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SEO Guide: The Google RankBrain Update

05 RANKBRAIN Google Update Blog Image

Out of Google’s many updates that have happened over the years, RankBrain has always been favoured as a revolutionary reform. Why? Because its algorithm learns and responds by recognising and decoding certain signals. It does this through what’s called machine learning, which we will delve deeper into later in this guide. 

But first, what exactly is RankBrain?

What is the Google RankBrain Update?

RankBrain is a system that Google uses to better understand the most likely intent of a user’s search query. The update commenced at the beginning of 2015, however it wasn’t officially announced until October.

RankBrain sets itself apart from previous updates (Panda, Penguin and even Hummingbird) as it uses clever machine learning to determine the most relevant results to search engine queries. Machine learning is a blend of artificial intelligence (AI) and computer science which leverages the use of data and algorithms to imitate the way that humans learn, gradually improving its accuracy – AKA ‘learning’. 

Essentially, RankBrain is independent, as it tweaks the algorithm on its own by firstly interpreting search queries, and secondly measuring how people interact with the results. 

It’s all well and good stating what RankBrain can do – but how does it actually work? It acts almost like a pre-screening system. When a query is entered into Google, the search algorithm matches the query against your intent in an attempt to generate the best content. That’s why you see a lot of localised search results, because Google is trying to offer you as much convenient information as possible.

What Search Was Like Before RankBrain

Pre-RankBrain, Google used its basic algorithm to decide which results to show for a given query.

RankBrain was initially rolled out to satisfy one simple yet large problem. It was discovered that 15% of Google’s queries were unaccounted for. Because of this, the search engine giant had no context or analytics for these to determine if the results satisfied the user’s intent. While 15% seems like a small number – for Google – this amasses to millions of potentially unanswered queries.

Before RankBrain, Google would generally scan pages to see if they contained the exact keyword someone searched for. But because several keywords were brand-new, Google had no idea what the searcher actually wanted. As such, Google was functioning on guesswork.

From this entered RankBrain as a solution.

PT Google RankBrain Update infographic

How the Google RankBrain Update Changed SEO

One way RankBrain has transformed the way we do SEO is by putting search intent at the forefront of our strategies. SEO isn’t as simple as relying on certain keywords. You have to try and put yourself in the position of the searcher. If they are searching for something related to your business, what would the average person type into the search bar? Are they just researching information, or actively looking to purchase? This is the way RankBrain thinks. 

While this may sound complex, it is a common enough conundrum to render RankBrain as essential. By being able to mathematically calculate results based on patterns, the machine learning algorithm notices the searcher behavior. This way, Google can be sure it is populating the most accurate result.

How to optimise for RankBrain? SEO professionals need to determine the type of content that best serves users’ needs as a way of truly understanding their intentions. From here, you need to build a reputation for yourself and establish your domain as a trusted source. 

Over time, your domain will indicate more clearly to RankBrain the kind of signals/intentions it wants to serve. RankBrain has the power to then create an environment in which your brand can become known for delivering a certain type of content that satisfies a particular need.

How RankBrain Measures User Satisfaction

As you may already know, RankBrain misses nothing. Therefore, it pays very close attention to how a user interacts with search results. There are a number of elements that RankBrain uses to understand this, including:

Organic Click-Through Rate

Organic click-through rate relates to the percentage of users that click on a search engine result. This is heavily reliant on where your rank for a particular search query: the higher up the rank you are, the more likely you will receive more clicks. 

When it comes to user satisfaction, more clicks equates to high traffic. This signals that your site is popular because of the value it provides, especially if users refer your site to others.

Sadly, no one is searching beyond the first couple of search engine result pages that Google generates. That’s why it is so important to ensure you are optimised to rank for chosen keywords, with your searcher’s intentions at the forefront of your keyword research.

Bounce Rate

Bounce rate is defined as the percentage of visitors that leave a webpage without taking an action, such as clicking on a link or taking time to read your content. For RankBrain, if people are spending a short amount of time on your site and are exiting fast, then it will believe that your content does not answer the searcher’s query, hence hindering user satisfaction. 

Pogo Sticking

Pogo sticking is when a user visits several different search engine results in order to find a result that satisfies their search query. We’ve all done it, and while it may be harmless – it indicates that your content does not meet the user’s query. This also ties in with bounce rate, therefore you must make sure that if you are writing content around a particular topic, that it answers all questions a user may have.

Dwell Time

Dwell time is the amount of time that a Google searcher spends on a page from the search results before returning back to the search engine page result. Obviously, the longer you keep a user on your page, the more this will signal to RankBrain that your website is engaging and your content is high quality. 

Key Takeaways

The Google RankBrain update has revolutionised the way we search, and the way we do SEO, with searcher intent at the fore. Future SEO practices should keep in mind that RankBrain has the potential to alter the algorithm itself, so marketers should always ensure that they meet users’ needs and satisfy their queries to the best of their ability. 

For more SEO advice, contact ProfileTree today.

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