Performing Entity Actions on Sites

Sharing is caring!

Visitors to a website may want to perform certain actions related to Entities (specific places or people or things) displayed to them on the Web.

For example, at a page for a restaurant (an entity), a person viewing the site may want to create a reservation or get driving directions to the restaurant from their current location. Doing those things may require a person to take several steps, such as selecting the name of the restaurant and copying it, pasting that information into a search box, and submitting it as a search query, selecting the site from search results, determining if making a reservation is possible on the site, and then providing information necessary to make a reservation; getting driving directions may also require multiple steps.

Using a touch screen device may potentially be even more difficult because the site would possibly then be limited to touch input. This patent is very much about using touch screens.

A patent granted to Google this week describes a way to easily identify an entity such as a restaurant on a touch device, and select it online and take some action associated with that entity based upon the context of a site the entity is found upon. Actions such as booking a reservation at a restaurant found on a website or procuring driving directions to that site, or other actions could be easily selected by the user of a site.

The patent is:

Semantic selection and purpose facilitation
Inventors: Paul Nordstrom, Casey Stuart Whitelaw,
Assignee: Google
US Patent 9,305,108
Granted April 5, 2016
Filed: October 5, 2012


Computer-implemented methods for proposing actions to a user to select based on the user’s predicted purpose for selecting content are provided. In one aspect, a method includes receiving an identifier of a referent entity associated with user-selectable content, identifying, based on a prediction of a purpose in selecting the content, at least one action to be executed that is associated with the entity, and providing, for display, at least one identifier of the at least one action to the device for selection by a user. Systems, graphical user interfaces, and machine-readable media are also provided.

How Entity Actions Might be Selected by a Site Visitor

A person searches for a site using text such as “sushi restaurants in Mountain View.” That person then circles the text “we love Ramen Sushi out of all of the places we’ve been to” on the web page they found with that search by circling the text using touch input. Based on the content they chose and the context of their selection of that text, The system decides that the viewer of the page has selected “Ramen Sushi,” and it proposes that entity to the user. The user can confirm that and is then given many actions to perform on the entity based on the context of that selection.

Google select entity
Someone circles an entity on a touch screen to perform actions on it.

The context can include:

  • The current location of the device
  • A past location of the device
  • The type of the device
  • A previous action associated with the entity taken by the user or another user
  • A search query
  • Information on another user associated with the user
  • The file from which the user-selectable content was selected
  • The remaining content from which the user-selectable content was selected

Entity Actions might then be displayed that could include:

  • Directions to Ramen Sushi
  • Make a reservation at Ramen Sushi
  • Operating hours for Ramen Sushi
  • Reviews of Ramen Sushi

Once an entity action is chosen, it can be performed by the system.

Entities are contained in an entity database, which may contain attributes or properties associated with the entity, and those can be pre-defined and can have associated descriptors such as “location,” “restaurant,” and “phone number.” For example, an entity that is a person such as George Washington can have an associated descriptor “notable person.”

The patent tells us that entities listed in the entity database can be associated with one or many user purposes and/or actions based on an associated descriptor.

A purpose is something that a user wants to do or find out concerning an entity selected. These entity actions are shown in a menu to the user as choices of actions to take regarding selected entities. These purposes may be referred to as a “task.” The patent provides several examples that include:

“play” (e.g. for games and sports), “rate” or “evaluate,” “travel to,” “contact,” “communicate,” “share,” “record,” “remember,” dine,” “consume,” “experience” or “enjoy” (e.g. art, music), “reserve” (tickets, etc.), “compare,” “learn,” “study,” “understand,” “purchase,” “repair,” “fix,” “teach,” “cook,” and “make.” For the example purpose “dine,” an example sub-purpose can be “eat dinner,” from which example sub-purposes can be “make reservation,” “get directions,” and “find parking.”

The patent tells us that users can select multiple entities of the same type simultaneously to compare them.

Entities, purposes, and actions can be added to the entity database either manually or automatically with a user (or even an owner of the entity) adding information. The patent provides some examples of how information might be added to the entity database, but it seems fairly wide open under the patent.

The patent doesn’t mention Schema vocabulary, which would be one way for a site owner to add entity information to an entity database.

