RankBrain: What is it and how will it affect your SEO and visibility?

Louise Linehan, 26 Jan 2016

What is RankBrain?

RankBrain is Google’s AI “machine-learning” signal, established in early 2015 and now rolled out globally. According to Google, it’s the 3rd most authoritative signal out of Google’s 200 major ranking signals, and makes up part of the Hummingbird algorithm (alongside Panda, Penguin, Payday, Pigeon, TopHeavy, Mobile Friendly and Pirate).

What does RankBrain actually do?

From our research we’ve identified the two main things that RankBrain is responsible for:

RankBrain recognises user intent

RankBrain interprets unique, long-tail, and ambiguous searches (of which, 450 million occur a day) and identifies their similarities, to retrieve the most useful pages for the user. It uses “word vectors” to mathematically identify words which share some form of semantic relationship, rather than merely recognising letter sequences.

RankBrain ranks pages in Google based on their relevance to a query

Secondly, and as a result, it , as it’s able to understand content and surmise what a page is about.

The thing that differentiates RankBrain from Google’s Knowledge Graph, which also analyses the relationships between words and things, is that it is devoid of human input and recognises patterns unaided, by processing historical searches and making predictions from them. This process is offline but, if correct, goes live.

 

What affect will RankBrain have on my SEO and visibility?

As above, RankBrain fundamentally affects visibility. The point of it is to draw up relevant and appropriate pages, to match even the most specific search query. Content will therefore have to be of high enough quality to compete in returning the most useful information to the user – thin, non-specific content just won’t rank – and if it does, it won’t for long.

 

Should Google use RankBrain for Voice Search?

Jon Earnshaw:

“If you have ever tried using a voice recognition app; once you get going, what emerges from your mind on to the screen is generally very different from the slower keyed in version.

If I were Google I’d be aiming RankBrain at voice search and observing voice journeys closely. Take this example below. I used the voice based search criteria “what is the name of the fat guy with the beard in the movie with the four guys in Vegas?” Wind the clock back pre Hummingbird and the results would have been incomprehensible. Today we’re seeing some pretty good, early algorithmic successes:

RankBrain - Jon Earnshaw Quote

While not perfect – Google knows that I’m thinking about the movie Hangover.

It gets that right and as I refine my search criteria in a bid to get the answer I’m looking for, so Google will learn and while this machine learning will inevitably be a gradual process, the SERPS of the future will start to become much more relevant.”

 

How can I stave off the negative effects of RankBrain?

We’re seeing a lot of fluctuation in the SERPs at the moment which is being attributed to a whole variety of things, including Phantom III, Panda (which has recently become part of Google’s core algorithm) and RankBrain.

We think it’s important to note that search engine results are in a perpetual state of flux, and unless you’re a complete SEO geek, no one expects you to keep on top of every potential algorithmic alteration.

However, in saying that we think you should always be anticipating an update, and working to prevent drops by incorporating healthy amounts of quality content and providing good overall user experience.

Tracking your performance on a daily basis is also imperative in terms of diagnosing and diffusing the negative effects of an update, or ongoing signal such as RankBrain. If you’re tracking weekly, your URL could, in theory, have dropped out of the conversion zone for six days (for a variety of reasons, including updates, internal keyword cannibalisationsubdomain conflict etc.) without you even knowing about it. If this happened across all of your search terms, it would have a major impact on business performance.

Pi Datametrics is the only enterprise SEO platform that enables you to monitor your SERP performance daily, and therefore helps you to prevent any devastating drops.

 

Posted in Google algorithm updates
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