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RankBrain, Google’s third most important ranking factor

By Alexandra Gavril - November 9, 2015

Google recently announced that they were adding another layer to their already complicated ranking algorithm. It’s called RankBrain and it’s a new artificial intelligence that processes a “very large fraction” of searches each day. This new system, first reported by Bloomberg, has been implemented to help Google better understand the huge amount of queries that they receive each day and to provide the most relevant results to users.

Here’s what we know so far about RankBrain, how it works, why it’s important and how it may affect your business.

What is it?

RankBrain is Google’s machine-learning artificial intelligence system that’s used to process and refine its search results. But it’s not another Google algorithm that’s replacing the current one, nicknamed Hummingbird. It works in conjunction with it. Hummingbird aims to match a query with content on the web while RankBrain intelligently extracts the meaning from a query so Google’s search algorithms can then deliver optimal results.

So RankBrain is actually one of the hundreds of signals that go into Google’s current algorithm. These signals determine what results show up in Google’s search results page and where they are ranked. RankBrain is not just another one of these signals but the third most important signal in matching results to a search query.

Why is it important?

About 15% of Google’s three billion daily searches have never been seen before. Some are simple and short like “running shoes” while others are specific, niche, long-tail, multi-word phrases. The point is that there are far too many to be analysed manually.

That’s where RankBrain comes in. It intelligently interprets the vast number of new queries, and translates them to other related queries to bring the best pages to the searcher – and can do it as naturally as a human could.

How? The system can see patterns between complex searches and tries to understand how they’re similar to each other. This learning also helps it understand future complex searches. And what’s more interesting is that it can then associate these groups of searches with results that it believes searchers will find most useful.

What does RankBrain mean for your small business site?

When a search query is analysed, RankBrain asks: “What was the intent of this search?”

While Humminbird first raised the question of the role of keywords in SEO, RankBrain reinforces the idea that exact-match keywords are losing importance in proper SEO. Sure, it’s still important to optimise content using keywords and phrases that users search for. However, it’s more important to have content and keywords that satisfy the phrases users are truly seeking, and not the exact they’re searching on Google.

That’s what RankBrain is looking to achieve – to understand what users mean by their specific search query and help Google find and deliver satisfying results. As you know, search algorithms are getting more accurate and more human. This rewards sites that are optimised using correct SEO techniques that go beyond link building.

Think about it. Informative, useful and interesting content is what people are searching for, and it’s what Google RankBrain is striving to deliver. If you keep on improving your SEO with great content, you’ll be in good shape as the machines begin taking over our searches.

What are artificial intelligence and machine learning?

The goal of artificial intelligence (AI) is to mimic human cognitive functioning to solve problems. AI can perform many tasks that, until recently, required human intervention to complete, such as speech recognition or translation. The interesting part is that AI systems need to learn constantly in order to deliver the best results. So the more data an AI handles, the more it learns and the more effectively it can approach and solve new problems in the future.

When it comes to RankBrain, when it is presented with an unfamiliar word or query, the system will try to guess what the query was about and filter accordingly. So using AI helps Google to process and handle the increasing volume of search traffic and also to deliver users the information they’re searching for, only faster.

With the help of RankBrain, search results are bound to become more accurate as the technology develops and handles greater volumes of queries.

Further reading

All about the new Google RankBrain algorithm

Learning the meaning behind words

Wrapping up

After a major update or algorithm change where Google tries to find new ways to answer questions like a human, site owners often think that “SEO is dead”. Wrong!

Quality content, usability, fast loading pages and links are still important factors in your site’s SEO. What’s improving is Google’s understanding and ranking of your content.  So if there’s one thing you need to keep focusing on is creating high-quality content because the better your content, the better your SEO.