Entities & Ontologies: The Future Of SEO?

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Mastering Andrea Volpini’s concept of “ontologies” is pivotal for staying ahead in the realm of SEO. However, this approach to SEO isn’t commonly discussed elsewhere, and grasping it requires delving into several intricate aspects:

  1. Entities.
  2. Schema.
  3. Advancements in algorithmic machine learning.
  4. Deciphering the true essence of “helpful content.”
  5. Understanding the functioning of large language models (LLMs).

To provide a comprehensive understanding of how websites need to evolve for effective information organization, I’ve curated insights from various experts to elucidate the foundational principles.

Concluding the section, Andrea Volpini will delve into the concept of “ontologies,” which serves as a springboard into the future landscape of SEO:

  1. Establishing trust and fostering audience engagement amidst AI-generated outputs becomes paramount.
  2. Navigating within AI-driven “search experiences” within platforms necessitates discoverability.
  3. Harmonizing content structuring and topical expertise with both human and search engine comprehension of concepts and entities is imperative.

Summarized succinctly:

  1. Recognizing the significance of “entities” is pivotal for future SEO, bridging human understanding and data modeling.
  2. Embrace exploration and knowledge acquisition through meaningful connections.
  3. Crafting well-structured ontologies (entity maps and their interconnections) equips for success in AI platforms and Google Search while enhancing user experiences.

Search Is Becoming A Human-Centered Exploration Tool

Angie Nikoleychuk, a Behavioral Data Analyst at Search Engine Journal, ponders the trajectory of SEO in her article titled “Entities & Ontologies: The Future Of SEO?”

In her perspective, the forthcoming year won’t revolve around specific tools or ranking factors; rather, it’s centered on a crucial question: How do we cater to the demands of AI while also distinguishing ourselves from it?

The proposed solution? Embrace a human-centric approach to SEO tailored for human-centered search experiences. This entails transcending mere ranking factors, algorithms like RankBrain, and reviews, to focus on holistic strategies aligned with customer journeys.

Reflecting on past lessons from the era of article spinners and directories, it’s evident that optimizing solely for current technology is both costly and short-lived.

Looking ahead to 2024, Angie anticipates a shift in the SEO landscape towards optimization based on the trajectory of search engines and user behaviors. What propels this shift? The answer lies in AI, albeit in a manner not immediately apparent.

Standing Apart From AI: Human-Centered SEO

We’re all familiar with content tailored specifically for search engines. Particularly, the rise of AI-generated content has facilitated the proliferation of low-effort, low-value material across the web.

In response to this issue, I anticipate that search engines will introduce a series of updates aimed at combating spam and promoting genuinely useful content.

While some advocate for SGE (Search Generated Experience)-like features as a solution, I believe that such features will undergo further refinement before seamlessly integrating into search algorithms.

Instead, I foresee a shift towards prioritizing human-centered search strategies as the smarter approach.

However, search engines represent just one facet of the digital landscape.

As the prevalence of AI-generated content failing to meet user needs continues to grow, trust in such content is likely to decline steadily. Consequently, users may increasingly gravitate away from generic and AI-generated material in favor of more authentic content.

As the effectiveness of this content type diminishes in generating clicks and conversions, especially for YMYL (Your Money, Your Life) topics and products/services requiring significant user investment, we anticipate a shift in SEO strategies in 2024 towards more human-centered approaches.

These strategies will revolve around understanding the user’s past interactions, future intentions, motivations, and interests—factors that AI and search-engine-focused content often overlook. Here are some examples:

  1. Time and Type Segmentation: Tailoring content based on where the target audience currently stands in their journey. It involves taking calculated risks to engage users effectively. (If your keyword research still revolves around outdated terms like “traffic funnels” or “AIDA,” you’re falling behind.)
  2. Experiential Content: Going beyond merely fulfilling needs or solving problems, this approach involves crafting content that shares unique stories and perspectives, transforming web pages into immersive experiences and memorable journeys. It’s about transcending the mere acquisition of clicks and traffic.
  3. Establishing Connections: The traditional notion of linking content is evolving into a more nuanced understanding of how entities and concepts are interconnected. This includes fostering partnerships, collaborations, and associations between entities that extend beyond superficial links, emphasizing meaningful relationships.

In essence, the SEO landscape in 2024 will prioritize strategies that resonate with users on a deeper, more human level, fostering meaningful connections and experiences rather than just chasing after clicks and traffic.

