What Rankbrain does and how SEO should respond


Google recently revealed it has been secretly testing a new element in its infamous algorithm, the set of codes and calculations that decide what order websites are ranked in when people run searches. It’s been nicknamed Rankbrain and the announcement confirms that the rollout is already complete, having been phased in throughout early 2015.

Now Rankbrain is fully implemented and it’s estimated that it’s involved with rankings for around 80% of search queries. “Google has actually said that Rankbrain is the third most important ranking factor now,” says Diana Esho, Managing Director of prominent Leicester SEO company, 123 Ranking. “Although it refuses to confirm what the top two factors actually are. It has been speculated that these two factors are text content (i.e. the words that are used on the website matching the search term) and inbound links from external sources.”

These two factors are expected to remain highly important for the foreseeable future, as it’s only logical for Google to judge a website’s relevance based on these. However, for Rankbrain to already take such a large role in ranking websites, this indicates we need to have a good understanding of it to continue working on search engine optimisation.

So what does Rankbrain actually do, you might ask? The purpose of it, and the reason it gets its name, is connected to Google’s desire to reduce the reliance it currently still has on human judgement. In order to understand complex queries and search terms that have never been entered before, the search engine algorithm needs to understand context and the connections between related words and concepts. The only way it can do this currently is with teams of humans identifying patterns in search user behaviour and adding these links manually into the code behind the rankings. This is very time consuming and resource intensive, so Google would rather look at artificial intelligence.

Rankbrain is its first major step towards this end, and ideally the point of the system is to teach itself how to understand what humans mean when they type queries that can’t be interpreted too literally. However, there is still a human element to this. Rankbrain is not learning continuously, and requires historical data about searches to be added to it periodically. It then tries to draw conclusions, and human researchers have to determine whether or not its conclusions are improving the user experience or not. If they are, the changes will be implemented, and in theory the ranking process becomes more intelligent.

Another important question might be this: what does Rankbrain mean for SEO? In fact, for the most part it means we should continue with the methods we already know to work. If anything, Rankbrain further emphasises the fact that Google wants to move away from tactics and codes when ranking results. In an ideal world, Google would be able to tell exactly what a user wants, and show it to them on the first attempt. This means the best strategy we can take is to make our websites as user-friendly and future-proof as we can. There are no cheats available when it comes to Rankbrain, so concentrating on highly relevant and good quality content is sure to be the best way forward.


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