What is RankBrain and How Does it Affect Websites?

February 6, 2017
By Zack Poelwijk
Magnifying Glass Search Box Empty Blank Internet Screen Answers

RankBrain is a method Google introduced in late 2015 to use artificial intelligence to understand more about the queries it receives. There are many ways to interpret some pretty basic search queries. For instance, consider the search term “custom stationary.” If the user enters in “custom stationary” in the Google search bar, are they searching for a brand of custom stationary, a place nearby to purchase custom stationary, how to create their own custom stationary, a place to print custom stationary? Are they looking for a photo? Or news?

RankBrain uses artificial intelligence to analyze search queries, particularly ones it has never seen before or doesn’t understand. The program guesses what words or phrases might have a similar meaning and filters the result accordingly. RankBrain is now using more than 200 different ranking factors which make up the ranking algorithm. Of course, Google does not disclose exactly what those are. RankBrain is now such a big part of Google’s search that figuring out how it works is important, even if you can never be sure. I’ve seen lots of sites online saying that “RankBrain is now confirmed to be the third most important factor in the ranking algorithm,” even though I can’t find the original Google announcement confirming this.

What is RankBrain and How Does it Affect Websites?

Back to the “custom stationary” search…what RankBrain is trying to do is provide content that it thinks users want. That’s what you should do too. The key seems to be that RankBrain is not taking search keywords literally. If it “thinks” a user is searching for a brand of custom stationary, it is going to provide those results over a place to buy custom stationary.

In the past, SEO advice has been to create content based on one keyword, or maybe two, per page. And create many pages to add on all of your possible keywords. That’s why blogging was, and generally is, so successful. But the fact that RankBrain is now no longer taking keywords literally means that your exact search phrase you have on your website may be less important than the overall content and the rest of the technical issues on the page: images and their attributes, page load time, backlinks, etc.

What’s the take-away about RankBrain?

Create pages and content that are focused on one main keyword phrase and the phrases related to that keyword. For instance, you may be a stationary store that designes custom stationary. So you may decide to create several blog posts that cover ALL of those possible interpretations of custom stationary. RankBrain will (hopefully) interpret this as meaning that your site is the authority on all things custom stationary. Yes, it might be a lot of work. but RankBrain is not going to go away and will, no doubt, become more intelligent all the time. RankBrain and Google is focused on the relevance to the end user, and you should be too.

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