Ontologies: The You-ness of You

Ontologies Are How Search Sees You

Ontologies are all the bits and pieces that you create on the web that make up the total of your web presence.  This interview between Oleg Moskalensky and David Amerland takes a look at all the ways you construct the ontologies about yourself and your business. The discussion is part of an ongoing series going chapter by chapter through the book SEO Help20 Semantic Search Steps that Will Help Your Business Grow. Chapter 9 discusses ontologies and provides action steps to think about your business, your marketing, and your overall web presence.

Text, images, videos, posts, tweets, blog articles all go together when search creates your entity. Consistency is important, and the best way to be consistent is to be yourself.

The conversation expands on the basic guidelines listed in the book:

  • Group your content in a way that makes sense.
  • Map your subjects.
  • Use your keywords.
  • Link pages to additional resources.
  • Use correct Alt text and Link descriptions.
  • Arrange your website navigation.
  • Use #hashtags.

The video includes questions from the audience answered directly in the conversation.

If you would like a way to work through the steps in the book use the Google Form worksheet from Actation Now. You can enter your answers. As your thinking grows you can add to your answers over time. Make a copy of the form and save it to your Google Drive. Then start going through the steps.


Notes from the Discussion

The concept of ontologies is so basic to your thinking about your web presence, I took notes. The are timestamped to sections of the video. And the more I listened, the longer the notes grew.

You can use the timestamps to correspond to the audio podcast here on the post.

Concept Overview

2:20 Core concept of search

branding, discoverability

2:59 in philosophy: existence

proof of life

3:12 are they a taxonomy?

looks like a relationship tree

me, my mom, my dog, my goldfish

4:02 an ontology creates relationships

related in terms of parent child relationships


an ontology is an entire forest

create semantic creations between them

4:40 Bloom’s Taxonomy








4:52 semantic search is predicated on entities

verification generates trust and independent proof of existence

attributes are interlinked

5:13 what we need to establish an ontology

need an identify - define, for ourselves, who we are

links of relationship - businesses, people, family,countries, languages, geographic location

the more complex the relationship becomes, the more verifiable the existence of the entity (you/yourbusiness)

6:14 why important to search?

independently verifiable and concrete and has an existence in terms of search engine

competitive advantage of uniqueness in terms of search

favourably impacts branding and brand value 

know values, know unique selling proposition

define in digital space so people can understand

once defined

benefits in other areas of search: branding, visibility, connections, relationships, trustworthiness


7:24 core as concept


a way we create content to project business

content creation strategy can work against you if you have not created a rich identity

it creates confusion and diffusion around the brand

8:02 if your identity is clear then your methodology is clear

you have decided to create content around

specific subjects

brand name associated with specific themes and subjects

the the structure of that content makes sense in how it is grouped either on social media like Google or on the website

identity clear then methodology clear

the structure of the content makes sense in terms of how it is grouped

8:45 e.g.  

computer repair

different types of computers

different services in relation to repairing computers

tips on how to actually repair a computer

If you post without specifying, you create confusion, because you make it harder for an ontology to be created in terms of how you are grouping that content

9:22 Because the web is so complex and content and identity are so difficult to establish, anything you do which creates confusion in terms of how search engines define and understand what you do works against you

all the little bits define and project who you are

10:22 Example - Restaurant



online ordering

contact information, driving directions

about us

photos and videos

for people who don’t know you

what would be the consideration for this setup?

how do you “do” food?

theme, atmosphere, service, Michelin star chef

all of those things go on to define the unique proposition selling point of the restaurant

12:23 A restaurant owner who understands what he does also understands what is important to his ideal guest.

E.g. African food

African food recipes


each one is its own category but go together to define the restaurant

13:36 a history of African food origins would go on a blog entry, not on the menu

the blog has to be very specific about what it does

it is a primary means of attracting attention to a website

the blog itself has to be very specific in how it does that

over a year, if the blog entries are not categorised, search engines have a difficult time understanding what the entity is

Text and Entity

14:56 make blog entry very specific to reflect the clearly defined identity of the business:

why are you in business?

must be a clearly defined reason

16:43 How do you define taste?

taste is chemistry taking raw ingredients, process them in a very specific way unique to you and your vision, and you bring out something amazing

17:23 take the same passion and translate it into engagement on the web

understand what people want and create that

clearly defined identity, and defined sense of purpose contribute to the intent 

18:13 these things need to be constantly kept front of mind because as everyday work kicks in it is easy to lose track of them

over the course of a year or longer, the broad and ill-defined digital presence people do not understand why you are different from anybody else

the metadata of your existing data

Ontologies as everything you do

18:50 Ontology takes everything which you do and applies a higher conceptual levels


a clear idea of how you do the things that you do, how you treat your customers, and how you conduct yourself in that environment

then you take the same values and apply them to something broader like:

content you share on the web

the people you associate with

the way you associate with them

the way you respond to different things that pique your interest or challenge you

those responses which are conceptually higher are informed by the very same principles which you hold dear because you have actually thought about it

That creates an ontology which then reflects on your identity

Somebody who hasn’t done that same thinking, 

associates with whomever and drops people if he gets bored,

shares anything hoping that something will stick and click with an audience because he has heard that he needs online engagement

he doesn’t really create an ontology. He’s created a mass of information that doesn’t filter into a higher conceptual ontology.