Indeed, signs of this emerging trend are already evident across various research domains such as Information Architecture, User Experience, Human-AI Interaction, and Information Retrieval.

For instance, ongoing patents and research efforts focusing on systems like the Knowledge Graph demonstrate a concerted effort to categorize and elucidate relationships, delving into the intricacies of “how” and “why” entities are interconnected.

These subtle yet significant developments are poised to transform search engines from generic tools into personalized, human-centered exploration platforms in the coming years.

The subtlety of this transition cannot be emphasized enough. While the disparity between SEO practices of the past and the forthcoming era of human-centered search may seem slight, its implications are profound.

Whereas keywords and links have long dictated the content relevance of web pages, in 2024, the focus of SEO and search will shift towards understanding the intricacies of “how” users interact with content and information.

Entity Discovery & Followership

Jes Scholz, a Marketing Consultant at, discusses the emerging importance of entities and ontologies in SEO and online visibility.

One often overlooked trend is the increasing significance of cultivating a following on Google surfaces. While this functionality has been integral to Google News for some time, its impact on visibility cannot be overstated. It provides exposure through features like the “Sources panel,” the “Following tab,” and the “From publishers you follow” SERP feature.

This capability has now expanded to Google Shopping, where users can “favorite” specific brands, thereby setting preference filters on their shopping results and gaining additional exposure.

The integration of entities into Google Discover marks a significant shift. Users can now follow entities as topics of interest within Discover by clicking the bell icon in a Knowledge Panel.

Content related to the followed entity receives prominent placement, often appearing at or near the top of Discover in a dedicated “following” feature box. Discover, already a dominant force on mobile with its dedicated following tab, is currently undergoing trials on the Google desktop homepage.

A single feature placement in Discover has the potential to surpass the traffic generated by a month’s worth of traditional blue link clicks, thanks to users’ inherent investment and interest.

This highlights the pivotal role of entity optimization. By establishing your brand within the Google Knowledge Graph and becoming eligible for entity followership, you can significantly enhance your online visibility.

To gain insight into the future of followership, you can take a sneak peek by accessing Google Chrome flags and enabling the upcoming follow features and changes to the New Tab Page (NTP).

I anticipate that entity followership will evolve into a significant brand-level E-A-T (Expertise, Authoritativeness, Trustworthiness) signal by 2024.

Standardize & Organize Information Based On Meaningful Connections

Martha van Berkel, CEO of Schema App, posits the question: Are entities and ontologies the future of SEO? Since 2011, Google has advocated for the adoption of Schema Markup, also known as structured data, to enhance search engine understanding of website content. Implementing Schema Markup not only improves search engine comprehension but also enables eligibility for rich results, allowing websites to stand out in search results.

Organizations have effectively utilized schema markup over the years to attain rich results for various content types such as products, reviews, FAQs, how-to guides, and videos. This success has translated into higher click-through rates (CTR) and increased engagement from qualified traffic to their websites.

Nevertheless, the Google search landscape has undergone significant evolution in recent years. The significance of schema markup extends beyond rich results; it facilitates a deeper understanding of content. In 2022, the performance of video and FAQ rich results experienced fluctuations. By 2023, Google adjusted eligibility criteria for video-rich results, deprecated how-to rich results from the Search Engine Results Page (SERP), and reduced the frequency of FAQ-rich results. Additionally, Google introduced the experimental AI-powered Search Generative Experience (SGE).

Despite these changes, other types of rich results persist and continue to perform effectively on Google’s platform.

As AI-powered search engines become increasingly prominent, marketers must reassess their strategies to effectively stand out in search results, moving beyond a reliance solely on rich results due to their inherent volatility.

A more sustainable approach involves harnessing the semantic nature of schema markup and integrating it comprehensively across their websites. This strategy aids search engines in understanding the contextual relevance of content to users’ queries.

In October 2023, John Mueller, a Search Advocate at Google, shared insights in a search update video, emphasizing the ongoing addition and removal of rich results. Mueller reiterated the importance of schema markup as a “machine-readable code” that enables search engines to comprehend content effectively. He recommended utilizing a schema markup solution to streamline the process of updating structured data.

The encouraging aspect is that schema markup, which has traditionally been instrumental in facilitating rich results, holds the potential to enhance visibility and performance in the evolving landscape of AI-driven search engines.

The rationale behind this shift is rooted in the transition from lexical search, which matches keywords, to semantic search, which focuses on matching meaning. Schema markup plays a crucial role in this evolution by explicitly defining content, thereby enabling search engines to grasp the intended meaning more accurately.

