Understanding Entities – The Multiple Matthew Edgars
February 24, 2021
As a consultant whose livelihood depends, partly, on name recognition, it is important that if people search for Matthew Edgar, they find me. Unfortunately, I face a challenge in this department: Matthew Edgar isn’t that unusual a name. There are other people with the name Matthew Edgar and, not surprisingly, these other people also rank in search results when somebody conducts searches for my name (well, I guess that would be a search for their name too). Another Matthew Edgar is a famous darts player who outranks me in search results. Because of that, it is unlikely I could dominate the search result for my name.
It isn’t atypical for people to find themselves in a similar situation where they have to compete for their own name in search results. As well, there are plenty of circumstances where somebody more famous shares your name, making it all that much harder to appear in search results.
So, short of changing my name, what am I and other people in this predicament to do?
Before we answer that question, we need to know how Google understands what a name is, how Google knows that a name is attached to a person, and how Google understands that multiple people share the same name. By understanding the ways Google is working to determine this information, we can figure out ways to help Google learn that other people exist with that name and those other people should rank as well when somebody conducts that search.
Google approaches the web by looking at entities. They define an entity as:
entity is a thing or concept that is singular, unique, well-defined and distinguishable. For example, an entity may be a person, place, item, idea, abstract concept, concrete element, other suitable thing, or any combination thereof.
Seeing it this way provides a deeper way of understanding of how crawling and indexing works. As Google crawls the web, their bots aren’t just trying to pick up on commonly used words or phrases. They aren’t just looking at what topics might be discussed on a page. That is a part of it. But what Google’s bots are really trying to do is learn about entities. So, after a crawl, Google’s bots dissect the text uncovered during a crawl to learn what entities a given page discusses.
As an example, when Google crawls my site, they understand that one of the entities mentioned on this site is a person named Matthew Edgar. Of course, there are other entities mentioned too, like my book, Elements of a Successful Website, or my company, Elementive.
If I want my website to show up when somebody conducts a search for Matthew Edgar, then I need to make sure that entity is being discussed within my website’s text. That is, is my content correctly discussing Matthew Edgar as an entity and doing so in a way that Google’s bots can detect? The same would be true for any entities I’d like my website to rank for.
To know what entities our websites are discussing, we need to try to review our content the same way Google does. While we don’t know exactly how Google is detecting entities, there are free code libraries we can use that help us do something like this. In Python’s Spacy library, you can use named entity recognition (NER). As a simple example, running my professional bio through NER code we find these entities:
- Matthew Edgar PERSON
- Colorado GPE
- SEO ORG
- Tech SEO Guide ORG
- Matthew PERSON
- 2001 DATE
- Forbes ORG
- American Express ORG
- MozCon ORG
- SMX ORG
- MarTech ORG
- O’Reilly Media ORG
- Matthew PERSON
- Information and Communications Technology ORG
- the University of Denver ORG
Thankfully, my name is detected and it is recognized as a person. Unfortunately, Elementive is not detected as an entity even though other organizations listed in my bio are. That is likely a limitation of this library and chances are Google’s more sophisticated library probably does understand Elementive is an organization. You can also see that some entities are labeled incorrectly. For example, SEO is detected as an organization instead of as a concept.
However, it isn’t just about knowing the entities. In addition, Google needs to understand how those entities are connected to each other. This is where links come into the picture. Links are a dicey subject to discuss within SEO, so I want to be clear: I’m not talking about backlinks in terms of quality or quantity but rather, links strictly as a way to explain relationships. That is, if two pages link to each other, chances are good that those pages are somehow connected. As well, I’m not exclusively referring to external backlinks—internal links on your website can help demonstrate relationships too.
Google uses the words around that link and the words within the link itself (the anchor text) to help learn something about the way these pages might be connected to each other., Google is using the words around the link and in the anchor text to detect entities and determine how those entities are related. As a result, it is important to make sure that the related pages sufficiently discuss those entities.
