August 3, 2021

The Basics of Search, Part Two: NER and Why It Matters

In a previous article, we talked about algorithms, how Google uses them to determine page rankings, and what happens to data when you apply an algorithm to it. Today, we will look closely at other things that go into creating algorithms for search. Specifically, we will be considering named entity recognition or NER and why it is significant in SEO.

What is Named Entity Recognition?

NER or named entity recognition refers to the practice of categorizing information or entities. All detected entities get classifications, and systems that use NER have various categories for these words. For example, you could classify the phrase "soy candle" under "soy products" or "combustion lighting," and you would be correct both times. Named entry recognition is a type of NLP or natural language processing, a kind of artificial intelligence. NLP involves the processing and analysis of human-produced language using AI. 

Different businesses and companies have different uses for NER. This language processing tool is suitable for understanding the theme or subject of a large quantity of text, so Google uses it in search. Other applications for NER include tasks in human resources, customer support, health care, and the academe.

Human resources departments benefit from software that uses NER because it can sort and group tasks by topic. It can also improve internal workflows and summarize applicant CVs. Meanwhile, NER can help customer support teams improve response times by grouping and filtering requests, complaints, and questions by priority keywords. This sorting and classification system also benefits hospitals and schools since they work with large databases of names and information.

Google Sees Collections of Entities, Not Paragraphs

For Google, the content on websites consists of collections of entities. It is because assessing individual entities and grouping them under larger categories is more beneficial to Google. For example, if you have a web page that talks about the best types of tea for specific situations, Google can assign entities to the broader subject of "consumer goods" and each type that the page features.

Doing this lets the search engine classify topics and judge their relationship with other pages in the domain and other domains online. Search engines must rank all websites, and seeing pages in terms of entities instead of articles makes that task easier. The NER for the website about tea will be relevant—somewhat—when a new website featuring different kinds of fruit juice pops up. For one, Google will know that the entries on this new page won't fit under "tea for different events."

When someone searches "beverages for a party," though, both the pages on tea or fruit juice can come up in the results since different types of gatherings call for different beverages. Adding more words or changing keywords—using "beverages for formal afternoon gathering" might deliver the web page about tea as a more suitable option. Meanwhile, if you search for drinks you can serve during a backyard barbecue, the page on fruit juice will likely be on the search engine results pages.

The Value of Entities to Search Algorithms

Google understands a webpage based on the entities on it. When one page links to another and both contain related entities, Google can assign relevance to the link based on connectedness between the concepts. 

This is a new development. Before it, search engines assigned relevance based on keyword density, proximity, and other elements that people can easily manipulate and misrepresent. It is why keyword stuffing became a go-to tactic for SEOs back in the day—simply putting many keywords in one article was enough to make it rank in SERPs. Today, since machine learning has progressed a fair bit, tactics like these won't work. Entities are not as easy to manipulate—either a page falls under a category or does not. Search engines can determine which relationships matter more after mapping the typical interactions among entities.

What to Remember about How Search Engines Work

Together with our previous dive into how algorithms work, these insights about named entity recognition should be enough for content marketers to understand how search affects their brand's digital presence. Here is a quick recap:

1. Pay Attention to Context

You have to understand how algorithms change the context within which your web pages appear online. If there is news about an algorithm update, you should know what it is about. Though Google does not reveal everything about how they rank websites, they provide web developers and website owners with enough information to ensure that their pages don't take too much of a plunge. Remember that Google's main objective is to provide relevant content to users—start from there and see how the updates enable your website to deliver.

2. Understand How Google "Sees" Text

Entities are vital to search algorithms today. Since NER lets Google understand connections between ideas, named entities provide a firmer base for determining how relevant and valuable content is to an audience. Analyzing entities and seeing how they relate with each other will help you understand which content and links would get favorable ratings and why they would.

3. Get Clear on User Intent

A search algorithm is an extensive collection of algorithms and formulas that produce a result that satisfies users. Google's algorithms focus on relevance—so much so that there are even algorithms that monitor how users interact with the results! Some algorithms attempt to understand entities and their interrelatedness.

User intent is the driving force for all of these algorithms. If you understand user intent well, your page will naturally do well in SERPs. If people keep choosing your pages over others, Google will see that and reward it accordingly.

Conclusion

Search engines affect how people see organic results today. Unless you create a highly involved marketing campaign that does away entirely with attracting organic traffic, you need to have a website for your brand. Even if your social media presence is on point, or your brand newsletter has plenty of loyal readers, you still need to put yourself in front of new users. Having a search-optimized website allows you to do that.

Be confident in your content strategy when you team up with Ranked. We provide fully managed SEO services designed to help you rank across multiple markets and regions in the long term. Book a call with the team to learn more, or activate your account today!

Subscribe to our newsletter for regular SEO resources.

Ready to get started?

Join local businesses & agencies who depend on Ranked every day to grow their business.
“Outstanding company - excellent results from a cost-effective, easy to use yet comprehensive SEO service.”
Gregg Kell
President - Kell Web Solutions