What the hell is RankBrain and how could it affect the future of search?

Last year, Google announced that its ‘machine learning’ system aptly named ‘RankBrain’, was the third highest ranking signal behind content and links. As if Google’s algorithm wasn’t mysterious enough as it is, RankBrain adds a new dimension to how search results are determined. Confused? Us too, but we can shed a little bit of light on what it’s all about..

What we know

Google is using RankBrain almost as an artificial intelligence that will help to provide the most relevant search results for users. Essentially, it is gaining intelligence with every brand new search query and learning how to interpret them correctly.

It has recently been confirmed that around 15% of searches are completely unique, and when Google hasn’t seen a particular query before it turns to RankBrain to decipher it’s meaning and serve us the most accurate answer. It also uses this machine learning to adapt to the way more and more people are ‘talking’ to search engines these days. Longer tailed, more conversational questions are being asked, and RankBrain is constantly teaching itself how to process the ambiguity of terms like this in order to improve its core algorithm. Every day, Google is becoming more savvy in terms of what we want / mean, without us having to be so explicit in what we searched for.

Google isn’t particularly vocal (surprise surprise!) about how it all works, but we do know that it uses mathematics and advanced semantics in order to learn more about search behaviour. It will use positive and negative user signals in order to do (or rank) more of what works and less of what doesn’t. It then applies this knowledge to future searches and evolves continuously..

So what could this all mean for the future of search?

We’re not likely to notice anything significant in terms of search, both from a user and marketer’s point of view. Due to the complexity of RankBrain, it’s going to be hard to track exactly what it’s doing, but we can be sure that Google is aiming to provide the best search results no matter how obscure the query may be.

What this does indicate is that it’s less about the ‘keyword’ that someone typed in, and more about providing valuable content that has been intelligently chosen to serve a more complex queries.

Therefore what certainly still stands is the importance of content in your digital marketing strategy. If your aim is to provide value then don’t change a thing, just be aware that Google is using AI to understand its users and better its results. Your business should be doing the same – taking the time to fully understand your audience and what they are looking for, and reflecting this in your content.

Content, links and RankBrain shouldn’t be viewed as 3 separate entities, they all work together to make up the strongest part of Google’s ranking algorithm. Therefore just keep on making great content, attracting natural links, let RankBrain do its thing and hopefully, your search presence will benefit.

If you’d like a hand devising a digital strategy that focuses on your audience, we can help, just give us a call and we’ll see what we can do!

Find out how else Google are working to constantly improve the quality of our search results, including direct feedback tools and greater transparency around how search works.

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