Big news, everyone! We are entering a brave new world in SEO!
For years, Google’s algorithm updates have dominated the world of search engine optimization. Every time marketers would feel like they’ve got an algorithm figured out, a new update would roll out, forcing them to audit their websites and make a number of changes to prevent a dangerous drop in ranking.
But, Google recently announced that they are adding yet another layer to their already complicated ranking algorithm. Only that, this time they are focusing on artificial intelligence to rank all of their search results. They are calling this update RankBrain.
During the past month, Google’s RankBrain has been the focus of discussion for many marketers, search engine experts and content writers. But, what exactly is RankBrain? How does it work? And, most importantly, will it change SEO practices in any way?
Let’s find out!
What is Google RankBrain?
Humans are incredible pattern-recognition machines. They have the ability to recognize many different types of patterns, and to transform these abstract motifs into something concrete. Due to this ability, the folks at Google were able to see that factors like keywords, backlinks, meta titles and meta descriptions are great for ranking websites and delivering relevant search results.
The problem is that recognizing such patterns requires tremendous data from which to learn, and humans use machines to gather the information they need.
Contrariwise, machines are great for gathering data, but they are not very good at recognizing patterns. So, humans and computers need to work together to perform the complex process of collecting and analyzing data.
Now, imagine a world where machines can learn something from the data they collect, see patterns and understand what they mean.
This is RankBrain, Google’s first machine learning artificial intelligence.
RankBrain is an artificial intelligence system designed to help Google deliver its search results. The system operates by teaching itself how to interpret what the user is searching for in order to find and deliver the most relevant and valuable result. In short, if RankBrain sees a word or phrase it isn’t familiar with, the system will make an educated guess as to what other words or phrases might have a similar meaning, and filter results correspondingly.
Take the word “penguin”, for example. A few years ago, Google would have looked for pages matching the same search phrase. Nowadays, the search engine understands that “penguin” can mean more than the aquatic, flightless birds living in the Southern Hemisphere. As a result, when you search for the term “penguin”, you might also get pages that match keywords like “Google update” or ”SEO.”
In other words, Google and other search engines are becoming better at recognizing connections between words. Now, they are taking this knowledge one step further by introducing a machine-learning system.
Although this system is new to most SEO experts, internet marketers and content writers, according to Google, RankBrain has been live since the beginning of the year and has been fully rolled-out for several months now. As it is used more and more frequently, the AI will continue to learn, and it will become better at making predictions.
In fact, according to one report, RankBrain is already getting better at predicting a page’s rank than humans. In one experiment, search optimization engineers were asked to evaluate different pages and predict which would rank number one. Humans guessed 70% of the time correctly while RankBrain guessed 80% of the time correctly.
Wait a Minute, Are Machines Going to Take Over the World?
Uhm, yes and no. Firstly, Google’s AI is not sentient. Saying that RankBrain can “learn” doesn’t mean that you can sit down with the AI, teach it the basic rules of physics and expect it to determine the velocity of a moving car. Instead, RankBrain has access to tremendous search data and uses this information to make educated predictions about future searches.
Although we’d like to think that a company that is worth hundreds of billions of dollars can create intelligent machines, Google’s AI is not some sort of HALL 9000 or SkyNet, and will not soon rule the world. The truth is that engineers still have to do a lot of manual processes and code the search algorithms ad labam.
So, while Google might not have invented a real Wall-E, they have been struggling to deliver better, more relevant results to web users. For Google, RankBrain means that engineers won’t need to update an algorithm manually to keep up with changes and ensure relevance.
Nowadays, Google still relies on manual updates and uses an army of engineers to make sure that searchers are getting quality relevant results. Taking the human out of the equation might mean that search engines will get better at making predictions. It can also mean that SEO as you know it might change.
Okay, But How Does Google RankBrain Work?
Google didn’t give too many details, but it is believed that RankBrain is used to analyze searches and to match them with pages that may not feature the exact keyword that the users typed. This is not a new technology, and Google focused before on systems that allowed the search engine to deliver pages that didn’t use the exact keyword entered. This way, people searching for “Italian food” would also see pages that targeted the keyword “pasta.”
Why is this important, you might ask? Well, every day, Google receives over 3 billion searches. According to the company, 15% of those search terms are completely new and have never seen before. In other words, users enter about 450 million search terms that are unfamiliar to Google. RankBrain might be a way to interpret and categorize these queries to deliver better results for Internet users everywhere.
Thanks to RankBrain, Google is now able to read complex sentences, instead of just looking at keywords. The system lets Google create connections between words in a more advanced and educated way than Latent Semantic Indexing (LSI). For example, in the past, Google might have interpreted a search query like, “Whoever thought this is a great album is an idiot”, as a positive review because of the key phrase “great album.”
Thanks to RankBrain, Google will be able to look at the context and interpret the search query accordingly. That means that it will be harder to manipulate content to rank high for competitive keywords without understanding the relationship that RankBran is creating between search terms and context.
Is It True That RankBrain Is the Third Most Important Signal?
Signals are factors used by Google to determine the rank of a given page. For example, the search giant looks at content to determine what pages to show in search results, so words are a signal. If some words are in bold, Google sees this as another factor. Load speed, keywords, and local listings are also signals that ultimately help Google figure out which pages to show in response to various searches.
According to Google, there are over 200 major ranking signals. Many marketers, SEO experts, and content writers believe that these 200 signals might have up to 10,000 variations or sub-signals. Yes, things seem overly complicated in Google Land, but that’s the only way user can get relevant search results.
Google won’t tell us what the first and second most important signals are, but they admit that RankBrain is the third most important signal. This is huge, and it can have a big impact on content writers everywhere.
Will Google RankBrain Impact SEO? How?
Honestly, RankBrain isn’t quite yet changing the world of SEO. This is merely an algorithm update used to determine the best results for various searches. Marketers should still be focusing on well-designed pages that are mobile-friendly, load quickly and offer great user experience. Content is still king, so content writers should be focusing on creating exceptional, value-added articles. As for SEO best practices, they are still in place for now.
RankBrain, however, is a huge step for Google. An AI that learns and updates itself automatically will ultimately mean fewer updates that make a marketer’s job extremely difficult. More than that, in a machine learning world, Google engineers would not have the same impact and authority they have today.
However, this doesn’t mean things will stay the same. In the future, this machine learning system will make the algorithm sharper, and will begin to reward those who are doing SEO the right way.
Not to mention that, since RankBrain is the third most important signal, it will definitely have an impact on SEO and ranking. Google’s artificial intelligence will probably help SEO by forcing more relevant search factors. For example, RankBrain might help a local business that may not have ranked too, tell in some local results before to earn a place in top results.
How Do You Prep Your Content for All These Changes?
For content writers, Google’s machine learning system may turn into a great asset if content is designed properly. However, for now, we don’t know for sure what RankBrain will do and how it will affect search results.
Google RankBrain deals primarily with complex long-tail keywords, and will help translate ambiguous queries, such as “that warm liquid that you drink when you have a cold” into more relevant terms. Other than that, your traditional SEO best practices will remain the same.
But, like any other new Google feature, RankBrian will continue to evolve over time. Depending on how efficient the machine is at interpreting and learning new data, it could change the future development of Google’s algorithm altogether. For now, though, it’s best not to make any radical changes to your strategy (unless you are using some old, spammy techniques).
As we learn more about Google Rankbrain, we will keep you posted on any new developments. For now, keep the same strategy in place: create high quality content, post frequently, and write content that both, people and search engines will love.
What are your thoughts on Google’s machine learning system? Do you think RankBrian will have a big impact on SEO? I’d love to hear your thoughts.