RankBrain is an algorithm developed by Google that uses machine learning artificial intelligence (AI). It’s now one of the leading contributors in Google’s determination of search rankings – therefore whether you know it or not, it will likely be affecting your website’s organic search traffic.

RankBrain impacts on the 15% of search queries per day that Google has never seen before. And if Google’s estimated three billion global queries a day is accurate, that’s around 450 million never before seen queries per day that RankBrain deals with. RankBrain’s job is to help better understand queries and deliver better search results, by using a learned understanding of its users.

3 billion searches

Infographic: http://brandongaille.com/google-rankbrain-8-things-you-need-to-know/

Is RankBrain the new Google algorithm?

RankBrain was announced by Bloomberg in October 2015. It’s important to state that RankBrain is not the ‘new’ Google algorithm, responsible for all search placements – but rather an algorithm that’s used by Google, as well as many other factors, that determines search results. Hummingbird is generally regarded as the term used for the overall Google search algorithm. RankBrain is now the newest part.

How does RankBrain work?

RankBrain in basic terms is a computer program that searches through billions of pages to find those appropriate for particular search queries. It works entirely offline, and is given batches of historical searches to learn from in order to make predictions.

Those predictions are tested, and added to the latest version of RankBrain, which is continually being updated – the cycle is repeated ever time a new search query is submitted. What makes RankBrain so different is the AI aspect. Machine learning is where a computer teaches itself how to do something, rather than being taught by humans or following a set of instructions created by humans.

Why does RankBrain use AI?

RankBrain’s main goal is to understand certain types of search queries that Google hasn’t seen before. AI allows RankBrain to help with searches that people submit to Google to find content that might not have the exact words that were searched for, reading between the lines.

‘RankBrain creates its own connections from what it learns, without human interference.’

It’s true that Google has been able to do this for years using a process called ‘stemming’ that allowed Google to understand plurals of a word, or to identity that if someone types in ‘jumper’ they might also want to see ‘sweatshirts’. The difference being that these methods all flow back to human input, ie a person having to create lists and databases that link all the possible meanings and solutions. RankBrain creates its own connections from what it learns, without human interference.

According to the original Bloomberg article Google search engineers, responsible for creating Google’s algorithms, were asked to guess search results in a comparison with RankBrain. Humans guessed correctly 70% of the time, and RankBrain, 80% of the time.

Questions such as: What’s the title of the consumer at the highest level of a food chain? (‘consumer’ in this instance meaning predator in the food chain, rather than a consumer of goods that the term would often be associated with) are highlighted as examples of what RankBrain is there to decipher.

food chain example

Search results highlighting how RankBrain may help determine unusual queries.

Can you optimise for RankBrain?

The short answer is not really. RankBrain is not an algorithm that demands optimisation to find the best fit, unlike many of Google’s updates over the years. Aspects like metadata, alt tags and page speed don’t really come into play – if anything the best way to optimise for RankBrain is to not optimise.

“If you write in natural language, you’re all set. If you keyword-stuff your content, that will almost certainly not be good for you.”

Gary Illyes from Google, speaking at the SMX Advanced conference in Seattle last year, said:
“It’s a new signal. But the reason I asked about optimizing for RankBrain is because you don’t. It’s about making sure the user gets the result that is deserved for the query. If you write in natural language, you’re all set. If you keyword-stuff your content, that will almost certainly not be good for you.”

So the best way to keep in RankBrain’s good books is to write in natural language. In other words, don’t write content for a search engine to read, stuffed full of keywords, but rather make sure it sounds natural and can be read and appreciated by a human. Simple, right?

 

Sources and further reading:

brandongaille.com/google-rankbrain-8-things-you-need-to-know/
bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-10-26/google-turning-its-lucrative-web-search-over-to-ai-machines
searchengineland.com/faq-all-about-the-new-google-rankbrain-algorithm-234440
searchenginejournal.com/seo-guide/understanding-google-rankbrain/
searchengineland.com/ama-google-search-keynote-smxadvanced-252465