Did you know that there are over 2.3 million Google Searches carried out every minute? That’s a lot of people looking for a lot of information. So how does Google know what results to return? Google is becoming smarter and smarter, with the ability to interpret queries beyond what has actually been entered in the search box. From autocompleting searches to knowledge graphs, there is some powerful technology at work every time you carry out a search. All this technology has been developed in an effort to improve user experience and ensure that you get the results you want each and every time.

According to Google, 15% of searches are brand new, never been searched before. Much of these are long tail phrases, which makes it more difficult for a computer to interpret. This means that Google is always looking at ways to process these queries and return the best results possible to you, the user. How we search has evolved over the years. The smarter the technology becomes, the smarter we want it to get, almost wanting our search engine to anticipate what we want next. Enter RankBrain.

So what exactly is RankBrain?

In 2015, RankBrain was officially revealed as a machine learning, artificial intelligence system. This is a major development for Google, a machine that actually teaches itself, rather than being adapted by human input. The idea is that it can guess or interpret what you are looking for. Google can return results that may not necessarily have the exact words you searched for. RankBrain determines what results to show using word vectors, which is essentially a mathematical representation of how words relate to each other. If you use an unusual word or phrase, Google uses vectors to determine what you meant. Think slang terms, colloquial language, words that have more than one meaning etc. This is now more important than ever, with voice search constantly on the rise.

Take a look at the following example. The search itself is long-tail and certainly conversational in nature. We have not used the word Dublin, yet Google has taken our search and interpreted it to understand what we meant, much like a human would.

google search

RankBrain works alongside Google’s algorithms, helping to process the search results returned to the user. It’s important to realise it’s not actually an algorithm, but more part of the overall algorithm. Like one moving part inside a large (search) engine. In 2016, Google stated that the most important ranking signals were content and links, followed by RankBrain. As always, they have disclosed very little, but you can watch the interview with Bloomberg here.

Interestingly, in a study carried out to measure effectiveness, RankBrain outperformed the Google engineers. The engineers were asked to scan some pages and choose which they thought Google would rank first. With human input, there was a 70% success rate, but RankBrain scored an impressive 80%.

So what does RankBrain mean for me?

The smarter and more accurate Google’s search results are, the more we can rely on finding our answers in the top three results. This means that it is no longer going to be good enough to rank on page 1, you will be fighting for those coveted top positions. Google has officially said that there is no way to optimise for RankBrain, however, as the third most important ranking signal it certainly can’t be ignored! It is now more important than ever to have an SEO strategy in place. As an AI learning system, one thing we do know is that it will constantly evolve, which is why it is important to follow best practice. Basically never try to “trick” Google.

When it comes to ranking; rich, informative content has always been vital. We are constantly being told to optimise for humans and the user experience rather than a search engine. The key here is to write conversationally. Read your content out loud. Does it sound natural? Is it beneficial and useful to the user?

Choosing the right keywords has always been paramount to a successful SEO strategy. If you are still thinking that you should choose a keyword and optimise your page for that keyword, chances are you will see your page drop in the rankings. It is important to expand your keyword list beyond one or two phrases; think of it as writing about a topic, rather than focusing on one particular word or phrase. Become an expert in the area you are writing about and above all else ensure that your reader learns something.