Along with links, Google also looks at unlinked mentions. An unlinked mention is where another website is discussing you or your organization without providing an actual link. Even without that link, Google can learn something about the entities being discussed and, given the similarity, can determine that those entities are connected to your website.
Let’s bring this back to the Multiple Matthew Edgar problem. As Google crawls through the web, they see references to an entity called “Matthew Edgar” and they can detect that entity is a person. However, Google wants to understand more about that entity, so they look for other entities related to that person—in linked pages or in unlinked pages. They see that sometimes the entity of “Matthew Edgar” is connected to the entity of “seo” while other times the entity of “Matthew Edgar” is connected to the entity of “darts”. Google, however, doesn’t see any overlap between these relationships or any pages on the website discussing these entities together (well, until somebody writes a post like this overlapping all the entities).
That lack of overlap clues Google’s bots into the idea that there must be two different people with the name Matthew Edgar. Along with learning that there are two different people sharing the same name, Google also understands something about each of those people. Now, as Google continues to crawl the web, they can look for more information about each distinct entity.
The action item is to review all the entities related to your name, company name, product names within links (external or internal) and unlinked mentions. You want to know if you are explaining the right relationships to Google. This is true even if you or your organization have a unique name.
Which Entity Is The Right Entity
We’ve now talked through how Google has found all the entities and the relationships between these entities. But what does this mean for search results? That is, Google knows there are multiple people with the name Matthew Edgar and knows something about each person who shares that name. Great, but which Matthew Edgar should appear when somebody searches for that name?
As a first step, Google has to figure out how notable the various entities are. This is partly due to how frequently an entity is mentioned on the web. The more mentions, the chances are that entity is more important and, therefore, more deserving of ranking in the search results. As another way of thinking about that, the more mentions there are, the more likely it is that this is the entity people conducting searches would prefer to find. In the case of a search for my name, I’m not the most notable Matthew Edgar given how few mentions I have relative to other people who share my name.
However, Google also has to consider the relationships. Some entities might be discussed on the web infrequently but are important because of the other related entities. This can happen with product names where the product name itself might not be discussed too often, but a bigger name company behind the product might be discussed more often. Understanding that a big company is related to the product name, Google might give preference to the big company’s website in search results for that product name. In the case of my name, another Matthew Edgar is related to more prominent entities, giving Google greater reasons to rank that Matthew Edgar higher than me.
Google’s bots are smart enough, though, to know that search preferences may differ and that some people searching for a particular entity might want to find an alternative entity that has fewer mentions and doesn’t have as strong of connections. In these cases, Google will highlight the entities on the search result page. That could be in the suggested search near the bottom of the page or in a “See Results About” card in the sidebar.
The final thing to keep in mind is that Google’s consideration isn’t just determining which entity is the best overall. Instead, it is also about looking at the entities within their proper context. These contexts are understood from the relationships Google built up about a given entity. In certain contexts, the entity that represents me is the more correct Matthew Edgar to surface than any other entity who shares my name. For example, when you search “Matthew Edgar SEO”, Google knows to show me as the top search result and not somebody else. This is because Google understands that I am more related to SEO than other people who share my name.
If you do happen to be in a situation where other people share your name, you may not be able to become the primary entity—the competitors with the same name might have far more mentions from other prominent entities, making it a challenge to become the primary entity with that name in Google’s eyes. However, you can work to show up within specific contexts or being a strong alternative entity by building up the right types of relationships.
It is important to think about your website’s content in terms of the entities being discussed and the ways those entities are connected. You want to be intentional in explaining the most important entities to Google’s bots and you want to be intentional in showing how those entities connect to other entities. You want to know what information backlinks are providing about the entities related to your website. If you aren’t ranking highly enough in search results, whether for your name or any term, reviewing the entities can help highlight why that might be the case.
If you need help reviewing the entities related to your website and your organization or need help with other aspects of your website’s SEO, please let me know. However, if you need help with your dart throwing techniques, please contact the other Matthew Edgar.