Here’s how it operates: When schema markup is integrated into a website, it translates content using the standardized vocabulary and establishes relationships between different elements on the site. This process furnishes specific context about concepts and their connections to other entities both on the site and across the web.

Consequently, machines gain a deeper understanding of the content, allowing them to draw factual inferences about the organization and deliver more precise results to searchers.

How Structured Data Can Improve CTR

At Schema App, we’ve observed a recent decline in impressions and clicks among our customers, attributed to Google’s alterations in rich results. Nonetheless, implementing comprehensive and interconnected schema markup has led to a notable increase in click-through rates (CTR).

Fabrice Canel, Bing’s Principal Program Manager, addressed this year’s Pubcon, suggesting that the introduction of new search experiences is poised to enhance user satisfaction. When managed effectively, markup furnishes users with contextual information directly on the search engine results page (SERP) before they navigate to your site.

However, the landscape of AI-driven search remains uncertain. The impact on top SERP results, specific metrics from Google (although available from Bing), and the pace of change all remain unclear.

In light of this ambiguity, it’s prudent to focus on what can be controlled, such as crafting unique content and integrating schema markup to ensure comprehension by search engine algorithms.

Let’s seize those clicks, assume command, and generate more leads by effectively communicating with search engines.

Entities Are The New Links

Ulrika Viberg, CEO and Senior SEO at Unikorn, ponders the significance of entities and ontologies in shaping the future of SEO.

Anticipating a surge in AI utilization, Viberg predicts its broader application beyond search. Envisioning AI-driven enriched data for products, she anticipates the emergence of more imaginative product categorizations tailored to specific contexts. For instance, a winter reading category might encompass horror stories, romance novels, short fiction, and classics. Traditionally, such lists are manually curated, but with AI, they can be dynamically generated, presenting an efficient solution that SEO professionals will appreciate.

Viberg foresees a return to technical intricacies in SEO practices. On-page optimization will evolve beyond conventional elements like H1s and alt-tags to encompass nested structured data and entity linking. This entails the construction of structured data and entity link graphs.

In Viberg’s assessment, AI may diminish the significance of traditional links in SEO strategies. She suggests that entities, rather than links, could become the new cornerstone of SEO. Viberg points to statements from the Google team, indicating a shift away from the previous emphasis on links. She believes AI advancements will mitigate the need for traditional “trusted websites” by leveraging entities as credible indicators.

Beyond Entities: Building Maps Of Meaning With Ontologies

Ben Steele, Managing Editor at SEJ, lays the groundwork for a deeper exploration of ontologies. While acknowledging Andrea Volpini’s insightful contributions, Steele emphasizes the importance of establishing foundational definitions.

Ontologies represent more than just a passing trend; they represent an advanced approach to comprehension:

  1. Understanding your website’s structure and content.
  2. Facilitating meaningful connections among people.
  3. Enabling algorithms to establish meaningful associations.

To better grasp the significance of ontologies in relation to search, it’s essential to comprehend the diverse connotations of the term “ontology.”

Ontology serves as a field within both philosophy and information science:

  1. Within metaphysics, ontology delves into questions of being, existence, and the fundamental relationships among beings and events.
  2. In the realm of information science and data management, ontologies are defined as “explicit formal specifications of the terms in the domain and relations among them.”

Simply put, “ontology” is the study of entities. It’s all about organizing different types of things and figuring out how they’re connected.

What’s important to understand is that the idea of organizing information, as we do in data management, comes from the broader philosophical concept of ontology. Both are about how we humans classify and understand the world around us.

When it comes to SEO (Search Engine Optimization), an ontology is very detailed and specific. It describes each individual thing and the system it fits into.

But here’s the tricky part: defining a specific category isn’t always straightforward. Sometimes, things aren’t clearly defined, and different systems might overlap, blend together, or even create entirely new categories.

Ontologies aren’t just foundational structures; they’re crucial elements of information architecture and semantic technology.

Although creating intricate maps of connections and meanings is currently beyond the capabilities of large language models (LLMs), they do utilize ontologies. Modern AI algorithms leverage philosophical concepts to establish connections.

Constructing ontologies isn’t just about distinguishing yourself from LLMs; it’s also about ensuring that these models provide accurate information about your website, as Volpini points out. Understanding ontologies now will prepare you for the advent of Search Generative Experience (SGE).

