What Google’s New RankBrain Algorithm Means for Your Business

Google rankbrain

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As many of us have noticed now that we are past the point in time that Marty McFly traveled to in Back to the Future, and the future is now. Many things that were once considered farfetched science fiction have become a reality. From smartphones to self-driving automobiles, Google is always unveiling some hot new technology that will change the way we live.

Their next big invention is nothing short of amazing, and it’s going to change the face of search engine results. Google has developed cutting-edge artificial intelligence that affects a great portion of Google search queries. Dubbed “Rankbrain,” this artificial intelligence has already been used to intelligently return the results of search queries using a method that the world has never seen before. But before you get too excited, you should know that this algorithm is not a complete replacement to the existing Google search algorithm. Instead, it is a component feature much like the past Penguin and Panda updates. It has become a sort of ranking signal (more on this claim later) that is used in the process of accepting user queries as input and making intelligent guesses as to the content that people are really searching for.

In the past, the Google algorithm lacked this feature. Though the Google algorithm is highly advanced and has ranking signals to locate the most pertinent content, there are still a lot of keywords that people use to locate content for which few relevant websites try to compete for. These lower competition keywords can produce lackluster results, and the goal is to help the user find their information despite the cryptic keywords that they use in their queries.

It is Rankbrain’s purpose to fill in the blanks and read between the lines. Users don’t always type in the most relevant keywords when they are searching for content, and this new addition to the algorithm finds related information that the user could be searching for.

For example, let’s pretend that a user was searching on the Internet for “coconut oil.” In the recent past, the algorithm would have likely returned indexed entries that more or less showed pages with exact matches for this term. However, as the algorithm has increased in sophistication and complexity over the last few years, it has become much better at finding more relevant content. With the addition of Rankbrain, the search results might include pages of related information that match connected ideas such as “healthy fats,” “heart health,” or “omega-3 fatty acids.”

How Rankbrain Works with the Existing Algorithm

There seems to be some confusion online about exactly how Rankbrain integrates with the existing algorithm. Some people see it as a ranking signal, but this could be the wrong way to think about it for one reason. In the past, whenever a new update to the algorithm came people have found illegitimate ways to “game” the search engine. Even with legitimate practices, there are certain and measureable actions SEO professionals can take that have been proven to increase a site’s rankings. For example, keyword use and the number of back-links a site has are quantifiable and proven strategies to climb in the SERP’s.

But this raises an important question. Is there anything business owners can do to increase a website’s rankings by boosting the ranking signals for Rankbrain? Beyond the obvious create great content, not really. This is why I am hesitant to call it a true ranking signal such as bounce rate, exact match domains, and so on. Instead, it seems to simply be logic within the existing Google algorithm that intelligently and dynamically alters search results based on user queries. Rankbrain is really quite adaptive, and it has the synthetic ability to “learn” and adjust to new circumstances on its own without the need of a Google engineer to recode the algorithm.

algorithmIt has the ability to learn by translating a lot of complex statistics based on word use and website metrics into quantifiable variables. These mathematical variables are called vectors, and by comparing different vectors the algorithm can determine the meaning of queries and phrases that haven’t ever been made before. Though you may have thought that by now every keyword combination has been made, there are always new ideas, technologies, super stars, and other topical items emerging that create brand spanking new keywords. The ability to handle these new keywords dynamically, make an intelligent guess at what the user is looking for, and return relevant content is unprecedented.

But whether the Rankbrain algorithm is a true ranking signal or a background component process of the Google search algorithm as a whole, we do know this much: the algorithm only handles some fraction of queries. It doesn’t seem that it only is involved with queries for which there are few if any keywords that have been seen before, but to what degree it affects other queries is still uncertain. We only know that it has affected a great number of search queries, which doesn’t shed too much light on the impact this update is having.

In Summary

Though Rankbrain is a form of advanced artificial intelligence, it’s not the kind of AI you might expect after watching The Matrix. Instead it seems to be a way for users to locate pages that didn’t contain phrases and keywords that matched their query exactly, even though this information is still what they were looking for. But of the 3 billion and some-odd searches that are performed in the Google engine every day, we have no idea how many are impacted by the Rankbrain logic. Although this is fairly typical of Google; they love to keep us in the dark to ensure people don’t manipulate their websites to bolster rankings and to protect their intellectual property. Google has stated that approximately 15% of the queries they receive haven’t been seen before, but we can only guess if the number of affected queries is larger or smaller than that percentage.

One Response

  1. Great post Will! Do you think that RankBrain will one day start processing regular queries as well, becoming the dominant factor for Google search engine? If so, what kind of a long-term impact can we expect?

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