BrightLocal recently polled its customers about their knowledge of Google RankBrain. When asked, 62% of digital marketing professionals have either not heard of RankBrainor heard of it but don’t know the details on how it impacts search rankings. In this post we give an overview of what Google RankBrain is and how it can affect search rankings.
Google Algorithm: Best-Kept Secret
Google is notoriously tightlipped about its algorithm updates, but every public statement issued by its representatives sparks a flurry of activity as SEO experts and business owners update their SEO strategy accordingly.
So when Google suggests that RankBrain, one of its artificial intelligence systems, is the third most important factor in determining search engine result rankings, it’s worth paying attention, because you can be sure everyone else in SEO is.
So What is RankBrain?
Google’s goal is to provide its users with the most useful results for each and every search query. A primary challenge to that mission is truly understanding search queries and matching them to appropriate content when the words used in each may be very different. In the early days of Google, the algorithm focused on “matching” user searches to the same words on a web page. Now Google is trying to get a better understanding of context and searcher intent and using that to deliver even better search results. Google invests a significant portion of its resources into building artificial intelligence and it boasts a significant history of advancements in this area.
- Word Stemming One of Google’s first moves was to adopt “word stemming,” which taught machines to focus on a word’s root and ignore its suffix when looking for matches. With word stemming, if you search for the word “optimize,“ your results will include “optimizing,” “optimized” and “optimization,” whereas before those words would have been filtered out as non-matches.
- Synonyms and Concepts Google also taught its bots to recognize synonyms as well as different concepts. So now when you search for “incredible stories,” you can also get pages that have the term “unbelievable stories.” And when you enter “where can I get the best cup of java?” Google understands you’re looking for coffee, not the programming language or the country.
- Knowledge Boxes Google wasn’t satisfied with just matching searches with relevant content; it wanted to actually answer its users’ questions. To do that, it created a database of information from which Google can pull to answer questions directly without matching an exact search term. For example, if you search “coffee shop,” Google can list local coffee shops even if they don’t have the word “coffee” in their business names.
So What Does RankBrain Do?
The next step in machine learning was improving Google’s understanding of long-tail search queries, such as “How can I achieve a calming effect in my bedroom.” These searches are challenging because they often use words that are different than those contained in the pages that have the most relevant content. Furthermore, because they’re so specific, they may use terms that Google’s bots have never encountered.
RankBrain fixes this problem by attempting to interpret the query and making educated guesses about words it doesn’t recognize. With RankBrain if you query “how can Google find my site?” you will get a variety of sources on optimizing your site that address that question but that don’t actually contain the term “find.”
How Can I Give RankBrain What it Needs to Rank My Content?
There are a couple of simple steps you can take to ensure your content is understood and matched by Google’s machine learning technology:
- Use natural language. Writing your content the way people tend to write and speak is your best bet for being understood by RankBrain. Keep your language natural and avoid too much jargon, too many keywords or keywords that don’t naturally tie in to what you’re writing about.
- Change up your keyword search terms. When it comes to RankBrain, synonyms are your friend. Use different words for your key concepts to increase the odds that the bots properly understand your content. Instead of just talking about “coffee,” you can alternate in “cup of Joe,” “java,” “cappuccino,” “daily fix,” etc. Varying your terms makes your writing more interesting to boot.
- Buff up your content. Quality content is important for SEO, and the more context you provide Google’s machines, the more it can interpret whether your site would be a good match to a query. Develop your explanations, provide examples and address counterarguments. Not only is it good for your SEO, you content will be richer for it, too.
- Format your pages. Pages that are easy to read are also easy to crawl. So break up your text by using headings, lists and short paragraphs. And don’t forget stylistic details such as bullet points, bold, italics and underlining to make the right text stand out.
Remember that you and Google are ultimately working toward the same goal: providing users with high-quality, helpful content. What works for RankBrain also works for your readers, so you never have to sacrifice your content for SEO purposes.