Last year, Google introduced the public to its refined algorithm that utilizes RankBrain. It had already been in use for several months by the time of Google’s announcement. In that short amount of time, while changes had not been recognized yet by the industry, it had already become an important factor in page ranking. It is expected that Google will soon make another announcement stating that RankBrain is now the primary ranking factor in the Google search algorithm. What remains to be seen is what that means for the optimization of websites for search engine rankings.
Google uses many factors, roughly 200 in fact, to determine page rankings and keyword matches. RankBrain is one of those search signals. It is an advanced machine, or artificial intelligence, that learns from user input data, queries, trends and other inputs. What it learns is then put into the search algorithm. It makes the algorithm more intuitive when it comes to finding relevant pages for a searcher’s query. It is specialized in improving the results for uncommon queries, searches that use several highly specific words and those that may not have exact word matches. It gives Google the ability to “read” sentences and infer meaning from them, instead of just focusing on keywords.
Out of the many search signals that Google uses, some are weighted more heavily when determining ranking. SEOs use search signals, especially those that are more favored by the algorithm, to optimize websites for higher rankings. Google will not specifically indicate how the most important signals are rated. Click-through rates, keywords, user experience and links have traditionally been the most important factors in ranking.
When RankBrain was announced in October 2015, Google’s senior research scientist, Greg Corrado noted that the artificial intelligence was already one of Google’s top search signals. In fact, it was the third-most important signal at the time of the announcement, affecting 15% of all searches. While 15% may not seem like a very dramatic number, it is in the world of SEO, where the next biggest change has only affected about 7% of queries. The impact is so great that it is believed that if it were to suddenly turn off, it would have noticeable damaging effects.
It is expected that Google will soon announce that RankBrain is the most impactful search signal in Google’s algorithm. This means that, where links used to dominate the SEO, it will now be an advanced machine. It will be pervasive, but there are advantages to its presence, because the AI can connect ambiguous or more natural language queries with relevant search results. When there is any change to SEO algorithms, there can be significant setbacks for companies trying to adjust to them. And the natural conclusion to come to is that when one signal becomes more important, other search signals, like links, become less important, relatively speaking. This will probably not be as much of the case with RankBrain, because it uses input factors, such as keywords and links, to function and learn more about users and then uses that information to find relevant content.
The question then becomes, what do those in the business of website optimization need to do in order to keep up with Google’s change? The good news is that rankings have remained fairly steady since the inception of RankBrain. The stability of it has a lot to do with the fact that it uses many of the search signals already used in Google’s existing algorithm. The working theory is that those signals will continue to be used in the future and some, like link metrics, will become even more important factors as the algorithm becomes more dependent on artificial intelligence.
While RankBrain has not caused much variance in rankings so far, there are strategies that experts believe will help you boost and maintain your ranking. The great thing about Google’s AI is that it learns how to correlate previously unknown or never before tried searches with relevant pages, it then integrates that knowledge into the system for future use. The absolute best thing you can put on your website is thoughtful and high quality content. Strive to create a useful website that is relevant to what your customers want and need. Make it comprehensive and visually appealing. The new algorithm is intended to understand natural language more easily so that it should do a better job connecting users to relevant content.
Ultimately, RankBrain may become a game changer when it comes to search engine algorithms. It creates a more intuitive and user-friendly ranking system that learns from searches and users. And while it has been successful with minimal damaging impacts so far, its long-term effects have yet to be seen.