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 Say hello to RankBrain: artificial intelligence

Say hello to RankBrain: artificial intelligence

What it is, how it works, why its special, what it means for SEO, and importantly - how you should be changing your SEO strategy.
Lee Hanbury-Pickett,
Senior Developer
Say hello to RankBrain: artificial intelligence

You’re probably all wondering the same thing: What the hell is RankBrain, will it affect my SEO, and should I really care?

Well, yes and yes. Introduced at the end of last year, RankBrain is Google’s AI solution to process and serve better search results. As far as we know, the technology teaches itself by building mathematical models of language that help it understand meaning. Apparently, it’s smarter than Google engineers, and has the long term potential to replace the current search algorithm. 

Larry Page, Founder of Google has this to say:

“The Star Trek computer doesn’t seem that interesting. They ask it random questions; it thinks for a while. I think we can do better than that.” 

 RankBrain is indeed a step closer to doing better than that. 

How it works and what makes it special 

It’s safe to say that we don’t know a lot about RankBrain yet. But what we do know is that, its unusual Google would deploy such a level of confidence in RankBrain to make it the “third most important ranking factor” in a few short months. It’s obviously helping Google, unimaginably. 

We suspect it’s because RankBrain allows Google to interpret searches and display results that might not have been the exact words that were searched for. Recognising patterns between seemingly unconnected searches, yet understanding how they are similar. 

Consider a long, convoluted question that a human can understand but should be too complex for Google’s algorithm to answer, accurately: 

The result answers the question as Google can already understand the meaning of what I’m asking, rather than looking at the search in terms of keywords, which have not been used.

Undoubtedly, this highlights the importance of creating topically relevant content rather than a narrowed keyword focus, and over the next few years “keywords” will begin to seem very old fashioned. 

What does this all means for SEO?

In the immediate term, RankBrain now restricts the exact match approaches to SEO, and 2016 has definitely been the year keyword research began to evolve. Because of RankBrain, more focus is given to the stage of the user journey someone is in when they make a search for a specific keyword. This informs the kind of information they are looking for and what content should be produced to earn their click.

Towards the end of the year, we can expect to see more dramatic changes. Organic search conversions may go up because a page will only appear if it is absolutely the right choice, and audiences will be more in-market for that particular offering. To capitalise, websites must make sure content is solving a problem and invest in conversion rate optimisation.  

Organic search traffic may also change YoY because both smaller and larger websites will be more reliant on long tail traffic. Smaller sites must focus on answering questions rather than solely targeting keywords, and larger sites need to ensure their content is comprehensive as they won’t be able to rely on their authority alone to get them good rankings. 

To top it all off, just when we thought it wasn’t possible, competition is going to get a lot tougher. RankBrain is prioritising meaningful results; only the best will rank, and those that don’t make the cut will start to fall off. 

Beyond 2016

Looking further into the future, artificial intelligence will probably (definitely) take over current algorithms that have previously, always been created humans. Why? It allows for speed and precision, it eliminates reliance on humans to identify and solve quality issues in the search results, and most of all, it will mean there is absolutely nowhere to hide. Machine learning will crush spam and black hat tactics.

We have already seen a very real indication of these future predictions; Google’s new Search Chief is former AI Head John Giannerandra, and the tech giant recently called machine learning:

“Crucial to our Search vision of building a truly intelligent assistant that connects our users to information and actions in the rest world.”

Don’t get left behind

The only real answer is for brands to put more faith into high quality content. Increase the emphasis of using truly natural language on web pages, write more completely, ask more questions, answer questions beyond the topic that users might not even have thought of yet! User behaviour is shifting and will shift even further, and the day is likely come when being a global brand isn’t enough to rank well for high volume keywords. 

 It’s inevitable that artificial intelligence will at some point surpass the human brain, and who knows where the future of this technology will lead us.