The Plain English Guide To Google's RankBrain

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Jill Caren
Jill Caren


Have you ever done some obscure search on Google, and been amazed when the search engine still returned such accurate results? 

optimizing website for google's rankbrain algorithm

You can thank RankBrain for that.

RankBrain went live in 2015 and is now an essential part of the Google algorithm.

This article will help break down what you should know about it, and how you can optimize for it.


What Is Google RankBrain?

RankBrain is a part of Google's algorithm that uses machine-learning and artificial intelligence to better understand the intent of a search query. This understanding can help return the most relevant search results to users.

It was implemented into the core algorithm back in 2015 and was initially only applied to the 15% of never before seen queries it received. Once Google became more confident in it, they made it a part of every search query.

Let's explore how machine learning and AI contribute to RankBrain.

Artificial Intelligence

Artificial Intelligence helps computers understand and act like a human when they are given tasks like decision-making, language translation, and visual perception.

Google has also stated they use what is called neural matching, which is an AI-based system that helps understand how words relate to concepts.

Although RankBrain and neural matching may differ, they do work together to bring the best results for a search query.

Machine Learning

Machine learning is essentially the ability for a machine to learn on its own from data it receives.

If you currently use a junk mail filter in your mailbox or have movie recommendations appear in your Netflix account, these are examples of machine learning.

The combination of AI and machine learning are what drives RankBrain to be an effective part of the algorithm.

As an example, if I were to look for "the scary hotel movie with the maze", I would get results for The Shining.

Even without the results using that exact term on the page, RankBrain can assess the topical relevance and deliver the results I want.

Pretty cool, right?

an example of rankbrain delivering relevant search results for the search term 'the scary hotel movie with the maze' (the shining)

How important is RankBrain?

Given that RankBrain is used in every search that takes place on Google, it's pretty important.

RankBrain is the first attempt at machine learning and will be paving the path for the future of search. By implementing some best practices now, you can ensure that your website is ready for the continued improvements machine learning will bring to search results over time.

At one time Google claimed it was the third-most important ranking factor. While we are not sure that still applies, what we do know is that RankBrain is still a big part of how Google delivers search results.

So what does that mean for you?

It means you need to up your content and SEO game. Let's dive into how to do that, next. 

Optimizing With RankBrain In Mind

You cannot directly optimize for RankBrain.

But what you can do is better optimize your content, which will then improve how RankBrain views your website.

RankBrain is focused on ranking sites that most accurately match a users' query. So your job is to make sure you create content that can match those specific needs.

Below are some ways you can better optimize your content for RankBrain.

1. Use Natural Language

When creating content, you'll want to write in a natural tone that you might also use when speaking.

Read your content aloud when creating it — does it sound like a human would say it? Is it conversational?

This writing style can make a big difference in helping RankBrain understand your content.

2. Search Intent

This is a big one!

Type the keyword you would like to rank for in the search results and review the top-ranking pages.

These pages are ranking because Google understands that this is the type of content a searcher is looking for based on interactions with the results.

3. Strengthen Relevance

Once you are clear on the intent of the keyword, you will need to create content and optimize it to match that intent.

Think of each page more as a "topic" than just a keyword and make it as comprehensive as possible.

In the past, we may have written several posts about a topic so we can optimize each for a specific keyword. But now the goal is to combine those posts into one post, and rank for multiple keywords and phrases.

When you create a post that covers all possible variations of a topic, you will ultimately rank for more keywords — which will help make the page more authoritative.

Below is an example of a website that has thousands of keywords ranking for their two top pages.

example of websites with thousands of keywords ranking for top two pages

How can you create posts that have thousands of keywords?

Be comprehensive about your topic.

If your main topic is "how to potty train a puppy", for instance, you'll want to add content that relates to all aspects of training a puppy. This might include:

  • How long does it take to train a puppy
  • How fast can you train a puppy
  • At what age can I start training a puppy
  • How to potty train a "5" month old puppy (break it down by age)
  • Easiest way to train a puppy

All of these variations of terms and phrases will build a strong piece of content that addresses all issues related to puppy potty training. This in turn will help with RankBrain because you are adding items of topical relevance!

4. Improve Click-through Rate (CTR)

Because RankBrain does look at how many clicks from the search results you get, writing exceptional title tags and meta descriptions is critical.

Using emotions in your title is one of the best ways to increase those clicks. You can also use numbers, brackets, or parentheses to help make your title stand out from the rest.

Look at what paid ads in your niche are using as inspiration, as well as the top ranking pages.

5. Quality Over Quantity

If you have been in SEO as long as I have, you will have to change how you view content and keyword strategy.

The days of writing a post around a singular keyword are gone. In the past you may have written a separate post for the terms "get more sales", "increase your sales", or "grow monthly revenue" so that you could optimize for each of those phrases.

Unfortunately, that no longer works with RankBrain.

Creating one post and maximizing the content around the term "get more sales" should help RankBrain understand that it is related to those other terms.

For instance, below you can see the search results for "get more sales" and "increase your sales". You will notice how close the results are for these terms.

This may not have been the case before RankBrain.

search results for 'get more sales'search results for 'increase more sales'

RankBrain has made it more beneficial to create long-form content that can be optimized around many phrases or terms.

6. Time On Page (Dwell Time)

Once it delivers the search results, how does RankBrain understand which results are good ones?

There is some indication that it will take UX signals and pages that have more engagement, and rank those higher. Measuring a user's time on page and whether any pogo-sticking is happening are two of the factors that are likely used.

Some things to consider to improve these UX signals include:

  • Break-up the text into small paragraphs so it is easy to read
  • Use titles to break content into sections
  • Create an engaging introductory paragraph to get users interested in reading more
  • Use images and videos
  • Answer questions early in the content
  • Create content that answers all the questions a user may have about the topic

This is why it is more important than ever to take time to craft great content that makes users' stay on the page. The longer they stay on your website, the better signals it will send to RankBrain.

7. Improve Old Content

If your website has been around for a while, you may have old content that was optimized before RankBrain.

Additionally, you might have several posts that are topically relevant that might now be better served as one long-form post.

If this is the case, determine which post has the highest traffic, backlinks, and ranking, and make that your primary post. Then merge the content from the other posts into it and do a 301 redirect for those posts to your new "RankBrain-optimized" post.

This is a great opportunity for some quick ranking wins!

RankBrain is definitely a game changer for search. As a content creator or SEO professional, it's important to use the strategies above to help improve your chances of ranking well with RankBrain.

One thing we know for sure is that RankBrain will be here for a while. While it may evolve over time, the combination of AI and machine learning is here to stay. Learn how you can adapt your own content to reap the full benefits of the SERPs. 




Topics: Technical SEO

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