RankBrain: What You Need to Know

RankBrain. Like everything else in the ‘Googleverse’, the name of the project is about the only thing that Google is willing to be explicit about. What we do know is that on October 26, 2015, Google announced their plan for the future.

I like to think that Google essentially sat down and posited the question, “Why are people so complicated?” just like Socrates and Plato before them. In order to figure out this existential crisis that is human behavior, Google took a page out of a science fiction novel. To make their search algorithm better, Google came out with their artificially intelligent brainchild, RankBrain.

giant-robotThe billion-dollar conglomerate announced that their new AI would take over Google’s analysis of long-tail queries. RankBrain is an artificial intelligence algorithm meant to process mass amounts of data automatically without the need for excessive human computation. Right now, it needs little human interference, but eventually Google projects that it will not need any human interference once the brain learns more.

Caution: if you fear robot overlords taking over, this story might not put you at ease.

All joking aside, RankBrain is supposed to usher in a better metric to gage online human behaviors. It has the capability of interpreting complex behaviors into terms simpler for Google’s algorithms.

What Does RankBrain Do?

Google’s RankBrain aims to do it all. It aims to translate complex human languages and behaviors into a language that is easier for Google’s algorithm to process. It aims to make the query analysis process better and more efficient.

How Does RankBrain Work?

First, it needed to learn how to understand different languages. 6,500 languages are spoken throughout the world. Instead of teaching RankBrain to learn all the languages, Google took existing language-deciphering software from other sources and made the technology available to RankBrain. Using this technology, its next step was interpreting how humans typically put those words together.

RankBrain is able to process complicated keyword combinations to better understand how people surf and search online. This much we know.

robot-brainTo illustrate this better, take into consideration a commonly searched term. Typing in the word “Facebook” is going to pull up the link for the social media site on the first page of the SERPs. It is a branded term without much competition, so it is not complicated for Google’s algorithms to understand.

RankBrain can handle those terms without a problem. The real power behind the update is its ability to understand the relationship between words with multiple meanings.

Take the keyword, “fossil”. There are two predominant meanings to this term. A fossil could mean a prehistoric bone or imprint. While the branded term Fossil, the fashion line, might refer to people who are looking for watches or handbags. Normal algorithms understand keywords, but RankBrain apparently has the ability to differentiate the terms. How? RankBrain can learn. It does it without constant human intervention to help it understand like traditional Google methods.

To be fair, how RankBrain exactly discerns differences between keywords is still a mystery that is locked up with the rest of Google’s trade secrets. The Phoenix SEO firm has spent years trying to unravel the secrets of Google’s algorithm. In fact, Google has been known to purposely use fillers to mess with SEOs trying to figure out the algorithm. Having said that, it is not likely that we will get concrete answers from Google about RankBrain’s core technologies.

What Do We Know About It?

First, we know it can learn. Like a good wine, the artificial intelligence of RankBrain will take in user behaviors and improve the user experience over time. How well it works on the learning front will remain to be seen.

We also know that it runs offline. It has been fed old historical queries to learn from repeated behavior. A machine with artificial intelligence that runs offline – that doesn’t sound like a horror movie or anything.

What are the Effects of RankBrain?

With the final hurrah of Google’s PageRank on the books, SEOs and others in the community should know that old “tricks” cannot be taught to this dog. RankBrain is smarter than that. Before, it would be easy to trick Google’s algorithm into thinking your page had more importance than perhaps it truly did through less than desirable practices.

mouseLinks were what mattered most to the old PageRank system. The more links to your page, the more it was thought that your page was important by PageRank’s scale. What did that lead to? A whole new industry filled with spammers. Individuals and companies started using bots to create accounts on pages or drop links all over the internet. Google has confirmed that RankBrain will have cutting edge anti-spamming technology. Of course, links will still be an important signal, but Google will be able to weed out spamming links better.

It has become clear that the click-through-rate (CTR) is more important than ever. The more that RankBrain progresses, the harder it will be for sites to get on the first page of the SERPs. While a good CTR is relative, it is probably best to aim for a 32% or higher, especially for branded terms. It is likely that RankBrain will ignore the queries with low CTR in future updates.

CTR will become crucial, so you will want to boost that rate for struggling sites. Solid use of keywords and links will boost CTR, but they must be solid. RankBrain will not eliminate the need to study and perfect the multitude of user behavior signals that get sent to Google (location of search inquiry, day of the week, etc.), but they will likely judge the quality of your signals. That means having better backlinks, keywords, and attractive content.

SEO Strategies

We have already established that RankBrain will eventually alter the SEO game further. Does that mean that absolutely nothing can be done about RankBrain’s power? Will RankBrain become the robot overlord of the SEO business? Chances are, RankBrain will not take over the world – yet. Google talks about using more than 200 signals to process user behavior, and RankBrain is only the third most important signal, most likely behind links and keyword usage.

RankBrain still needs some human interference in order to run smoothly and understand complex long-tail queries, which is what it primarily handles now. That being said, there are some solid ways to handle the changing format.

content-is-the-keyThe key concept to take away is that RankBrain is strong and will only get stronger over time. In order to outsmart RankBrain, you will need to eye-catching content. The average surfer glosses over and ignores boring content. RankBrain is no different. Remember, RankBrain has artificial intelligence. You will need to have better quality to pique the interest of your users which in turn piques RankBrain’s interest.

How do you achieve this? Tap into people’s emotions. You do not have to go off the deep end and post ridiculous content just for attention. If you use content writers who write content that is relatable to your average user base, then your site will likely survive RankBrain updates. In fact, your site will likely survive any Google algorithm update. Your bread and butter should be the content. Keywords and backlinks need to be used in conjunction in order to boost CTR and ranking, but it will not do as much without the quality content as a foundation.

RankBrain will account for things like bounce rate or time a user was on a site. These behaviors signal to Google that your page is more interesting and therefore worthy of a higher rank. Keep that in mind when developing content or using backlinks. RankBrain also analyzes the task completion rates of your users. The more you encourage your users to fully complete tasks, the better your chances of ranking on the SERPs are.

One thing to consider, especially if you are building a brand, is advertisements. Google Ads on the SERPs page can get costly, but Facebook is not. Facebook charges less for ads and is a great way to reach your core demographics.

What’s next?

RankBrain has been around for several months. Do we know its full impact on SEO? Unless Google is willing to unlock the Chocolate Factory for a day, it is unlikely that we’ll know everything there is to know about it.

We here at Internet Marketing Team are personally and professionally interested in its progress.

One thing is for certain – RankBrain is changing the game and we are strapped in to see this ride through.

Scroll to Top