19:31His presence is so ill-defined that people are already beginning to understand why you are different from anybody else.

21:51 Ontologies are a way to simplify things so that a broad range of concepts is categorised into a broad range of subsets. 

22:31 Example of looking for a car to buy

without ontologies you would have to search through everything trying to find the one that’s right for you.

Or, you walk in and say, “Hey, I’m looking for an SUV.”

That’s still a broad ontology but we all know exactly what that defines.

Then you get into the more detailed refining

engine size, hood space, thickness of tires, speed, color

All these things define different types of SUVs within the broad ontology of SUV

The higher concept simplifies the complexity which would otherwise overwhelm us.

Questions and Answers

23:00 Q Gina Fiedel:  

So in building an ontology vs just compiling a lot of information, it seems that qualities like your ethics, behaviors, communication and working styles all matter and will add to the ontology. Is that correct?

This detailed driven approach is the difference between the web of today and the web of the pre-semantic search day. Pre 2012. 

That’s why we need to define our identity, values, and conduct. And, once we define them and we own them truly, we become ourselves. It’s the easiest way to make a sustainable effort projected through everything that we do.

picture quality

post quality

quality of relationships we build

quality of the contact we have within those relationships when we get into an online conversation

That becomes a set of characteristics which define a brand within that space

26:00 A copycat can copy the easy things, for example a restaurant that provides a similar menu and table settings, mood lighting, etc.

Things that are relatively easy to copy but with little effort into the thought.

How many times have you seen a website that looks great and you look at the content and think, “That’s five minutes I’m never going to get back,” and you never go back.

27:00 Q Farinaz Parsay There are institutions who teach ontological design by teaching certain distinctions such as having integrity and similar concepts and ways of being. What do you think about those teachings. I found them very useful.

The web we’re in now: everything that we are in terms of concepts which are immaterial and we can’t see, like the abilities to be trustworthy, honest, virtuous and principled; all those things now suddenly matter because all those things go into the formation of an identity which has values, and those values are projected, and those  projected values create a response.

We are who we are and we become who we become not because we say that’s who we are, but because of the connections and the impact of our actions which are guided by our thoughts and our planning. 

If we haven’t got those things in place in a way that makes sense, saying that we believe in them isn’t enough. 

We are now in the presence on the web where everything that we do is informed by that identity.

28:45 Q Omi Sido   

Is there a difference between an ontology and a knowledge graph (Google Knowledge Graph for that matter)?

From a certain perspective: no. But obviously this is not true because Google’s Knowledge Graph is a vast scale which contains an incredible number of ontologies even if they are interlinked. From a certain distant perspective we could say that Google’s Knoledge Graph is a massive global perspective of the world’s knowledge. 

So, conceptually, no. And we know that there is because of the scale involved.

29:53 Gina Fiedel In my personal experience, I've had to look hard at the kinds of things I write about in our blog and realize I may be creating a confusion of sorts, but I've committed myself to offering all those things I've listed also to demonstrate part of the flavor of what it's like to work with our company.

That creates an abstract around the context which is important to people.

We must keep in mind that ontologies are essentially relationship built and they are not directly related in parent-child kinds of relationships which is why they allow us to have connections that mark us as virtuous, principled, trustworthy, and so on. 

Within that context when we reveal more of ourselves, through, perhaps, posts which are then engaged and interacted with by others. Although we may feel that we are diluting the waters in terms of our brand, perhaps, because you don’t sell anything directly, you are creating the relationships that you need in order to have that corroborative relationship graph which is wider and forms part of your wider ontology of being and existence.

For instance, how would I know that Gina Fidel is not a chat bot which is perfectly capable of sharing very detailed, very deep, very knowledgeable content. The real person shares things that the chat bot can’t convincingly share just yet. 

The way we see that is not just in the sharing of the content but also in the engagement and subsequent interaction that goes with it. 

32:12 Q Oleg Moskalensky When you take a bunch of content and drop it on the Trello board and then you identify specific groups of content that become your panels and move them around to create categories/boards. Would that be a useful thing? 

