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. 

05 RANKBRAIN Google Update Blog Image

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. 

05 RANKBRAIN Google Update Blog Image
05 RANKBRAIN Google Update Blog Image

The Enigmatic Evolution of RankBrain: From Infant Algorithm to Search Powerhouse

While Google remains tight-lipped about the specifics, piecing together the evolution of RankBrain paints a fascinating picture of an algorithm continuously learning and adapting. Here’s a glimpse into its journey:

2015: The Mysterious Birth:

  • RankBrain first entered the scene in early 2015, quietly woven into Google’s search algorithm.
  • Initially described as a “machine learning component,” its exact function remained shrouded in secrecy.
  • However, its impact was undeniable, with estimates suggesting it became the third most important ranking signal within months.

2016: Stepping into the Light:

  • Google officially acknowledged RankBrain’s existence in a 2016 interview, confirming its use of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning.
  • This revelation sparked widespread curiosity and speculation about its inner workings.

2018: Refining the Understanding:

  • Google offered further insights, suggesting RankBrain focuses on understanding user intent and context beyond just keywords.
  • This marked a shift towards semantic search, where meaning and relevance take precedence over simple keyword matching.

2020 & Beyond: Continuously Learning:

  • While Google remains guarded about specific updates, experts believe RankBrain continues to evolve and adapt based on vast amounts of search data.
  • Its focus on user engagement metrics like dwell time and bounce rate further emphasizes its role in understanding user experience.

The Present and Future:

  • Despite the limited official information, one thing is clear: RankBrain has become a vital cog in Google’s search engine.
  • Understanding its core principles and how it interacts with other ranking factors is crucial for effective SEO strategies.
  • By focusing on quality content, user intent, and a seamless user experience, websites can position themselves for success in the ever-evolving world of RankBrain and beyond.

Remember, the mystery surrounding RankBrain keeps evolving. However, by staying updated on SEO trends and understanding its core principles, you can stay ahead of the curve and craft a winning SEO strategy.

While keywords remain foundational to SEO, the Google RankBrain update ushered in a new era where understanding user intent and semantic search take center stage. Here’s how RankBrain transcends mere keyword matching:

From Keywords to Meaning:

  • RankBrain acts like a digital detective, analyzing entire search queries instead of just isolated keywords.
  • It deciphers the context, intent, and meaning behind a search, understanding nuances like synonyms, related terms, and even user location.

Think Like a Human, Rank Like a Machine:

  • Imagine searching for “best pizza near me.” RankBrain doesn’t just scan for “pizza” websites. It understands you’re looking for restaurants, prioritizing local results with positive reviews and high user engagement.
  • This shift to semantic search rewards content that’s relevant, comprehensive, and answers the user’s true question, not just keyword stuffing.

The Power of Entities and Relationships:

  • RankBrain grasps connections between entities, like understanding that “Paris” and “France” are related as a city and country, similar to “Berlin” and “Germany.”
  • This allows it to connect your content to broader concepts and rank it for relevant searches even if your exact keywords aren’t present.

The User Experience Factor:

  • RankBrain considers user interactions like dwell time, click-through rate, and bounce rate as critical signals.
  • Content that keeps users engaged, provides solutions, and satisfies their intent stands a higher chance of ranking well.

Optimizing for RankBrain in the Semantic Age:

  • Focus on creating high-quality, informative content that truly addresses user needs.
  • Incorporate relevant entities and related topics to demonstrate depth and understanding.
  • Structure your content clearly with headings, subheadings, and internal linking to enhance readability and user experience.
  • Optimize for local search if applicable, considering user location and intent.
  • Track and analyze user engagement metrics to understand what resonates and adapt your content accordingly.

Remember, RankBrain is a learning machine. By focusing on user intent, semantic relevance, and a positive user experience, you can create content that not only ranks well but also attracts and engages your target audience in the new era of search.

How Dwell Time, Bounce Rate, and More Influence RankBrain

Gone are the days when simply stuffing your website with relevant keywords was enough to secure top search rankings. Today, Google’s RankBrain algorithm, powered by AI and machine learning, places paramount importance on user engagement. Let’s delve into how metrics like dwell time, bounce rate, and other user interactions influence your website’s visibility in search results:

Dwell Time: Holding Their Attention Matters

  • Dwell time refers to the average amount of time a user spends on your website after clicking through from a search result.
  • RankBrain interprets longer dwell times as a signal of high-quality content that satisfies user intent and provides value.
  • This means creating engaging content that keeps users reading, exploring, and interacting with your website.

Bounce Rate: A Red Flag for Dissatisfaction

  • Bounce rate measures the percentage of users who leave your website after viewing just one page.
  • High bounce rates, indicating users quickly clicking away, signal to RankBrain that your content might not be relevant or engaging.
  • Focus on crafting captivating introductions, addressing user needs clearly, and ensuring a smooth user experience to minimize bounce rates.

Beyond Dwell Time and Bounce Rate: A Holistic View

  • While dwell time and bounce rate are crucial, user engagement involves a broader spectrum of interactions.
  • Consider metrics like click-through rate (CTR), indicating how often users click on your website in search results.
  • Internal linking structure that encourages users to explore deeper within your website also plays a role.
  • Social media engagement and brand mentions further contribute to RankBrain’s understanding of user perception and satisfaction.

