Everything is getting smarter these days, from phones to TVs. The way Google processes search data is also getting more intelligent thanks to RankBrain, an artificial intelligence (AI) program used to sort through vast amounts of information. It’s something the search engine giant uses as part of its efforts to deliver results based on what searchers actually want. At one time, RankBrain was a novel concept. Today, it’s Google’s third most important ranking signal. So, it only stands to reason that you’ll want to take some steps to actually optimize your website in a way that makes it easier for RankBrain to capture key data. Read on to learn more about RankBrain and how you can effectively optimize for it.
RankBrain is the third most important ranking signal
In 2015, Senior Google Analyst Greg Corrado went on Bloomberg to discuss the announcement of RankBrain.
One particular statement that he provided gave us insight into how it would impact rankings in organic results.
He essentially said that RankBrain is one of the hundreds of things Google uses to determine search engine results.
That means it’s a big factor in organic rankings.
But here’s the difference:
The hundreds of other ranking factors come straight from Google engineers and their experiments.
RankBrain, on the other hand, is machine learning and AI technology that independently learns from queries to give results.
Greg Corrado also told us the following:
“It is the third most important signal in the search engine.”
That makes it a top factor when it comes to showing your content in organic results.
If you simply ignore RankBrain and the technology behind it, you’re risking your organic rankings and traffic from organic search.
So, what are the two other ranking factors that make up the big three?
They’re your content and links.
In 2016, Search Engine Land conducted a Q&A with Andrey Lipattsev, a Search Quality Senior Strategist at Google, in which he stated that content and links were the top two ranking factors.
He also repeated Greg’s statement in saying that RankBrain is the third.
What Exactly Is RankBrain Anyway?
Before giving you some tips on how to optimize your site for Google’s AI-based program, let’s take a closer look at what you need to know about RankBrain. The basic purpose of RankBrain is to help Google filter large amounts of search data to display results reflective of a searcher’s intent. RankBrain goes beyond simply answering search requests. It also uses AI and machine learning to provide results for instances where there is little or no historical search data to draw on. In other words, somebody could have a very unique question and RankBrain would still make an effort to determine intent and provide the right results.
Write for Real People First
Before going any further, keep this one piece of important advice in mind: Don’t start producing your website’s content specifically for RankBrain! Your optimization goals should always be focused on producing useful website content for the real people actually visiting your site. This being said, there are still certain steps you can take to align your website’s content with the way Google’s RankBrain algorithm evaluates data.
Improve Your Content’s Clarity
When determining what results to display, RankBrain makes an attempt to understand content to see if it’s something that will provide the answers searchers are looking for. What you can do is make your website’s content as clear and concise as possible so RankBrain can have a better idea of what your site is all about. Achieve this goal by:
- Having a clear purpose for each page of your site (e.g., service/product pages, an about page that provides details of your business, a contact page for visitors ready to take action)
- Using descriptive headings/subheads to make it clear what your content is about
- Including relevant keywords that further reflect the purpose of your content
- Become a Source of Relevant, Useful Info
Go beyond simply scratching the surface with topics relevant to your site. Explore topics in-depth. One way to do this without cluttering your website is to include links to supporting information in the form of PDF files or posts from your blog that cover those topics in greater detail. Another way to do this is with supporting video content. Even a well-crafted infographic can provide a wealth of info in a way that’s easy to digest. The more information on relevant topics RankBrain can find on your site, the better.
Optimize for Voice Search
More people are using voice activation features such as Siri, Google Assistant, and Alexa to perform searchers. In fact, it’s predicted that half of all searchers will be voice-generated by 2020. RankBrain processes voice search queries differently because people tend to speak differently (and much faster) than they type. Because there’s a lot more voice searching going on today, optimizing for RankBrain means optimizing for voice search as well. The most effective way to do this is to use keywords that are more conversational in nature. Keywords used in voice search are long-tail keywords, so start thinking in terms of:
- Words and phrases people use in actual conversations
- Location-suggesting questions (e.g., “Where can I find pizza places near me?”)