That would help because essentially you are building a bigger picture our of pieces which are like a puzzle. And, those pieces fit together. So, it’s always a good idea to actually have some way of having a little perspective. 

Everything that we do on the web is conscious and it is decision driven which means that there has to be a very clear and specific intent behind it. Although this sounds a little bit calculating, it isn’t in the long term. 

Structure of Different Types of Content

33:36 Basically an ontology is there to create a structured approach to different types of content which are modified heterogeneity. They are all different. There’s usually four (4) different types of differences.

34:00 Syntactical differences. Depending on the data which you integrate in your content or what you share from other websites, for instance, that may have different structure. It could be somewhere else. It has different structure sharing as you bring it in to your own ontology to make it your own. Or perhaps you are creating on your own website different types of data content. You can have your blog, which is very much text driven, but then you can have a products database and that’s also integrated in that. Somehow, those things need to be linked.

34:36 Structural differences. What you do in one part of your digital presence is different than the structure you have in a different part. The classic thing here is (for example) you go onto Google+ and create eight different collections about butterflies and you haven’t done that anywhere else. Then on your website you talk about services and products and there is no mention of butterflies. Then you interlink all that across the web. 

Where do the butterflies fit in and make sense in the scale in the sense of the identity of who you are?

35:20 Semantic heterogenieity. The same things mean different things to different people. So you need to make sure if you bring in stuff from somewhere else, you clearly define it and say, “That’s how it’s defined but it really means this thing.”

If you are using very specific terms which mean something very narrow, for example pick the word committed. Gina says she’s committed but that word in a different context means something else. When you bring different definitions from different parts of what you do, they all have to make some kind of sense.

36:08 Systemic heterogeneity. Different systems on different platforms. You do things differently. Google+ is one case in point. The way stuff is structured in Google+ is different than the way you would do it on your website and it’s different again than how it is done on Twitter. You have to find some way of saying, all these things are clearly defined into this. When you create a clear definition for particular things, that’s how you basically create an ontology. 

37:00 Oleg demonstrates Trello. Set panels with individual cards. Create one for different groups (categories) as part of your ontology. Set them up in an abstract way, as many as you need. Then start populating them with specific points of content as cards. A way to conceptualize things in terms of content strategy. 

In an ideal world you have such a good grasp of yourself, you know how things fit in automatically. 

39:38 No matter how structured your content production process is, if there is no engagement which provides the secondary, and very important element, then we are basically broadcasting in a dark box. If the content which we create has a very human element for connection, then it creates engagement not just with people but with people who are domain experts. That adds the very specific element of corroboration that we need which then goes on to create the more formal representation of what ontology really is.

For example, if Oleg posts a post about SEO and he gets a thousand comments from people who normally talk about fishery rights, that means nothing because they are no normally SEO experts. The intent is very weak behind their connection. 

But say the same post about SEO gets people who are relatively well-known in the field of SEO and they respond to that, suddenly his comment has gravitas, weight, and that reflects very well upon his reputation but also reflects very well upon the value of what he does and trustworthiness.

So it’s through the mining of those connections that we create the ontology.

Connections, Interaction, and Engagement

41:00 It is very easy on the semantic web to fall into the trap of saying, hey, here’s who I am. Here’s my matrix….but without the additional element of connections, interaction, and engagement, the veracity factor is a little bit under a question mark. 

Additional Questions

42:28 Q Ryan Rodden I have been using product ontology for every entity I declare, using the additionalType field. Is this the best way to give a clue as to what the ontology is? Thx

Yes, definitely. But it also goes into the broad context of what you are producing and what you are known as, as your domain authority. All these things have to build up. You’ve got to remember that it’s a step-by-step process which builds essentially expertise on the web. Doing it piecemeal won’t work. And if you think this is all that’s required, then, again it won’t work. So it has to be within a broad structure. 

43:39 Moroccan Fish Stew graphic for +Omi Sido.

45:53 Oleg - It’s more of a strategy that you need to think about and implement than specific tags or instructions about how to get something done.

46:26 Denver Prophit Jr.  so what OTHER's are saying about your ontologies produces negative and positive sentiment that lead towards the relevancy trust? Of course my questions are related to ecommerce. Product category and Offer Category.

Yes, it’s very much a long-term view because it’s not as simple as saying this piece of content can produce 60% positive comments and 40% negative, and another piece produced 80% positive and 20% negative. 

Essentially even negative comments can verify the validity of something, which is the way sentiment analysis gets very tricky. So somebody arguing about something is not necessarily arguing against it, but, perhaps, in terms of the clarity of the definition of something.

