08 Jun 2016

Rank Brain – Google’s 3rd Most Important Ranking Signal

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Google uses as many as 10,000 signals and sub-signals to determine the rankings of web pages in its search results. Don’t believe me? According to Matt Cutts himself, Google has more than 200 ranking signals and many of them have over 50 variations within a single factor. So, if you take 200 signals and multiply by 50, you’ll get the number which I mentioned at the very start.

While you may have heard and known about the 200 signals that Google uses to rank its search results, do you know what RankBrain is all about?

On October 26, 2015, Google announced a new ranking signal called RankBrain. But it isn’t just any RankBrainranking signal. It’s the 3rd most important! Google’s hand-crafted search algorithm got a major overhaul when RankBrain was released. This new ranking signal has simply changed the way Google ranks 30 trillion web pages. Though RankBrain hasn’t replaced the current Google algorithm called Hummingbird, it’s certainly a pretty important signal Google uses.

What is RankBrain?
It’s an artificial intelligence system that Google has developed to evaluate web pages for relevance and rank them using a machine learning technology. So, this system is based on computer programs that can teach themselves how to rank search results, without manual assistance.

“RankBrain is one of the “hundreds” of signals that go into an algorithm that determines what results appear on a Google search page and where they are ranked,” said Corrado, a senior research scientist at Google. “In the few months it has been deployed, RankBrain has become the third-most important signal contributing to the result of a search query,” he said.

Definitely, RankBrain is the 3rd most important signal that Google is already using to rank pages in its search results. By creating this signal, Google is able to filter out those web pages that don’t provide high quality content and aren’t relevant to the search term being queried.

What RankBrain Isn’t
Since RankBrain is fairly new, people have a lot of misconceptions about it. When you want to have a crystal-clear understanding of what RankBrain really is, it’s helpful to know what it isn’t.

Don’t think of RankBrain as a new version of the Google Knowledge Graph. Though Knowledge Graph is also an AI program, it’s not associated with RankBrain by any means. RankBrain is a stand-alone technology.

Also RankBrain isn’t a search algorithmic update. So, you shouldn’t look at it they way you look at Panda or Penguin. RankBrain is an important ranking signal which functions in conjunction with Hummingbird, which is Google’s current algorithm, to provide better and more meaningful results.

RankBrain isn’t a robot either, as many would believe. Though it’s an artificial intelligence (AI) system, it isn’t conscious. The system is based on a series of mathematical equations that have the capability of learning and improving by themselves, without any human help.

How Does RankBrain Work?
What RankBrain actually does is that it embeds vast amounts of written language into mathematical entities and then creates a format that a computer can easily understand. And when RankBrain comes across a word or a group of words that it doesn’t know, it will use that information to guess those words or group of words that might be similar in meaning and deliver results accordingly. That’s how RankBrain deals with search queries it hasn’t seen before.

For example, searching for “Trump” brings back pages and information that matches “Donald Trump”, a popular presedential candidate for US election 2016. Previously, Google might return you results which contained only the exact word “Trump”. But the RankBrain technology has changed it. Likewise, if you search for “Barack”, you might see pages that talk about “Barack Obama”, “US President”, “Michelle Obama’s husband” etc.

RankBrain has gone through rigorous testing and it’s successfully living up to the expectations. Search engineers at Google were asked to manually scan some pages and guess which ones they thought Google’s search engine technology would rank at the top of search results. It’s interesting to note that the humans guessed correctly 70%  percent of time but RankBrain guessed correctly 80% of the time.

Though Google hasn’t specified a percentage yet, it has certainly stated that a ‘very large fraction’ of queries are being handled by RankBrain.

What’s the Purpose?
New search queries are rapidly increasing. According to Google, brand new queries make up to 15% of all searches every day. Since the total of number of searches that Google deals with each day is 3 billion, the brand new queries count stands at 450 million each day.

RankBrain is specially built to handle situations like these.

This technology uses mathematical calculations to understand ambiguous or unique words or phrases that have never been searched on Google before. As the demands of the modern-day users increase, machine learning technology is something that’s urgently needed. RankBrain doesn’t only deal with search queries in an effective way, but it’s also helping Google engineers understand search queries better.

Though RankBrain is currently being used to deal with only complex long-tail search queries, it’s future potential can never be underestimated.

How RankBrain Affects SEO
The machine learning technology that RankBrain is definitely impacts SEO. What it will do best is to put an end to spam and black-hat SEO tactics. Now that the RankBrain ranking signal is fully functional, you can expect a ranking boost for all those sites that are laser focused on its topics.

While you keep your site’s topics laser focused, it’s also important to take the technical part of SEO into consideration. If you plan to benefit from RankBrain (rather than losing out to it), you should pay serious attention to site speed, microdata and SSL. At the same time, you should focus your effort more on doing those things that never die regardless of the changes in SEO over time.

Important tips include:

> Delve deep into topics, and write comprehensively
> Answer more of the questions that your customers are asking
> Answer even those questions that haven’t been asked yet
> Try to become an authority on a topic or niche
> Create evergreen content

You may already be aware of these strategies, but after RankBrain you need to put them into action. If you want to build a solid SEO foundation while also making RankBrain work in your favor, focusing on these strategies is a must.

Since RankBrain is an AI system, it will constantly change and continue to evolve. While you may not be able to notice the changes, they have a significant impact on how search results are displayed. Going ahead, RankBrain may be the thing that will dictate the development of entire search algorithm. Therefore, it’s essential that you keep a close watch on this important ranking signal, understand it more and be ready to adapt yourself to the upcoming SEO changes.

Does RankBrain Affect Paid Search Too?
If RankBrain is already impacting SEO in a significant way, it’s most likely that it’s also affecting paid search. The main goal of Google is to provide users with most relevant and meaningful search results. If organic search results are becoming better and more accurate, ads served based on the search queries should become more targeted also. According to SEO experts, RankBrain can never ignore paid search if it’s affecting 15% of 100 billion Google searches on a daily basis.

Whether you’re an SEO expert yourself or an online business owner, you can never ignore RankBrain and what it holds in its palm for the future. You really need to gain a better understanding of this artificial intelligence system and make appropriate changes to your current SEO strategy to keep yourself safe and growing. However, don’t make any radical changes to your SEO. Watch your site’s rankings closely and improve your strategy bit by bit while avoiding the use of any kind of spammy or black-hat SEO tactics. RankBrain will only get better over time and it’s speculated that Google will apply this technology to its other parts of business as well.

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