Just like Penguin and Panda updates, Google’s RankBrain algorithm update created a stir when it was introduced in 2015.
When Bloomberg covered a story about this algorithm in October 2015, it defined the update as:
“RankBrain uses artificial intelligence to embed vast amounts of written language into mathematical entities — called vectors — that the computer can understand. If RankBrain sees a word or phrase it isn’t familiar with, the machine can make a guess as to what words or phrases might have a similar meaning and filter the result accordingly, making it more effective at handling never-before-seen search queries.”
Google search algorithm is very complex and versatile but the ground reality is it does not use any other Artificial Intelligence (AI) in its search result than RankBrain. So why is that Google uses machine learning to teach its algorithms but not AI?
Because if AI backed search broke, engineers would have no idea how to fix it.
RankBrain is implemented to help Google sort the liver search results so that users get the best fit for their search query.
Is RankBrain a ranking signal?
This is a very important question that SEOs have been worried about.
Google has officially accepted that RankBrain is the third most important ranking signal after content and links.
According to SEOEaze India, “you cannot take RankBrain as a ranking signal in the conventional sense because it is not a set rule. It is designed as a processing method to infer the best-fit queries that are even unknown to Google.”
According to Google, it receives 15% new search queries every day that implies people search with words that are never being used exactly the same.
It might be hard to wrap our heads around the idea that there can be so many unknown queries but when you think of it, it all makes sense.
People talk in different ways and this is why we all ask the same question differently. For Google is to provide relevant answers to all these modified questions. The challenge will get even bigger for search engines as we move towards the voice search. With every passing day, smart devices are getting better at understanding our speech.
So in simple terms:
RankBrain is a processing algorithm that brings in use of machine learning to give you best-fit results for your search when Google is not sure what your query exactly means.
In the beginning, RankBrain was present only in a few Google queries but over time it has grown and not fully rolled out for all search queries.
Now if Google is sure what a search query means then there is very little influence of RankBrain on the search results.
What does it mean for you?
For a long period now we have been working on keywords focused content to get our websites ranked. But Hummingbird changed that and forced us to focus more on the relevance and offering value to the readers.
With RankBrain, we now have to optimize our content to think of the reader’s intent rather than trying to optimize it for keywords. To optimize content, you need to understand how RankBrainaides better results.
For instance, if you write an article about “Jaguar,” then Google will not determine what your article is about based on the SEO signals it gets from inbound link anchors and H1 tags, instead, it pulls the information from a collective database that tells it what Jaguar is.
So maybe you meant Jaguar the automobile, Google will determine the intent of the search as the Jaguar the animal and will show results accordingly.
However, if it is confused about the intent of the search then it might show 7 results about the animal Jaguar and rest 3 about the automobile or vice versa.
This is how the Google RankBrain works in the simplest way.
In what scenario RankBrain heavily influences a search?
RankBrain affects queries in all languages and all regions. It is most in play when the searched query is unique as well as unknown.
This means the potential for a content to rank with the rise of voice search entirely depends on its comprehensiveness and conversational tone. As artificial assistants like Google Home and Amazon Alexa become deepen their reach in our lives, the unknown queries will become more and more common. Humans tend to write differently than they speak.
What Google RankBrain Is Not
As opposed to what some people believe, RankBrain is definitely not an NLP or Natural Language Processor.
NLP is like the holy grail of search. When a computer can break down the entered sentence and fully understand the intent behind it based on structure and linguistics, then it can be said to use NLP.
RankBrain is a step closer towards making Google the first search engine to successfully implement NLP but it still cannot infer the meaning of queries based on language alone. It requires relationship database and vectors of known relationships between similar queries to make sense of an unknown query.
Can You Optimize for RankBrain?
In words of Google’s Gary Illyes, you can optimize for RankBrain by writing naturally. He says “Optimizing for RankBrain is actually super easy, and it is something we’ve probably been saying for 15 years now, is – and the recommendation is – to write in natural language. Try to write content that sounds human. If you try to write like a machine then RankBrain will just get confused and probably just pushes you back.
But, if you have a content site, try to read out some of your articles or whatever you wrote, and ask people whether it sounds natural. If it sounds conversational, if it sounds like natural language that we would use in your day to day life, then sure, you are optimized for RankBrain. If it doesn’t, then you are ‘un-optimized.’”
There you have it.
RankBrain is essentially a friend and you need to embrace it.
As we mentioned it only affects the queries that are unknown, it would be a waste of time and energy to focus on them. Only a few people are using those queries so you are better of following these steps:
Write the best quality content.
Keep it as natural as possible.
Let Google take its course.