Google looks, currently, at the history of those people who make those comments, their profile, their domain expertise, looks at their history of commenting in posts of that kind, looks at the frequency of the exchange within that particular thread, looks at the content, and looks at how the comment links to the others in that conversation, and reaches some kind of outcome. It takes a tremendous amount of data for this to happen, so one fantastic post is not going to make you an authority on anything. It’s an ongoing relationship, and this is where the difficulty Oleg mentioned earlier comes in. We all get tired, and we all get disheartened, sometimes, and that’s a human element.

47:17 If we lose sight of the fact of what we are doing then we are stuck looking at the screen and thinking, well, you know, this is just marketing and I’m tired today, it’s not working, and you all go to hell. Or, today, I can’t be bothered. This has no meaning and no value. When those things happen at the same time you devalue your commitment to your identity, your brand, the relationships you have built. 

It’s like suddenly saying, Oh, I’m really tired with the world today. I’m going to disengage with everybody because nobody matters. However tired we are, people do matter. There’s always effort, work being made to work on relationships, work on human connections.

48:52 You never go out the door and refuse to say Good Morning to your neighbor simply because you’re too tired to open your mouth. It just doesn’t happen.

Oleg: You are if you’re in Russia.

David: I was afraid you might say that. But, actually, they do say Good Morning. They are very cheerful when it comes to personal connections. The people may be sullen sometimes the environment itself is a little bit adversarial, but when it comes to the actually connection that they forge with each other, that takes a primary role because it’s the one thing they actually control, and because of the effort involved, they do value it. They do actually work on relationships. 

Define Your Values to Define Your Identity

49:48 That’s why you need to define your values, define your identity. If you do that, if you are real, as we say, this is where that actually works for you, being real, because everything that you do takes less effort if it is part of who you are. Then, if it doesn’t you need to have a playlist of cards in front of you, and that becomes really, really hard. 

50:00 Oleg: A lot of people online get into this whole marketing this and 5 best ways to do that and I’m totally sick of the whole concept. Everybody’s trying to do something to get ahead by creating shortcuts. If you just use these 5 simple techniques for your Facebook posts then you’re going to get your content more visible, even if you have to say something that’s not really true.

I completely disengage from that kind of thinking, because this whole concept of specifically dealing with your identity. You are what you are. The best way that you can project whatever it is that you are projecting in terms of what you are to the world at large, to Google, to everything else, is like you always say, David: be yourself. 

This way you don’t have to come up with what’s the best way to create a twitter post? What do I have to say about myself? You know who you are….The bottom line is that people certainly have a fairly good understanding of who they are. With that, they should be able to project that. 

Importance of Video

51:40 That’s the important thing about creating content is that….the concept of being who you are and projecting who you are is not that difficult because you know who you are just about better than anyone else on the planet. 

52:00 David: Exactly. Within that scope Jeanne actually has a really good question when she says, How would video fit into that? From a certain perspective video is hard to categorize because it has a flow. It’s a semantically dense environment in terms of you can see a lot more information through the visual spectrum and the auditory than you would in the written one, so perhaps you don’t control this very well. But actually it is a very powerful tool when it comes to creating ontologies simply because there is a lot of unstructured content in video which is sound and sentiment and gestures. What you get in response is a lot of interactions. 

So somebody who actually views the video and doesn’t react to it at all, that viewing of the video has more meaning in terms of who that person is and what their interests are than somebody who reads your post and doesn’t do anything with it. 

Video is very powerful. Let’s not forget that it is more shareable, it is easier to engage with because people respond not just to the content but also to the format of the content, how it’s wrapped up. Are people animated? Are they real people? Are they really passionate? Are they doing more than just going through the motions? 

53:20 Video is really, really powerful. It can create very powerful ontologies and classification points. The number of YouTube related businesses and entrepreneurs who have created very successful business models out of doing things like product reviews on YouTube. Or, filming themselves playing a video game and commenting on it on YouTube. These are very, very powerful because of that. 

53:50 Oleg: My son has quite a following on YouTube. He records a lot of videos of games and he talks and narrates them. They do all these special characters. It’s the perfect example of…I think the reason video is so powerful is because it’s you. You get to find out what a person is like to a degree. In text, it’s just text. 

54:25 If you look at a book, you have a certain sense of what the characters are like. Then you take it one step higher, and listen to an audio book you have a completely different sense essentially because you hear the accents and you hear the inflections and you hear the tone of voice. It gives you a completely different view of what that person (character) is like versus just simply reading text. 

55:04 Then you take it to the next level and you watch a movie and you have a completely different sense of what that character is like because then you can not only hear their actions but you can also see them and see their gestures, and see what they’re doing, and see what they look like. Video gives you a sense of the real deal. 

Concluding Thought

59:37 David: Be real, that’s the one guiding thing that will give you a real competitive  advantage on the web but also in real life marketing, and arguably real life. 

Zara Altair

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