The ever-changing Google algorithm updates have forced those in marketing to shift their thinking. It’s no longer just about keywords. Today, the focus is on entities. Google defines an entity as: “a thing or concept that is singular, unique, well-defined and distinguishable.”

Even to the savviest marketing experts, that will sound a bit vague. To simplify, consider an entity, anything you call a noun. It could be a person, a place, a concept, or a thing. Google uses entities to get a better understanding of user intent. Why is someone doing a specific search? Once upon a time, SEO was simply about keywords; today, brands need to take an entity-first approach to their optimization strategies.

What Is the Job of a Search Engine?

This is a question Google has been trying to answer for decades. As technology changes, so do the answers. Ultimately, a search engine should provide information to the user that is relevant to their search. Google makes it look easy, but it is a complicated process that has been evolving since 2008, when keywords were king.

Mobile devices and voice searches have made this process even more challenging today. Search engines can not just rely on keywords anymore; they need context and intent to understand the premise of the search. Entities help define intent.

For instance, consider the search phrase:

What is the cheapest cup of coffee in San Francisco?

A search engine will break that question down into separate identifiers that Google calls entities:

  • Concept – question
  • Numerical expressions – cheapest
  • Items – cup, coffee
  • Location – San Francisco

Connecting these dots helps the search engine better understand the query and the user’s intent when making it. For example, this user wants to buy a cheap cup of coffee in San Francisco. Entity-first search strategies provide semantic SEO allowing the search engine to provide comprehensive information that answers the query. It’s an approach that changes the face of SEO.

To make the most of this process, brands need to add entity optimization to their core SEO strategy.

What is Entity-First Optimization?

What is Entity-First Optimization?

Entity optimization shifts the focus from keywords to three concepts:

  • What
  • Why
  • How

Entity optimization brings these three concepts together. Content elements like webpages should have markup language with structured data to allow search engines to provide comprehensive answers in the search results, not just a ranked page that matches the keywords.


What is the core concept of the query, and what does the searcher expect to see in the results? This idea is very similar to keywords. In the above example: “What is the cheapest cup of coffee in San Francisco?” What the searcher wants is a location for a cheap cup of coffee in a specific city. As part of an entity optimization strategy, brands would want to consider all the keyword possibilities for this one topic, including different languages and cultural nuances: a cup of Joe, taza de cafe, Yībēi kāfēi for the Chinese population in San Francisco, or the native 杯咖啡.


Why is the user doing this search? They want to find a cup of coffee that doesn’t cost much in a specific city. They are not focusing on the coffee’s quality or the cup’s size, simply on location and price. Effective entity optimization would interconnect these entities as part of their SEO: the lowest-priced cup of coffee in San Francisco.


The how refers to how the user expects to see this information. Do they want a video? A list? For this example, they might want a map, address, hours of operation, and even different prices for the coffee.

Structured vs. Unstructured Data

Structured vs. Unstructured Data

To understand entity-first optimization, you must also know the difference between structured and unstructured data. For decades, the only thing marketers had to worry about was unstructured data. In other words, data that has no organized structure. Unstructured data is the keywords search engines look for on web pages and blog posts. The search spiders don’t necessarily understand the connection between a keyword and a webpage, only that the keyword exists in the text.

Semantic searches make it necessary to classify data as entities. Structured data is the formatted language used to help information systems make connections. It is similar to medical coding used, so everyone, from the payer to the care provider, understands the treatment.

Website builders and marketers organize structured data into specific groups designed to help search engines understand the information provided and its context. This allows for more accurate results for searchers. The coding is behind the scenes, so visitors never see it.

It must follow a specific format or schema and use distinctive vocabulary to be universally understood. If you hide the word “cheap cup of coffee” somewhere in your coding, it won’t work. The structured data markup must follow the specific syntax for the search engine to recognize it.

Brands have to focus on entity-first searches because search engines do. It is that simple. Content that does not have markup languages will perform poorly in searches. Not just any schema will do, though. Content not using schemas with relevant entities will also do poorly in searches.

Entity optimization is complex because it requires advanced nested schemas that check all the right boxes. However, having the right schema in place is the difference between standing out in searches and having better organic click-through rates.

Optimizing keywords is no longer enough. Brands must adopt an entity-first approach to SEO to get that competitive edge. Your rankings are determined by the search engine’s ability to interpret the search query and match it with relevant pages. As a result, the better the Google search engine understands your content, the more likely it will rank your pages higher in SERPs for relevant queries.

Content optimized for semantic search generates more impressions, engagement, rich results, and higher-quality traffic. It becomes even more critical as voice searches gain in popularity.

Are you interested in learning more about entity-first optimization? Reach out to our team of experts at Vinci Digital today.

Gerald D. Vinci

Gerald D. Vinci

Gerald D. Vinci is the CEO of Vinci Digital with over 20 years of experience in marketing and advertising. He partners with mid-size, established businesses as a growth and scalability consultant and strategic branding advisor as well as offering a full-suite of agency services. Gerald calls Carmel, CA home with his wife Safira and two children. He has co-authored two books, and is working on his own upcoming book titled, “Small Business Pricing Mastery – Creating effective pricing and defining value for today’s products and services.”