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Inside RankBrain: What Google's new search algorithm means to you

James A. Martin | Nov. 25, 2015
Google's RankBrain search-algorithm update has been live for months, but the company just recently confirmed the existence of the new machine-learning component. Here's a breakdown of RankBrain, along with a list of few important things digital marketers need to know.

Google tackled this job in other ways in the past, of course. RankBrain is meant to help the Google search engine algorithm "better understand future complex searches" and their relationships to specific topics, according to Search Engine Land. Machine learning will help RankBrain connect the dots between those topics and searches, and the most relevant Web content.

RankBrain is third-most important ranking 'signal'

RankBrain is one of Google's roughly 200 search "signals" that collectively determine the results that match keyword searches, as well as how those results should be ranked. Since RankBrain was deployed, it's become Google's third-most important signal, Corrado told BloombergBusiness.

Unfortunately, Google won't specify its two most important signals. Sullivan of Search Engine Land believes links "remain the most important signal," followed by words on Web pages. Eric Lancheres, owner of Lan Publications and a "traffic and penalty expert," also believes links still rule, but says user experience and click-through rates (CTR) are currently tied as the second most important Google ranking signals.

RankBrain and SEO

SEO community ready for RankBrain 

So what do the search and marketing communities think about RankBrain?

"RankBrain shouldn't be a surprise to anyone," according to Thomas Petty, president, Bay Area Search Engine Academy. "Google has been using AI for years to display context-relevant and personalized search results to all of us. This is just an extension of their effort to provide quality results to searchers. Does it affect our SEO efforts? No. Creating thoughtful and quality content is still just as critical to getting found online as it has always been."

RankBrain should encourage digital marketers to continue to try to provide "relevant, robust, comprehensive, visually appealing information" that delivers what users want, says Ricky Shockley, marketing and SEO director, Shockley Marketing. "There's a decreased reliance on traditional keyword signals and a move toward better understanding the quality of a page and how well that page matches the need of the searcher. 

RankBrain, machine learning and AI

RankBrain suggests machine learning and AI are only going to be more important to Google in the future, according to Orun Bhuiyan, cofounder and marketing technologist with SEOcial. "For example, a machine might 'think' to make a complex set of correlations as a ranking factor, which is something a human engineer at Google would never come up with. The result is that 'black hat' tactics will become more easily discoverable and even more frequently penalized."

Bhuiyan says some "gray hat" SEO practices, including participation in private blog networks, will also be easier for Google to discover and then devalue or penalize violators in search rankings. On the other hand, fresh, high-quality content that may not necessarily have lots of other quality links pointing to it could potentially rank higher, he says.


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