARE entities. To ensure you are aligning yourself to your brand, consider using the sameAs tag and linking to your brand wiki page. Don’t have one? No problem, use your brand’s crunchbase profile URL instead!

Here’s an example: 

  {"@type": "Organization", "name": "Advanced Web Ranking", "sameAs": 

Rich Snippets and Knowledge Panels 

Optimizing for entities can lead to the inclusion of rich snippets and Knowledge Panels in SERPs. These visually appealing information blocks provide a snapshot of your business, showcasing essential details, which not only enhances your online presence but also boosts your brand's credibility and trustworthiness. 

For instance, consider a local restaurant that optimizes its online presence for culinary entities, leading to the inclusion of a Knowledge Panel displaying its menu, operating hours, and customer reviews, thereby enhancing its visibility and customer trust in the SERPs.

Local restaurant, Knowledge Panel optimiszation

Knowledge panels are one of the most significant changes in modern SERPs. They are visual representations of entities and are presented in the SERPs when Google recognizes the users' main entity. 

The Paris Hilton one earlier is a prime example of how Google uses multimedia aspects from all over the web, from multiple authoritative sources about her. 

However, we can see this in other examples too, for example, product listings:

Hiking boots, rich snippet

Google has recognized the entity of ‘hiking boots’ and understands that the user wants to see a comparison of the best ones. As a result, rich snippets are produced which culminate in sponsored and non-sponsored products which include price, pictures, reviews and other aspects relating to the core entity.

ProductSchema is an essential element for those trying to get products featured in the SERPs in this way. It can be used in conjunction with the previously mentioned webpage schema to yield fantastic results. 

Improved SERP Rankings!

The thing we’re all striving for! When a business optimizes for entities, it aligns itself more closely with the search engine's criteria, leading to better ranking opportunities. 

This is easier said than done and requires a holistic approach to your SEO strategy. Focusing on writing fantastic and entity-optimized category or parent pages, all of which are being linked to authoritative blog posts from within your website is a great place to start.

As an encouraging final point, here is a result I managed to get from just adding one line of schema to disambiguate the entities on the page:

ProductSchema, Improved SERP Rankings

Hint… I added the schema at the end of August :-) 


Entities are an intrinsic part of Google’s decision-making. To ensure your clients profit from this huge leap in digital marketing, you need to start thinking more holistically about content, internal linking and schema markup. 

Try to focus and produce content that showcases your authority and breadth of knowledge, and mark that up via schema to ensure your entity coverage is all-encompassing. By doing this, you will greatly increase your chances of not only ranking but being a powerhouse of digital information. 

Article by

Genie Jones

Genie Jones is Knowledge Graph Manager at InLinks, the award-winning tool that is changing how SEOs think about internal linking, and leading the way in entity SEO. With a background in Language, Culture, and Communications, Genie’s focus on Natural Language Processing algorithms puts her at the forefront of technologies behind the SERPs. Following stand-out appearances at BrightonSEO as well as across the web, Genie is rapidly becoming the face of Entity SEO - helping SEOs to understand this rapidly changing, and increasingly important part of the search landscape. 

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