RankBrain is a new algorithm that was released by Google in September 2016. It helps Google rank and categorize certain search queries to produce the same outcome. For example, the searches “recipes for crock pot chili”, “easy crock pot chili”, and “slow cook chili at home” would all lead to the exact same results. As this is very helpful for Google search users, it may affect the outcome for business owners who have used SEO for their websites.
What Is RankBrain?
RankBrain is part of the Hummingbird algorithm that helps Google understand and dissect phrases and queries to generate the best search results. In the example above, the search query ultimately is looking for a crock pot chili recipe, even though it is mentioned in three different ways. However, with the previous algorithm, the three different queries would generate three different search results. RankBrain’s job is to analyze the query and realize that all three are looking for the same answer.
RankBrain is so new that many developers and internet gurus are having trouble understanding its full capabilities. The one thing Google wanted the public to know is that RankBrain is a “machine learning system” that uses artificial intelligence to help process results. It also wanted to let the public know the importance that RankBrain has in Google’s signal system. Most developers believe that links and words are the number one and number two most important signals that Google uses for its algorithm. RankBrain is confirmed to be the third most important signal, which makes it very important for web developers and SEO specialists.
How Does RankBrain Affect Business Owners?
Business owners with websites are affected because the search engine optimization they may have been using in the past may no longer be useful. Traditional SEO always relied on keyword matching, of which there are broad, phrase and exact. Broad match is where the words can be in any order. Phrase match contains all the words, regardless of order. Exact match is where the words are matching and in the same order. RankBrain sees keyword matching as obsolete since it analyzes search results regardless of the order or exactness.
Can a Website be Optimized for RankBrain?
RankBrain works on a signal system where some factors are more important than others. The most important signal a website owner can influence is the website freshness. This is the age of the content. If a Google search produces two potential matches, it always prioritizes the newest and most fresh website. Stale information only hurts a website, and Google will continue to lower its search result.
Another high ranked signal is engagement, which is the measure of how in-depth visitors go on a website. A search result that produces a website with a quick answer for a visitor is considered a low-engagement signal. A search result that leads a visitor to spend more time and more page visits on a website is considered a high-engagement signal. For example, when searching for “recipes for crock pot chili,” a low-engagement website would only have one recipe on the site. A high-engagement website would have multiple recipes, pictures, reviews, and maybe an instructional video.
Related topics are a high-priority ranking in the RankBrain signal system. Related topics have the “right” words and phrases associated with the search query. If a celebrity chef was just seen cooking a crock pot chili recipe on television, a mention of the website and recipe is a related topic and increases the website’s search ranking on RankBrain. Business owners need to add related topics to their websites to help increase visibility.
Content depth is also another priority for the new algorithm. Having simple and minimal information on a website produces a lower search result. RankBrain prioritizes the websites that have the most information, as these sites are considered experts in the topic being searched.
RankBrain does not have rank link diversity, anchor text and domain authority as a large factor in signal system, so business owners should not focus a lot of time in these areas.
How Should SEOs Respond?
Kill the concept that one keyword generates one page. This concept is extremely dated and does not work with RankBrain or Hummingbird. URLs should target all pages, not just one. Having it structured that way causes even more negative results through RankBrain’s new signals system.
Understand that one set of fixed inputs no longer governs every query. Due to the variable weighting system, it is hard to understand what will bring a website to the top of a search result. It could be the freshness, engagement, content depth, or all three. However, having a balanced approach to all the signal requirements helps maximize a website’s efficiency on the new RankBrain algorithm.