Optimizing for User Engagement: Beyond the Numbers

  • Quality Content is King: Create informative, well-written, and visually appealing content that resonates with your target audience.
  • Structured & User-Friendly Design: Ensure your website is easy to navigate, mobile-friendly, and offers a seamless user experience.
  • Clear Calls to Action: Guide users where you want them to go, be it reading another article, contacting you, or making a purchase.
  • Optimize for Speed & Performance: Slow loading times can frustrate users and lead to high bounce rates. Prioritize website speed and performance.
  • Engage with Your Audience: Respond to comments, answer questions, and foster a community around your brand to build trust and loyalty.

Remember, user engagement is a continuous loop. By analyzing and understanding these metrics, you can refine your content strategy, improve your website’s user experience, and ultimately, influence RankBrain to reward your website with higher search rankings.

Why RankBrain Prioritizes Mobile Optimization

In today’s mobile-driven world, simply having a website isn’t enough. To truly thrive in the digital landscape, you need a website that not only exists but thrives on mobile devices. This is where RankBrain, Google’s AI-powered ranking algorithm, steps in, making mobile-friendliness a crucial factor for SEO success.

The Mobile Imperative:

  • Over 54% of global web traffic now originates from mobile devices, according to Statcounter. Ignoring mobile optimization means excluding a majority of potential users from finding your website.
  • Google has adopted a mobile-first indexing approach since 2019, meaning the mobile version of your website is primarily used for ranking and indexing, even for desktop searches.
  • This signifies a clear message: mobile-friendliness is no longer optional, it’s essential.

RankBrain and Mobile Optimization: A Symbiotic Relationship:

  • RankBrain is designed to understand user intent and provide the most relevant results. With mobile users often seeking immediate solutions and convenience, a mobile-friendly experience becomes paramount.
  • Factors like fast loading times, easy navigation, and optimized buttons for touchscreens directly influence user engagement, a key metric for RankBrain.
  • Websites that offer a poor mobile experience frustrate users, leading to high bounce rates and short dwell times – negative signals for RankBrain and your rankings.

Beyond Rankings: The Mobile Advantage:

  • A mobile-friendly website not only improves your SEO standing but also enhances the overall user experience, leading to:
    • Increased user engagement and conversions: Users are more likely to stay on your site, explore your offerings, and ultimately convert (buy, subscribe, etc.) if the experience is seamless on mobile.
    • Improved brand perception: A mobile-friendly website portrays your brand as modern, user-centric, and trustworthy, fostering positive user sentiment.
    • Local SEO boost: With mobile devices often used for local searches, having a mobile-friendly website increases your chances of appearing in relevant local search results.

Optimizing for RankBrain’s Mobile Embrace:

  • Responsive design: Opt for a design that adapts seamlessly to different screen sizes and devices.
  • Speed is king: Prioritize fast loading times, especially for mobile users with limited data plans.
  • Optimize images and videos: Compress images and use appropriate video formats for efficient mobile loading.
  • Thumb-friendly navigation: Ensure buttons and text are large enough and spaced well for easy tapping.
  • Test, iterate, and improve: Regularly test your website on different devices and browsers, making data-driven improvements for an optimal mobile experience.

Remember, mobile optimization is an ongoing journey. By keeping pace with evolving user expectations and Google’s algorithm updates, you can ensure your website remains mobile-friendly, engages users effectively, and earns RankBrain’s favor in the mobile-first era. Don’t wait – prioritize mobile optimization today and unlock the full potential of your website for both users and search engines.

In today’s hyper-connected world, local search holds immense power for businesses. With RankBrain playing a major role in search algorithms, understanding its impact on local SEO is crucial for maximizing your online visibility and attracting nearby customers. Let’s explore this intersection and how to navigate it ethically:

RankBrain in the Local Spotlight:

  • While Google keeps the specifics under wraps, experts believe RankBrain influences local search in several ways:
    • Understanding user intent: It analyzes search queries, considering location, context, and user needs to deliver relevant local results.
    • Engaging with local content: Positive online reviews, social media buzz, and local citations all signal user trust and engagement, factors RankBrain might consider.
    • Mobile-friendliness matters more: As mobile dominates local searches, having a mobile-optimized website becomes even more critical for local SEO success.

Optimizing for Local RankBrain:

  • Claim and optimize your Google My Business listing: This free tool acts as your digital storefront, so complete it thoroughly and update information regularly.
  • Gather positive online reviews: Encourage satisfied customers to leave reviews on Google, Yelp, and other relevant platforms. Respond to both positive and negative reviews professionally.
  • Build local citations: Ensure your business name, address, and phone number (NAP) are consistent across online directories, websites, and social media profiles.
  • Engage with your local community: Participate in local events, partner with other businesses, and actively manage your online presence within relevant local communities.
  • Create high-quality, localized content: Blog about local events, offer local insights, and optimize your content for relevant local keywords.

Ethical SEO: The Sustainable Path to Success:

  • Black hat tactics like keyword stuffing, link buying, and hidden content might offer short-term gains but often result in penalties and long-term damage.
  • Focus on creating high-quality, informative content that genuinely helps your target audience.
  • Build backlinks naturally through collaborations, guest blogging, and earning genuine links from other websites.
  • Prioritize user experience: Make your website user-friendly, mobile-optimized, and accessible to everyone.
  • Be transparent and honest: Avoid misleading practices and focus on building trust with your audience.

Remember, local SEO is a marathon, not a sprint. By consistently implementing ethical SEO practices, engaging with your local community, and creating valuable content, you can earn Google’s trust, attract local customers, and establish a sustainable online presence that thrives in the ever-evolving landscape of RankBrain and local search.

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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