Entities may be products, and actions presented to a user could include providing a review of the product, identifying a seller of the product, providing a price for the product, or providing an offer (e.g., discount or coupon) associated with the product. If the entity is a service, such as watching a movie or a plumber for hire, the actions that may be presented to the user could include “providing a review of the service, identifying the availability of the service (e.g., showtimes), identifying a location where the service is being provided (e.g., an address of the plumber), or providing an option to purchase the service (e.g., purchasing tickets for the movie or rates offered by the plumber).”

Entity Actions Take Aways

The entity database described in this patent could be a massive one, containing multiple businesses (like those from Google Maps), multiple products, multiple people (like those found at a knowledge base like Wikipedia), and multiple potential actions and tasks with those entities.

This seems to be a fairly aspirational patent, which might require many steps to be put into place before it is implemented. However, it does present a vision of how entities on the web could eventually be acted upon by people who see them on web pages.

This could be something that Google may intend to do, and some of the pieces for it are in place, such as a knowledge graph filled with entities, and a schema system that is extendable. It’s interesting seeing a patent that lays out a framework as this one does. Is this a future path that Google will follow? We may need to wait to see.

Added: Google has added entity actions to sites, and now has an Actions on Google Glossary. Instead of basing the selection of actions on touch screens, Google has done this with voice selections and describes how it works with Google Assistant. I haven’t seen a patent that describes entity actions using voice instead of touch screens, and I suspect that one will not appear.

Last Updated; June 2, 2019

Sharing is caring!

27 thoughts on “Performing Entity Actions on Sites”

  1. Very interesting post and patent, Bill.

    I can imagine a possible future SERP inviting users to take actions directly from snippets and, in my opinion (this is only speculation) this could impact not only in CTR, but improving the user’s search experience.

    Another thing to consider is whether, on the contrary, Google may use these actions only as another move to ‘enrich’ their SERPs and put more obstacles to the owners of the websites.

    We’ll be alert.

  2. Thanks for Information about Performing Tasks Through Google.
    Your Article is impressive and very informative. I am now regular visitor of your website and bookmarked it.

  3. Hi Bruce.

    Thank you. I was surprised to come across this one. It’s scope of coverage is impressive, and it would be interesting seeing Google develop.

  4. Hi Sergio,

    Thanks. It looks like those actions should run right from the pages of a person’s website, rather than from search results – right where you are circling content on the pages of a site. We’ll have to wiat and see how it gets implemented.

  5. I’m afraid I haven’t explained well, Bill. My apologies.
    I know that the patent deals with actions on a person’s website, but I intended to raise the possibility that this patent, and the information obtained through its implementation, could be used in the future by Google to present a totally revolutionary SERPs.
    Just an idea.

  6. Hi Sergio,

    Google providing actions or tasks associated with entities for a viewer to choose from, right on the site they are at would be a revolutionary step in itself. We are seeing Google pull a lot of things involving entities into knowledge panels on search results, such as appointment setting opportunities for some types of businesses, and “view menu” links, which provide detailed listings of products that they offer. Keeping actions right on a site after circling the entity you want to see acted upon is a step past that, I believe. It involves the search engine taking actions across sites along the Web, outside of its own pages. I’m wondering how site owners would react to Google operating on their site, and I expect some site owners not to be very happy at the thought of that happening.

  7. Hey Bill, This is awesome, I read something new today from your blog. I feel that this new patent may help businesses as well provided that Google provides some sort of script and an option in search console to add the tasks on a website. Just like data highlighter tool, then i think website owners and seo experts can take this new future to advantage and bring business to clients, just some thoughts. Let us see what will Google do in future. This is an interesting share! I am bookmarking your site in my reading list. Let me know what do you think on my comment, do you feel the same!

  8. I absolutely love your blog and find a lot of your post’s to be exactly I’m looking for. Do one offer guest writers to write content for you personally? I wouldn’t mind creating a post or elaborating on a lot of the subjects you write regarding here. Again, awesome weblog!

  9. Hi Alan,

    Thank you for your kind words. I haven’t offered any guest writers the chance to submit anything here for a long time, and I reserve the right to, I am not planning upon any writers here other than myself.

