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What Impact Will RankBrain Have on SEO Strategy?

01 Nov 2015 Elizabeth Choi

in Google, SEO

Search marketers were all abuzz over Google’s announcement of RankBrain, the latest update to its search algorithm. In an interview with Bloomberg, Google senior research scientist Greg Corrado describes RankBrain as “an artificial intelligence that interprets language, interprets your queries in a way that has some of the gut feeling and guessability of people.”

Corrado also revealed that RankBrain, in use for the past several months, is already the third most important signal out of hundreds of signals used by the search engine.

It remains to be seen how quickly and to what degree RankBrain will impact search results and search behavior.  In the meantime, what should brands do? The SEO team puts RankBrain in context of other famous algorithm changes and provides some recommendations on what to do in terms of present strategy.

RankBrain Is The New Black PageRank

Mike Levin, SEO Director
With every passing year, Google's original family jewel, PageRank, is looking a little less shiny, and needs to be swapped out with a sexy new term.  I think that is the main motivation for the term RankBrain, but appears to just be a relabeling of the update called Hummingbird (carrying on the tradition of using cute names). We've been seeing the Hummingbird changes since late 2014 in how Google is answering direct questions and its much better handling of synonyms. Google representatives have described the Hummingbird as the significant search-infrastructure update since Caffeine, late in 2013, which ended the big monthly "index updates" in favor of smaller, constant updates. Similarly, RankBrain will gradually reduce the impact of manipulating links and title tags in favor of a much broader, more nuanced and harder to fake set of relevancy signals. Google needed a better name for this significant infrastructure update than Hummingbird.

RankBrain Represents a Shift Away From Keywords to Concepts

Boris Zilberman, SEO Strategist
For now, I believe the major takeaway from the RankBrain announcement is that Google is relying more on results handled via AI and machine learning rather than manual action. This, in turn, means that Google should understand how terms are related to each other better than ever. In the near future, it may lead to a shift in thinking from "Which keyword should my client's site rank for?" to "Which concepts should my client site be the authority for?" This should sound familiar to those of us following developments in Quick Answers, where sites rank for an answer to a question rather than a particular keyword query.

Brands* Should Not Panic Over RankBrain

Lily Ray, Associate Director of SEO
RankBrain is another iteration of a larger trend that's been taking place in SEO for many years now: Google trying to replicate the actual behavior of the human brain. As long as your SEO strategy has been focused on providing high-quality, well-written content to your users, there isn't anything to worry about with this algorithm update. Google will continue to pull in the results with the content that is the most authoritative, informative, and useful for customers.

*practicing good SEO

A Better, More Effective Search Engine

John Morabito, SEO Specialist
The announcement of RankBrain, and the examples provided by Google of RankBrain in action, provide a glimpse into the future of a better and more effective search engine. For people doing "good" SEO, this will likely validate your efforts. You can more effectively target a larger set of keywords on a given page versus creating a page for every keyword. If you or your clients are creating great websites, great content and a great experience for users, Google will recognize your efforts. For those of you who are not doing any of this, and are still stuck doing traditional SEO, you may want to rethink your strategy.

Google SEO