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On October 26, 2015, Google made a very interesting announcement that took the SEO world by storm. They let people in on a big secret – that they’re using artificial intelligence to enhance their search results.
What amazed (even alarmed) everyone, even more, was that Google declared RankBrain as one of the three most important ranking factors. Now you must be wondering, what are the other two?
In March 2016, a Search Quality Senior Strategist at Google confirmed that the other two are content and links. He also confirmed that there isn’t any specific order of importance assigned to the top three criteria.
But, let’s get back to Google RankBrain. This machine learning algorithm was touted as a game-changer for Google search results. Why exactly?
Well, for starters, RankBrain beat the company’s human experts at page selection in internal tests.
Of course, you now know that it wasn’t a fad. Whether you like it or not, Google RankBrain is here to stay and serve more relevant and meaningful search results to users.
Let’s take a look at how RankBrain works, and how you need to optimize your content for this algorithm.
The Need for RankBrain
Every day, Google receives around 15% of search requests that are entirely new. Search queries it has never seen before.
Now, 15% might not look like a big number. However, Google receives around 3 billion search requests every day in various forms such as – voice searches, web searches, or image searches.
So, 15% of 3 billion amounts to about half a billion search requests. That is a significant number for anyone.
And Google has no historical data about these requests. Which pages might be a good fit for such queries? How to decide their rankings?
Google has no way of knowing. So, before RankBrain came into being, Google had to make the best guess about what the most relevant results might be.
As you can imagine, this wasn’t an optimum solution. Google’s best guess might not be good enough for users.
To solve this problem, RankBrain came into the picture. RankBrain tries to understand your query like a human being. It breaks down a request into a set of “word vectors,” which it then uses to understand what the query means.
Google uses this understanding to return the more relevant results. What makes RankBrain different is that it does not just improve results for the current query. With time and with more new queries, RankBrain keeps on improving search results for other new queries as well.
How Efficient is RankBrain?
Let me explain that with a simple example. Suppose, you enjoyed a particular song in a movie you watched and would now like to download it. But you have no idea what it was called. So, you search using this query: “which was the first song in frozen.”
Now, this is quite ambiguous right? But here’s what you’ll see.
Image via Google
However, Google is still able to return results for the first song in the movie “Frozen” with links to various YouTube videos. This is because Google is able to actually understand that you are referring to “Frozen” the movie, and not as an adjective.
That’s exactly how intelligent RankBrain has made Google. It can connect the dots to give you relevant search results. RankBrain can understand what you want even if your search query isn’t specific.
RankBrain is able to automate a lot of manual tests and can tweak the Google search algorithm. This makes the entire process of enhancing the search algorithm faster and more efficient.
When Google tested RankBrain against their senior search specialists, RankBrain had an 80% success rate as opposed to humans at 70%. This gives you an idea of how effective RankBrain is.
So, how does all of this affect your website’s rankings? Let’s take a look at how RankBrain can help you.
How to Optimize Your Website for RankBrain
If you want to obtain a good rank in Google searches, you need to optimize your website and content for RankBrain. In the absence of these techniques, your website might quickly lose relevance and you’ll notice a drop in your click-throughs.
How big of a difference are we talking about?
If a website’s click-through rate decreases, the amount of user data for the website decreases. When that happens, RankBrain has fewer data points to judge its relevance.
That means that your website won’t show up in the top results. Over a period of time, your visibility will be greatly reduced.
How quickly can this happen? Quicker than you think. As Google’s confidence in RankBrain increases, you’ll soon see that your old SEO tactics are no longer bearing fruit.
1. Build Your Website’s Reputation
Spend some time to understand what your audience likes to read. What type of content do they spend more time on?
For example, if your target audience is new moms, they’re most likely to be interested in topics related to infants or toddlers. Understand what your audience likes, and create more content around such topics.
However, creating content isn’t enough. To build your website’s reputation, you need to work on obtaining quality backlinks. You can guest post on high-authority websites that have a similar target audience. This can give you more traffic as well as greater visibility.
Try to create content that’s engaging. Feel free to embed videos, images, gifs, or any other media content. This can help you increase engagement which helps to build your reputation.
The more time a user spends on your website, the more relevant it appears to RankBrain. You should also share your content on social media to get greater engagement.
2. Optimize for Medium Tail Keywords
The way RankBrain works, long-tail keywords are likely to be history soon. Earlier Google used to fetch results based on exact keywords used. So, you would get different results for “best speakers for computer” and “best computer speakers.”
However, RankBrain understands that both these search queries mean the exact same thing. So it gives the same search results.
The best way to optimize for RankBrain is to optimize for medium-tail keywords. Optimizing for medium-tail keywords provides for automatic optimization for long-tail keywords in RankBrain.
This also requires you to create more quality content. This makes it easier to optimize it for medium-tail keywords.
3. Create Content that Addresses User Intent
RankBrain puts the focus back on content. If you have good content, you can easily optimize your website.
If your content is not good, your click-through rate (CTR) will drop. Readers will not come back to your website and it will lead to a lower ranking in RankBrain.
It might seem like RankBrain is making it tougher for websites to get better rankings. But there’s a silver lining to it.
You don’t need to focus too much on finding relevant keywords. If you’re writing an article about desserts, RankBrain will pick up “desserts” and its related terms as keywords. So, words like “sweets” and “sweet dish” will also be considered as keywords.
With RankBrain, your article might rank for queries related to desserts as well as sweet dishes. So keyword density shouldn’t be your focus anymore.
You should focus more on addressing user intent through your content. This is because quality content is all that matters for readers. Quality content focused on user intent will bring in higher CTR.
Since RankBrain improves the quality of search results, it also collects information about user satisfaction.
For example, someone clicks on the #1 result for a query but doesn’t find it useful. Then they click on the next result in the SERPs. And they continue to do so until they find what they are looking for. When they do find what they want, they stay on that page longer. And that is an indication of satisfaction.
As a result, those results towards the top may notice a drop in their rankings. Also, the one that was able to satisfy the user’s intent, gets a boost in rankings.
So it’s important to make your content informative, engaging, and useful. Try to pick topics that your target audience might be interested in and write longer, useful content that answers all possible questions about that topic.
Image via Backlinko
4. Increase Your Click-Through Rates
Google’s quality score algorithm rates your website based on your keywords and quality of content. The click-through rate is an important part of the quality score algorithm.
It gives an idea of the overall user experience of the website. The higher the CTR, the better it is for your website.
As RankBrain learns from human decisions, you need to ensure that users click on your links. A higher click-through rate is critical for the success of your RankBrain SEO strategy.
A great way of getting a higher CTR is to ensure that your content is well-written. You also need to optimize your landing pages to increase your CTR.
Wikipedia has a high CTR, authority, and a great reputation. And so, it ranks higher in Google search results. Wikipedia outranks a really large number of websites. This happens because the website’s content is relevant, engaging, and people come back to it.
If you want to optimize for Google RankBrain, you should focus on all of the above-mentioned steps. You need to create engaging content and optimize it for medium-tail keywords. And you need to use techniques to increase your CTR. All of this will lead to a better reputation for your website.
RankBrain is affecting the way Google returns search results, every day. This makes your rankings obtained through older SEO techniques really vulnerable.
And RankBrain has made searches more user-oriented, and that is helpful in many ways. So put your focus on content and engage your audience well. Otherwise, sooner or later, you may be lost in oblivion.
Shane Barker is a digital marketing consultant who specializes in sales funnels, targeted traffic, and website conversions. He has consulted with Fortune 500 companies, influencers with digital products, and a number of A-List celebrities.