- Answers to questions you normally get from customers who call you on the phone or visit your business in person
Use Important Terms with Greater Frequency
Google’s AI-based system also considers how frequently certain terms are used within your content. When some key terms are used more than others, it indicates that those terms are more relevant. However, this is not the same as keyword stuffing, which is still a tactic you’ll want to avoid. Keyword frequency works like this:
- You prioritize your keyword list based on which terms are most relevant to your content.
- You base keyword frequency on the importance of the terms selected (e.g., the most relevant term might be used 5-6 times per page while ones that are loosely related might be used once).
- RankBrain analyzes each webpage on your site and uses keyword frequency data to help connect present relevant content to searchers typing or speaking the more frequently used words or terms on a page.
Create Content Based On Solid Data
RankBrain learns through data. For this reason, the new content you create for your website should be based on solid data about your intended audience. Not surprisingly, the more your content creation efforts effectively use available data, the more likely is that your content output efforts will be in line with RankBrain outcomes. Not sure what type of data to focus on? You’ll likely see your preferred results if you base your content on the following information:
- A solid understanding of who your target customers are
- Expectations visitors have when coming to your website (e.g., gathering useful information, quickly accessing desired products or services)
- Reliable and updated keyword research results
Refine Your Existing Content
You don’t need to completely scrap your existing website content just to optimize it for RankBrain. Nor is this something you should do if you have a site that’s performing fairly well already. In instances like this, entirely new content could negatively affect your ranking since Google’s RankBrain-backed crawlers would have to reevaluate your entire site. It also takes time for this process to occur. But what you can do is take a look at the content already on your site to determine if there are adjustments that can be made. This might involve:
- Using Google Analytics to look at the performance of each individual page on your site to see where some adjustments need to be made
- Looking at your feedback on social media to determine if your website content is effectively addressing common customer concerns
- Getting updated data (e.g., average time spent on your site, actions taken by visitors, conversion rates, and bounce rates) that shows exactly how visitors are engaging with your website to identify other areas where there’s room for improvement
Correct Website Errors
The last thing you want to do is confuse RankBrain with website data that’s sending mixed messages because of overlooked website errors. For instance, if you’ve recently transitioned to a new website, make sure you have proper redirects set up so RankBrain isn’t drawing data from both versions of your site. Also, make sure any contact info on your website is correct since NAP (business name, address, and phone number) inconsistencies can affect how your site’s data is processed. This is especially true if you are using other local SEO tactics to target searchers within a certain geographic area.
Here’s how you can optimize your content for it and stay afloat in an ever-changing search engine landscape.
Two specific ways to optimize for RankBrain
RankBrain plays a big role in how search engines filter content. According to Google representatives, it’s the third most important ranking factor.
Here are two surefire ways to keep your organic presence alive.
1. Research the intent behind every keyword.
Intent is everything when it comes to optimization and RankBrain. Machine learning has begun to understand how context plays a role in searches.
The examples we discussed earlier in this post show that intent is a big factor in search results.
If you don’t understand the searcher’s intent behind every keyword, you could be wasting tons of time and money.
Trying to rank your CRM product for “best CRM” isn’t a good use of your efforts or budget.
Why? It’s because the intent behind the search isn’t to find a single CRM platform that claims it’s the best.
Put yourself in the user’s shoes. Let’s say you are considering purchasing a new CRM platform, but you don’t know which to choose.
You would likely search for “best crm.” The goal of that search is to see comparison articles, not a CRM company claiming to be the best.
Take a look at the paid search results for “best crm:”
They don’t make sense when you factor in user intent.
Now take a look at the organic results:
Now that’s more like it. Users conducting that search most likely will want to see what types of CRMs are the best.
They want comparative data on the best options available.
Essentially, that search would fall under the consideration stage of the buyer’s journey:
The user is looking at different options to solve their pain point. They aren’t making a decision yet. If they were, they would have searched for your brand.
When you’re conducting keyword research in today’s landscape, you have to take into account user intent.
You can’t just find a popular keyword and attempt to rank for it.
Just because a keyword has 10,000 monthly searches, that doesn’t mean it’s worth your time.