Here are practical tips for applying the insights from Volpini’s essay:

Think of an ontology as a map of meaning: Develop content while considering its position within an ontology and the key entities within both the content and the broader semantic map. Then, utilize SEO tools like linking, schema markup, category organization, and site hierarchy to establish those connections.
Fully integrating ontologies into all aspects of your website, from top-level navigation to individual content pieces, is essential. Designing websites with ontologies in mind enables you to: Enhance user experience and navigation across your entire site; communicate effectively with search engines, leading to more comprehensive indexing of your pages; assist LLMs in delivering accurate information about your site, thereby elevating your brand presence in generative search results.

Ontologies In SEO

Andrea Volpini, the Co-Founder and CEO of WordLift, explores the significance of Entities and Ontologies in the realm of SEO. As artificial intelligence continues to shape SEO strategies, entities and Google’s Knowledge (and Shopping) Graph emerge as pivotal components, bridging the gap between Search Generative Experience (SGE) and Google’s enhanced ecommerce initiative.

In this landscape, characterized by a surge in AI-generated content and the emergence of AI authorship, the development of intricate ontologies becomes imperative for those aiming to distinguish themselves. While Schema markup enhances search engines’ understanding of webpage content, ontologies take this a step further.

Through ontologies, marketers and SEO professionals can delineate complex relationships and hierarchies within their domain of knowledge. This facilitates better content organization, yields more relevant search results, and enhances the quality of interactions with large language models and the generative AI stack.

Beyond simply enabling seamless interactions with LLMs, these ontologies have the potential to expand schema markup and, critically, preserve and amplify a brand’s unique voice amidst the vast sea of AI-generated content.

Ontologies Will Act As The Discernible Differentiator In The Digital Realm

Ontologies are poised to become the discernible differentiator in the digital landscape. Evolving prompting techniques are increasingly influenced by entities, encompassing both named entities and concepts, thereby facilitating the transfer of knowledge to language models.

This advancement sets the stage for the automation of prompt creation and allows models to autonomously learn optimal prompting strategies. Moreover, the strategic integration of autonomous AI agents will play a pivotal role in achieving comprehensive SEO automation.

From dynamic internal links to crawling optimization strategies, from on-page SEO to schema markup implementation, multiple SEO tasks can be efficiently executed with minimal human intervention.

As these trends continue to shape the SEO landscape, the centrality of entities and ontologies transcends mere advantage; it becomes indispensable for navigating and succeeding in the evolving digital realm.

The Rise Of Comprehensive And Interactive Search Experiences

In the epoch of Generative AI, the landscape of Search has undergone a transformative evolution, particularly in its endeavor to provide users with a more comprehensive and interactive experience.

A significant milestone in this journey occurred in 2017 when Bing pioneered chatbot integration into Search, revolutionizing user interactions through innovative conversational interfaces.

However, the emergence of Bing Chat and Google SGE is not merely a swift adaptation but the culmination of decades of technological evolution and strategic advancements in voice search and interactive result exploration.

The shift from commands like “Hey Google” to more personalized prompts like “Hey Bard” holds the potential to democratize Search, granting direct accessibility to millions of users and fostering new avenues for creating personalized digital experiences.

With the integration of generative AI, anyone possessing a Google Assistant device will have the ability to navigate and search through voice commands, further enriching the Search experience.

The discernible shift in search traffic patterns, coupled with the rise of zero-click searches, which accounted for approximately half of all Google searches in 2022, underscores a notable transition towards the provision of instant answers directly on search engine result pages.

This trajectory heralds the advent of seamless, interactive, and enriched search experiences, significantly influencing the future direction of online user engagement and content discoverability.

While the prospects for voice search present new avenues for exploration, it is anticipated that the landscape will become markedly more competitive, potentially resulting in a decline of up to 15-20% in search traffic for informational queries.

In this evolving paradigm, the focus of SEO may shift towards activating user experiences that are intricately linked to your brand within search platforms, rather than solely driving clicks.

“Adapting to changes in SEO performance requires a significant shift in mindset and approach.

I’d like to share the following excerpt from an internal presentation:

“In our AI-driven society, SEO emerges as a vital frontier, bridging human understanding with machine capabilities.

As we witness the advancement of AI technologies, it’s imperative to uphold ethical principles, ensuring the development of AI systems that adhere to well-defined guidelines and uphold fundamental human values.

These values encompass safeguarding individual rights, protecting privacy, preventing discrimination, promoting fairness, and avoiding manipulation.”

Original news from SearchEngineJournal