Despite its awful name, Google RankBrain is a key part of the search engine’s ranking algorithm and therefore something that needs to be considered as part of a search engine optimisation strategy. There is limited ‘official’ information about this from Google, but there is a certain amount of known or conjectured detail over the past few years about what RankBrain does, and why it is important.
Following rumours and debate about the way Google was developing its search criteria in 2015, Google confirmed that existence of ‘RankBrain’ in October that year. It is essentially one component of Google’s ranking algorithm which uses AI (artificial intelligence) or machine learning to determine the most relevant results to search engine queries. By ‘learning’ from data inputs, the RankBrain system takes search queries and continually develops and – hopefully – improves the end results shown by applying potential factors like the location of the searcher, personalisation issues, and also the words of the query to determine the searcher’s true intent.
By trying to understand this true intent, Google can then deliver more relevant results. The algorithm has been programmed to look at results and the searcher’s interactions to then calculate and learn over time to match a variety of signals to a variety of results and to order search engine rankings based on these calculations. Google is able to do this from the billions of searches made each day and to use this data to continually improve the quality of results being served.
What this means for SEO is that many of the core factors remain the same – keyword focus, content depth, links etc – but the focus on specific search terms has shifted to look at the broader context of terms and this may best serve the needs, or intent, of the searcher typing in the query into Google. In many cases this will happen by default if the content on the page is written with the end customer in mind, but it may need further tweaking and adjustment to work with Google’s system to get the best ranking results possible.
More importantly, Google is looking for quality of content and the reputation of the page or domain to provide good, reliable results to the searcher. A website may establish a good reputation for fresh content, with a good depth of information and relevancy to a search term, as well as attracting a wide range of inbound links, plus high user engagement once the searcher lands on the page. As with many of the signals in SEO, the issue of user experience is closely linked to the elements that will help a website rank well for a chosen search term.
Google originally indicated that RankBrain was the third most important factor in their ranking algorithm, along with content and links. Over the last few years this may have become a more important element as it continually learns and tries to help the search tool identify the more relevant and reliable content out of the morass of pages they need to assess for every single search term being used. It’s one of the many factors that SEO’s need to consider and work with to achieve the best results possible for their website.