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07.09.2023 Search Engine Land

Entities, topics, keywords: Clarifying core semantic SEO concepts

Gain clarity on the most commonly misunderstood elements of entity and semantic search and how they impact your SEO strategy. The post Entities, topics, keywords: Clarifying core semantic SEO concepts appeared first on Search Engine Land. - In this article I’ve curated some of the most commonly misunderstood elements of entity and semantic SEO, aiming to clear the fog around them. Here’s our roadmap: What are the differences between entities, topics and keywords? How do entities affect keyword research? What is a topical map? How do you do on-page optimizations in the entity paradigm? What role does schema markup play in entity SEO? What are semantic networks and how do you build them? What are the differences between entities, topics and keywords? One of the most common areas of confusion I’ve seen when discussing entities is what differentiates keywords, topics and entities from each other.  Because entities, keywords and topics are intertwined elements in the vast landscape of SEO, it can often be difficult to truly tease apart each definition.  Entities These are the foundational concepts or things in content. At a basic level, entities can be singular nouns, like “chocolate cake” or “iPhone.”  But they can also represent more complex named concepts, such as events like “The Olympic Games” or places like “Mount Everest.”  In SEO’s semantic framework, entities are unique, identifiable concepts consistent across various texts or contexts. They aren’t tied to specific phrases but represent broader ideas.  Within a keyword phrase like “delicious chocolate cake recipe,” “chocolate cake” is the entity.  On a larger scale, for a website about tech reviews, entities such as “smartphones”, “laptops”, and “gadgets” guide its overarching themes, signaling to search engines the primary subject matter. Keywords These are the specific phrases or terms users type into a search engine. They’re the bridge between the user’s intent and the content they’re trying to find.  Keywords can encapsulate one or more entities, reflecting what users are actively seeking.  For instance, while “iPhone” is an entity, a keyword that encompasses it might be “iPhone 12 Pro Max review.”  Topics Topics are thematic areas or categories that encapsulate one or more entities. Think of a topic as an umbrella under which multiple entities can reside.  For example, under the topic “Smart Home Technology,” entities could include “Google Nest Hub,” “smart thermostats,” and “IoT security.” Here’s a summary of their key distinctions: Scope Topics are broad and can encompass multiple entities and even various keywords.  Entities are more specific and focused. Keywords are the specific searchable terms related to both. Hierarchical relationship Entities usually fall under topics.  Keywords can align with either entities or topics or sometimes both. SEO Topics guide your broader content strategy. Entities help focus and refine that strategy. Keywords serve as the target for actual search queries. Intersection Topics can be used to form content clusters. Entities and keywords serve to refine and specify the content within those clusters. User intent Topics guide the user through their informational journey. Entities provide specific answers. Keywords can be crafted to meet specific user queries. Semantic networks (in the context of SEO) Topics often serve as nodes in semantic networks that connect related entities. Keywords serve as the pathways that lead users to those nodes. The relationship between topics and keywords manifests in how keywords help flesh out the various aspects of a given topic.  In a well-structured content strategy, the keywords you target should naturally fall under the umbrella of your chosen topics.  This ensures that your content is relevant and comprehensive and satisfies a range of user intents related to your topic. In essence, topics serve as the overarching themes that guide the scope and direction of your content, providing a high-level focus.  Entities further sharpen this focus, giving search engines like Google a nuanced lens to understand the core essence of your content, both on micro and macro levels.  Keywords, meanwhile, refine and drill down into specific facets of your overarching topics, making your content discoverable to users with particular queries related to those topics. How do entities affect keyword research? Traditionally, SEO strategies were rooted in keyword research, focusing primarily on keyword difficulty and search volume.  Specialists would aim for low-hanging fruit – terms a site could realistically rank for – before moving on to more competitive keywords.  While effective in the past, this approach has become less optimal due to evolving search algorithms.  Today, a keyword-centric methodology risks creating disjointed topics across a website, undermining the development of topical authority. Imagine if topics occupied a physical space where some topics are proximal while others are distant.  In this space, “bowling shoes” would be closer to “bowling” than “fun nights out with the family” – however, “fun nights out with the family” might not be far off.  This is how advanced language models perceive language. They generate graphical representations to discern topical relevance. If your site has a scattered topic structure, jumping from one loosely related topic to another (as with ad hoc keyword targeting), Google might find it challenging to decipher your website’s core intent.  This could lead to a decline in ranking or just an inability to be competitive for the keywords that really matter to your business. While targeting low-hanging fruit in terms of keywords is still viable, it doesn’t necessarily establish a website as an authority in a specific niche.  To optimize content in this era, we need to consider two key aspects: Density of the subject matter Your goal should be to cover content that is graphically close together and to do it better than any competitor. Assess the competition.  Determine which sub-niche within your realm you can outshine others in. Can you truly be the go-to expert on the subjects you target?  Logical subject expectations Creating content that naturally aligns with your site’s objectives is crucial for SEO success.  I often see SEO professionals broadening their content scope excessively or employing AI to cover every conceivable angle of their subject matter, which misses the mark entirely.  For instance, imagine a site focused on “Kettlebell Workouts for Beginners.” Adding an article about the history of kettlebell design, while interesting, may not directly benefit the site’s primary audience, who are looking for actionable workout tips.  Entity SEO is not a free pass to cover every topic under the sun. It’s imperative to prioritize the content that resonates with your site’s main objectives and aligns with Google’s understanding of your expertise.  In other words, before you delve into the nuances of kettlebell design, ensure you’ve already covered the basics your audience is actively searching for.  Only expand to broader topics when you’ve observed the search engine sees you as an expert in your sub-niche (this is usually observable by top rankings and quick rankings of new articles).  Remember: Establishing oneself as a topical authority is an ever-evolving challenge. Success hinges on thorough research, pinpointing subtopics ripe for deeper exploration – areas others might have overlooked.  Equally critical is identifying content clusters within competitor domains, not just to replicate but to outdo. However, stay attuned to their backlink profiles. Gauging your ability to match or even outpace these external factors is crucial for a realistic strategy. 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