To do this, you have to put yourself in the shoes of a user and explore the top-ranking content on Google for that keyword.
For example, let’s say you want to rank for “content marketing tips.”
What is your first guess at the most popular form or style of content that will show for this? What does the user want to see? What is the intent?
Here are the results:
If you guessed that listicle-style articles would dominate the SERPs, you were spot on.
Someone searching for “tips” is looking for multiple solutions to their problem.
They want more than one piece of actionable advice.
They want a huge list of items to view.
Another great way to decipher intent from a standard search is to scroll to the bottom of the results page and look at related searches:
These are searches where users have modified their queries after searching for the original term.
These also give you a huge insight into the intent behind their search.
Google gives us breadcrumbs along the way without ever really telling us what to do.
It’s up to us as marketers and SEOs to dive deep into their system and uncover the right data for our personal gain.
2. Craft long-form, relevant content for it.
Once you’ve researched the intent, it’s time to create content for it.
RankBrain has the same overall goal that Google has always had:
To provide the user with the content that they need on the first try.
If your content doesn’t solve the user’s problem for a given query, you aren’t going to rank for it.
It’s plain and simple. When it comes to ranking, content really is king. If your content isn’t relevant, you just won’t get traffic.
If Google knows that people didn’t find it useful, why on earth would they still include it in the search results?
So what does this mean for marketers? You need to create long-form content.
You need content that solves the user’s problem so well that they don’t even need to click back to Google for the next result.
Does Google RankBrain Work?
Is the AI doing a good job? So far, it seems like it. After all, Google promoted it from merely processing parts of the unknown key phrases to using it for all search queries.
And why wouldn’t they? After all, RankBrain appears to be doing a better job at improving search results than the Google engineers themselves. In fact, when it was pitted against a number of engineers to find the best page for a search query, the AI outperformed the humans by 10 percent.
Quite impressive, isn’t it?
The cool thing about RankBrain is that, in contrast to global changes to the search algorithm, it can improve search results on a per-keyword basis. This makes the SERPs more precise than before and allows for more granular improvements.
Also, ironically, even though RankBrain is a machine learning algorithm, it actually increases the influence of human users on search results. That’s because the AI can use direct feedback from how users interact with your content to judge its quality. For that reason, you need to focus less on pleasing the machines (read algorithm) and more on actually swaying people to click on your stuff.
Don’t Forget About Quality Backlinks
Google looks at links, especially ones pointing back to your site from other outside sources online (backlinks), as a sign of your website’s authority. With RankBrain, backlinks serve as independent complementary signals that are used to effectively display your content. With backlinks directed at your site, it helps to:
- Routinely check to make sure links are coming from relevant and trustworthy sources
- Focus more on quality of links than quantity
- Be mindful of the relevance of links in relation to your content
Think of RankBrain as an opportunity to really get to know your audience. After all, this is what really matters most to Google these days. Plus, if you want to encourage people to view and share your content, it’s something that should be important to you as well. This means refining your content to make sure it’s offering something of value to anyone happens to view it.
Ultimately, the clearer your website’s content is, the more likely it is that RankBrain will present it to your intended audience. And if your content is produced with your desired audience in mind, you’ll likely see a boost in online visibility. Lastly, remember that RankBrain is just one part of the SEO puzzle. You still need to be mindful of the technical aspects of SEO (e.g., HTML, site structure, meta data, etc.) and the stuff you do outside of your website that also generates website traffic.
Above we have given you a number of tips on how to do proper Google RankBrain SEO. Let’s summarize them once again:
- Continue to create helpful content aimed at satisfying user intent
- Shift towards using shorter keywords as main key phrases and build comprehensive information around them
- Take efforts to improve your organic click-through rate
- Pay attention to dwell time, bounce rate and conversion rate
- Use related keywords in your content
In short, further concentrate on helping human beings instead of trying to game machines and algorithms. In the future, your content will increasingly be judged by how people like it, not search spiders.
Do you have additional tips on how to do SEO for Google RankBrain? Let us know in the comments section below!
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