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First unveiled in October 2015, RankBrain caused quite a ruckus among the SEO community. And because Google kept quiet about what RankBrain was, people had to use what little information they could find to figure out how it might impact them.

Having just crossed its  two-year anniversary, let’s take a look at the impact RankBrain has had on the marketing industry.

What is RankBrain?

RankBrain is a machine-learning artificial intelligence system that Google developed to help process the search engine’s results. That means RankBrain can teach itself how to do something and learn to make connections.

Part of the Hummingbird Search Algorithm

RankBrain is not the new way that Google searches and ranks results. Instead, it is another piece of Google’s complex search algorithm, Hummingbird, of which other elements are:

  • Panda: Keeps websites with poor quality content from ranking high in search results
  • Penguin: Prevents websites who attempt to spam search results
  • Payday: Meant to clean search results and rid them of spammed queries
  • Pigeon: Helps provide more relevant, accurate results for local searches
  • Top Heavy: Prevents websites with too many ads from ranking well
  • Mobile Friendly: Positively rewards websites that are mobile optimized
  • Pirate: Prevents sites with infringement reports from ranking high in search results

Working together, these elements create Hummingbird, designed to give users a better search experience with high-quality relevant content.

What RankBrain Does

RankBrain helps better interpret long-tail (multi-word) search queries and find best pages. Think of RankBrain as, well, a brain: It is meant to determine which pages are relevant in a query by learning patterns in complex searches (word relationships). Since it’s a machine-learning AI, it will learn and become better at understanding complex searches over time.

RankBrain’s Marketing Impact

As the third most important ranking factor (behind links and content), RankBrain is not to be ignored. RankBrain is all about association learning, so with time, a large brand can be associated with a particular product (Dawn with dish soap, Bounty with paper towels), potentially leaving smaller brands in the dust. So what should you do?

Continue Producing Quality Content

Content is not only one of the top ranking factors but will also help RankBrain do its job. Let it help you.

When writing your content, you’ll still want to use keywords that search engines will use to understand a piece of content’s topic and determine its relevancy for particular search queries. This means focusing a piece of content on one keyword phrase and using related keyword phrases. Take advantage of Latent Semantic Indexing keywords—These help determine a relationship between terms and concepts—and stemming keywords—natural word variations.

Conduct Keyword Research

We all know keyword research is king in search engine optimization, so how does the RankBrain fit in this? Since RankBrain is about association, you’ll want to include a variety of phrases related to your main keyword. Not only will research help you determine the competitive value of a keyword or keyword phrase, but also provide related keyword phrases that you can include in your content. That means even if a user’s search query didn’t include the exact keyword you had in mind, your content can still show up in a search result.

Optimize Your Website and Pages

Creating unique meta descriptions per page, including the keyword in the URL, and crafting quality headlines help a search engine understand the content of a page and determine its relevancy in searches. Be sure that your website speeds are fast, that your website is mobile optimized and responsive, and that bots can crawl all your pages to read your content. It’s still the same practices as before—but now with more urgency.

Consider Supplementing Your Efforts

Sometimes relying on your extensive SEO efforts to organically rank your website high in search results isn’t always the best option. And since RankBrain may come to associate larger brands with services or products, you need to be more proactive in your efforts. Practices like developing a paid per click (PPC) campaign and using social media channels to support your website could be a big help.

Maintain Internal Links

You’ll want to continue to optimize your links so that “link juice” is passed from one to another properly. Internal links are great for ranking, but they’re even better for user experience. By suggesting additional, related content on your site, you help users take a deep-dive into a topic and keeping them on your website for longer.

Putting It Into Practice

RankBrain is meant to give users a better search experience, especially when they have complex and ambiguous search queries. And since it has been around the block a few times, RankBrain is already better than it was upon its unveiling, continuing to learn and make associations. While you can’t exactly optimize for RankBrain, you can help it determine if your content is relevant for a complex search. You should continue to utilize best SEO practices to help your website rank high in search engines.

While RankBrain is the third most important ranking factor, it is not the only metric that helps rank your page. So keep the other search algorithm filters in mind as you craft your search engine optimization plan that will help your website rank.

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Chris HickmanChris HickmanChris Hickman is the Founder and CEO at Adficient with 15 years of experience in search marketing and conversion optimization. Since 2006, he founded GetBackonGoogle.com, helping businesses and websites suspended in Adwords to Get Back on GoogleView all posts by Chris Hickman