The ability to foresee the future or at least anticipate the outcome of a scenario/situation has proven to provide real value. For marketing experts, as important as it is to keep up with new technological changes, it is equally important to be able to predict any future changes or trends in technology and the way people use it.
Being the best at SEO, for example, isn’t just about technical capabilities nor the ability to push keywords on the first page of Google rankings. It is equally as important to have the ability to anticipate future changes in the way that search engines such as Google deploys their algorithmic changes. Also predicting the way people change and adapt to new technological changes can help put together a strategy that will last with minimal adaptations - long term sustainable approach as opposed to short term gains.
The elements of anticipation are crucial, if digital marketers are not able to predict future trends it will leave them falling behind. In fact, Google algorithm changes have always been based and built on anticipating the ways in which people would use and expand their usage of the Internet and new technologies - mobile-first ranking (mass usage of mobile phones), website speed (human attention span, the needs of fast loading website became crucial) are all examples influenced by changes in user behaviour and adaptation to new technologies.
This article is inspired by a presentation given by Greg Gifford (vice president of search at Wikimotive) at the BrightonSEO 2019 conference. Greg offered a very good and insightful guide on entities and the future of SEO, a very hot topic and one that should not be overlooked. If you can predict what will happen with anything it puts you in a much better position for future success.
First, lets start by understanding what an ‘entity is before delving into how it is going to affect the future. According to Google’s dictionary, an entity is ‘a thing with distinct and independent existence’.
A similar definition from the Cambridge English Dictionary describes ‘entity’ as ‘something that exists apart from other things, having its own independent existence’
In life, we are surrounded by entities and these entities play a vital role in how we interact and communicate with one another, sometimes consciously, subconsciously, and unconsciously. Most people would look at entities such as a person, a thing or a place, but an entity doesn’t have to be a person or an object. An entity can be a date, colour, time or even an idea.
Google have been able to replicate the interactions of how people communicate in the real world, breaking these down into entities to integrate into its algorithm process. This allows outputting search results based on real-life information and data with accuracy that is based on user intent.
As Google is continuing to get smarter, digital marketers are presented with an array of exciting challenges. The idea of entities is disrupting or will disrupt how SEO experts approach strategy, the fundamentals (keywords, technical SEO, links) will remain but the approach will be more on the understanding of how everything is connected or interconnected in the realm of search particularly organic search. Entities are the most important concept in SEO according to Greg Gifford:
‘entities are literally the basis of everything’.
For a while now the organic search isn’t just about one set or type of results but organic results include numerous types of information set such as ‘featured snippets’, ‘people also asked’, ‘site links’ answer boxes and all these happen because of entities. The concept of looking at your organic search strategy from an entity’s perspective gives you a better chance to appear in the various organic listing options available.
The availability of medium online where you can distribute your content are endless, a typical business these days will have a website, social media accounts, as well as a countless of other sites with detailed information about that particular business.
Yet, strategically most website owners and businesses can overlook external entities such as reviews on Trustpilot or a comment about your brand in a forum. The idea is to look outside your main site and invest resources and optimising these entities to the fullest potential but more important to strategically see how the specific entity can play a role in your overall digital strategy, adding value to your brand.
Entities are also linked to the very recent zero-click searches phenomenon, in June 2019 for the first time ever, a majority of all browser-based searches on Google resulted in zero clicks. To improve user experience, Google has deployed enhanced search results that a user doesn’t need to click on to get the answer they need, which leads to a zero-click search result.
According to Search Engine Journal, 34.4% of all desktop searches result in no click while 62.5% of users never click search result links on mobile.
The graph below is based on data from 40M+browser based searches on millions of desktop and mobile devices in the United States from clickstream data company Jumpshot.
In the past, Google would return results based on simply matching keyword to search query - Google looked at the pattern and not the meaning. Google started to lay the groundwork for entities when it introduced the knowledge graph back in 2012. In Google announcement blog post “moving from keywords towards knowledge of real-world entities and their relationships”.
In 2013 the hummingbird algorithm was released as the first move toward understanding semantics. In 2015 Google gained a patent for ‘rankings results based on entity metrics’ the trend continued in 2016 with another patent for ‘question answering using entity references in unstructured data’.
In 2018 Google received another patent for a software update regarding ‘related entities’ and more recently a patent for ranking local businesses based ‘quality visit scores’
So what do all these mean for the future of search, specifically SEO? It means, from now on and moving forward rankings will be about real-life signals and cannot be faked. A crucial lesson for marketers is not to attempt to fake but to consider building their brands based on old school marketing principles. For voice search, it means the queries are intent conversational based queries, whilst mobile search continues to make local search vital for everyone.
Combining all these factors together, there is a radical change to the landscape of SEO, writing good content with relevant keywords is no longer enough. It’s now more about having the best answer based on the intent of the searcher. The real-life signal is going to matter much more than ever, having the best answer and matching the intent of the users its what it will be all about. The ranking is going to be about the real world signals, especially with the integration of machine learning (artificial intelligence) as part of algorithm processing.
Real-world offline activities of a brand will translate online and will have an impact on their rankings. Website authority based purely on the number of external backlinks will not be the main ranking factor. Of course, links will always matter but their importance will be diminished as Google is getting better at understanding entity signals.
SEO marketer should equally stop concentrating on keyword matching, single page or individual page optimisation. It will be all about real and unique value, and also answering questions in a very unique way that will make your brand stand out and be rewarded. Having the best answers and matching those answers to the intent of the users.
Real-world entities are going to matter, everything on your site should sound real as the way you would communicate it to the real customer. Read your content out loud and make sure it sounds conversational. In the future, if you want to rank for the keyword ‘best mobile phone deals’ Google, will have a much better understanding of everything related to that query and the intent of the user.
Local SEO will be vital to the success of businesses, for example getting links from local businesses even if they are unrelated to your business. Local content is as equally as important even if it is unrelated to your business.
The best living example on the concept of entities and SEO is Google My Business (GMB). GMB is the direct interface to Google’s entity information about a specific business and much more than just their business name, phone number, business address or website information. With just a my business account, Google can gauge much more about your business than the basic information you initially uploaded. Blended with additional third-party information includes images/videos, questions and answers, reviews, Google posts and more.
You should pay more attention to the quality of the images you share and upload high-quality photographs. Google will display both photos you upload and photos from random users. Customer reviews are very important as they provide additional information about your entity from other local entities. Influential review such as those from ‘food critic’ also known as ‘power entities’ will carry more weights.
Start using Google Posts, which is a feature that allows people and businesses to create content directly on Google which appears highly ranked in Google search results for their names.
One of the biggest advantages is that Google posts show in your GMB panel on desktop and blended results on mobile, ideal for promotional content. Pay additional attention to questions and answers, as we can see there are so many entities to fulfil in just GMB alone. All of which add value to the overall digital strategy of a given brand.
An SEO strategy will not just be about keyword research, Technical/Onpage SEO and link building. It is much more strategic than that. Entities are now strategic hooks and based on what we have discussed so far it gives a very good overview of what to look for in anticipation for the future of SEO. Unlike past changes, this is a radical shift perhaps in how to approach building a strategy that is future proof and sustainable.