  10. Hi Steve,

    Google has the idea out there through this patent. and if they are serious about it, they will likely provide more information, and tools that make it possible to provide this kind of functionality. I would say to keep an eye on their blogs carefully – I will be doing that.It’s possible that something like the data highlighter tool could be one way to implement this. Thanks!

  11. I am asking a question, though I am not sure how accurate the question is. I just can’t understand the idea, here it is:
    What is entity association?

  12. Hi Mohammad,

    I can provide an example that helps answer that question. Entity association is when Google might take a thesaurus or dictionary they have compiled of entities (Google’s knowledge graph, even) and compare words that have been typed into a search box to see if any of those query terms are entities. For example, if I type seobythesea (my domain name) into a Google search box, google shows a knowledge panel for SEO by the Sea next to my search results, and it fills those search results with pages about SEO by the Sea. Also, if I search for my domain name and then a query term, such as [seobythesea entities], the first 18 results I see in Google’s search results are from Google associates my query using my domain name with my website. If I search for [bill slawski], google shows a knowledge panel for me next to search results – it associates my name with the entity “Bill Slawski.” If I search for [cardiff-by-the-sea seo] Google shows a knowledge panel for “SEO by the Sea” and the dropdown suggestions from the Google search box includes “Bill Slawski” “seobythesea”, “GoFishDigital”, and “SEO by the Sea”. Google has performed Entity recognition and Entity association between my location and profession and my website, and the business I work for.

  13. So google is going to make the the user experience much more better and the semantic concepts getting much popularity. Great move by google.
    but how can they implement this on individual websites?
    SERP will get better, how does it work on websites?

  14. Hi there,

    It’s great to see such a high level of detail and analysis on this blog, about SEO. I’m a technical SEO in my dayjob, but even I hadn’t considered this level research relating to where Google is going.

  15. Hi Lucky 7,

    If Google implements the process described in this patent, I would be very happy to blog about the steps taken to implement in. I would really like to see that happen.

  16. Hi Vineeth,

    I suspect that Google would give us more information about how it would be implemented on individual websites if they decide to move forward with it. They would have to share some of those details for it to stand a chance of working.

  17. Great Job Bill.

    Love the amount of research you put in this. These actions are currently quite difficult on mobile devices and would be great to see this improve. Keep us updated when things change.


  18. Hi Tabrez,

    I will be keeping an eye on Google, and whether or not they implement this. I expect them to make a lot of noise about it if they do; and I look forward to seeing it happen. 🙂

  19. Hii Bill ,

    I really liked this part of the article, with a nice and interesting topics have helped a lot of people who do not challenge things people should have done a great job,I appreciate your effort..Keep updating more information.

  20. Hi Priya,

    Thank you for your kind words. This is an interesting process that Google might develop. I would find it intriguing seeing it come about.

  21. Your articles has been a source of inspiration for beginners like me. It is easy to understand, short and very simple. More power to you and your future en devours.

  22. Hi Bill,

    I loved you article, you described here essential information regarding patent,which is very helpful to us. You really did hard-work on this content to write. Everyone can get easily details about these topics. Thanks for sharing a great work. I liked it.

  23. Great Job Bill.

    Love the amount of research you put in this. These actions are currently quite difficult on mobile devices and would be great to see this improve. Keep us updated when things change.

    Aliena James

  24. Hi Alena,

    Thank you. These actions are difficult on mobile devices. It would be interesting seeing Google launch the ability to perform them. Hopefully, Google will provide us with guidelines that show us how (because they would need to do so to help us use such features – so hopefully, we’ll all get plenty of notice, if Google decides to move forward with this.

  25. Hi Bill,
    Thanks for running such a resource SEO blog, am learning the rope of SEO and am finding every post I read here to be very informative and very interesting. I am just wondering with this patent, what does it mean for local SEO ?

  26. Hi John,

    Happy to find that you are enjoying my posts. If Google adopts the method described in this particular patent, it could possibly have a big impact upon Local SEO, since businesses are considered Entities. This would potentially mean that Google would possibly provide more ways to interact with local businesses. My suspicion is that Google would let people know if they were turning on a feature like this. It would be interesting seeing it take place.

Comments are closed.