RankBrain Uncovered – Getting into Google’s ‘Brain’

Recently Search Engine Land reported that Google now uses RankBrain for every search now carried out in the search engine, contrasting with a mere 15% last year.

OK so it’s in use in the wild, great, so what?  Well the fact that it’s been suggested as the 3rd most useful search signal is very telling in that we shouldn’t ignore it from an SEO standpoint.

We need to understand it, get into Google’s ‘Brain’ to ensure ongoing search strategies remain effective. However, whilst its important from an algorithm standpoint there’s very little information about how it actually works.

Even staff at Google have said they don’t fully understand how it works!

What is clear though from an SEO standpoint, if you have been following best practice approaches then your site should already be effectively setup for RankBrain.

In simplistic terms RankBrain essentially tries to better understand the search query in order to return the most relevant results for that search alongside all the other variables and signals assessed for ranking.

With that in mind there are a couple of key SEO considerations that you still need to ensure are in place to make the most of Google’s latest technology:

  • Continue creating quality relevant user centric content
  • Focus on keyword portfolios rather than singular keywords – content themes are far more effective than a narrow single keyword view
  • Implement schema and structured data to support semantic search

Google Search

So what exactly is RankBrain?

No-one really knows, this is a part of the issue with taking specific action.  Googlers aren’t saying much, there hasn’t been any real information released from Google itself aside from some comments in an article by Danny Sullivan: FAQ: All about the Google RankBrain algorithm.

What we do know is that it is an AI program that is utilised to help Google process search queries.  It allows Google to understand words and phrases it may not be familiar with to better handle the large volume of search queries that have never been seen before (an estimated 15%-20% of all queries).

It enables connections to be made between similar queries and take into account various aspects such as locale to return more relevant results.

The examples that are reference in multiple instances are:

“how many tablespoons in a cup” because these measurements differ in different countries, the results you see for the same query in different countries might vary to account for this.

It’s also been suggested that RankBrain is the reason we will see results that don’t even mention the specific keywords that have been searched for – it understands the relationship between your search and the resulting content better so whilst the site isn’t specifically optimised to your query its semantically relevant and deemed to be highly relevant for the user.

Whilst the algorithm already had powers to understand synonyms and fuel semantically relevant results with the knowledge graph, the big difference now is that there is less reliance on the engineers input to improve the effectiveness of the algorithm.  There are still batch updates made to the algorithm as RankBrain is fed historic data ‘offline’ and when proven as good released in batches into the live environment.

Google Search Query RankBrain Example

What does it mean for my SEO strategy?

The good news, as mentioned above, is that realistically it shouldn’t mean an awful lot needs to change, if you are producing quality relevant content for your audience and not focussing too much on singular keywords then you are already in a strong position for the algorithm to fully understand your site and aid its ranking of your content.

What it may mean is that you may start to see an increase in the number of keywords your site is gaining impressions and clicks from, as RankBrain learns and interprets more your site may be seen as more relevant for a broader range of non-specifically targeted keywords.

It is worth noting however that these additional keywords will still likely be related to your overall keyword portfolio theme, so it’s important to focus on themes during your keywords research rather than focussing on a single keyword per area or topic.

Ensuring your site is setup to help search engines understand the semantic nature of your content will also help the algorithm further understand you site, you can do this by implementing schema and structured mark-up on relevant information

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