RankBrain, the newest component to Google's search algorithm, was first announced by Bloomberg in 2015. Since then, RankBrain has significantly changed the SEO industry—and fast. Google's RankBrain can be difficult to understand at first, since it's not quite like other updates. It's considered to be Artificial Narrow Intelligence (ANI), meaning it performs artificial intelligence for one particular thing.
Specifically, RankBrain helps process search results as part of Google’s overall search algorithm. It looks at unconnected complex searches, discovers patterns, and determines what mixture of algorithms would best apply to each search result.
There are a number of core algorithms that exist within Google. For instance, RankBrain might learn that the most important signal for certain results is the meta title. However, for other searches, this same signal could generate poor results and frustrate searchers. Instead, another algorithm like PageRank might be more effective. Google’s RankBrain decides which combination of algorithms works best for a specific topic, and in this specific area, it outperforms humans in driving relevant results.
ANI may sound like mysterious technology, but according to TechCrunch, it's actually been around for a long time. Email SPAM filters, Google Translate, IBM’s Watson, self-driving cars, and Amazon's product recommendations are all examples of what can be considered “light” artificial intelligence. Nevertheless, RankBrain's capabilities, deep learning, and fast success can still seem mysterious. In less than a year, it went from processing only 15% of searches to being used for every search query. That's more than two trillion searches per year.
The sudden emergence of RankBrain can be be intimidating for companies, since they're dealing with something smarter than a set algorithm. However, even with Google’s new focus on artificial intelligence, it’s possible to maintain a high ranking on the search results page. Your SEO campaigns can still deliver quality leads if you keep the following three tips in mind.
1. Examine each keyword environment on its own.
Google uses a completely different mix of algorithms for each search result now. Even if keywords seem similar, RankBrain may assign a different set of algorithms to each search query. For that reason, you can't rely on one specific set of SEO tactics, like content or backlinks, to guarantee success for your website. With the addition of RankBrain, data scientists cannot determine one specific reason for changes to Google’s search results, like they have in the past. Therefore, a website’s PageRank cannot be attributed to one specific type of algorithm. Instead, you need to perform a regression analysis for each search result individually.
As RankBrain continues to learn and improve itself, SEO analysis will become even more exact and technical. Each search result will require different optimizations depending on its complexity, your user’s needs and the information available. That's why expertise in your keyword strategy is critical. If you want to generate quality leads and be found online, you need to develop comprehensive content that covers a variety of topics and search intent.
2. Model the top websites in your industry.
RankBrain can determine what good and bad websites look like in each industry. This is because each industry has differenttemplates and structures of data altogether. RankBrain is learning these “settings” for each industry and identifying the best and worst websites accordingly. The best (and worst) websites are then used as models to judge other websites.
For example, Google knows that Marriott.com is a reputable website that they would like to have near the top of their searchable index. Any website in the luxury hotel industry that looks like the structure of Marriott’s website will be associated with the “good” camp. Similarly, any website that looks like the structure of a known spammy website in the luxury hotel industry will be associated with the “bad” camp.
It's therefore important for your website to resemble top websites in your industry. You need to develop your website with industry-specific knowledge, modeling its structure and composition on well-established industry websites. Additionally, it's crucial to ensure your linking strategy is correct, as RankBrain will know if something is different from similar backlinking in your industry.
Above all, avoid imitating websites from a different industry. The classification process and RankBrain’s automated learning make it critical for your website to remain true to the niche you are in. RankBrain has to determine what industry your website belongs to before it categorizes your website as “good” or “bad.” If Google thinks Hilton’s website is about shoes rather than luxury hotels, it's going to compare Hilton to Nike’s website structure. This incorrect comparison could make Hilton seem like a spammy shoe website instead of a reputable Luxury Hotel website like Marriott. Make sure you send the right signal to RankBrain by creating an industry-specific niche website.
Of course, being industry-specific can be challenging if your website belongs to a lesser-known industry or includes several different industries rolled into one. In these cases, your website's classification could go in either direction. In these situations the signals sent to RankBrain become even more important as the machine learns the proper algorithms and classification.
3. Focus on innovation.
While you should follow the structural pattern of reputable websites in your industry, you shouldn't copy everything about them. You need to be cutting-edge while still maintaining the same structure and composition of top websites. Focusing on innovation means using data-driven strategies to stay ahead of your competition. Then, your website will both remain up-to-date and avoid being misclassified by RankBrain.
The balance between innovation and imitation is difficult, but it's worth your energy and investment, since RankBrain and its ANI counterparts aren't going away. In fact, they'll only continue to learn and become more advanced, making data and the analysis of that data essential. RankBrain has already changed SEO. If you don't get on board now, you'll soon be left behind.
To learn more about RankBrain, check out the Guide to Expert SEO.