What is Google RankBrain?

RankBrain Blog

Google is nothing if not variable. As the dominant search engine in many countries around the world, the company’s mission to stay ahead of the curve is both admirable and incredibly important. From the Panda algorithm change in 2011 to Mobilegeddon in 2015, Google’s changes are often radical and extremely influential —to the chagrin of many marketers. RankBrain, however, is something a little different. Announced ambiguously in 2015, it was confirmed in June 2016 as a constant feature in Google’s search engine results pages.

RankBrain may be the foundation for the future of web searching as we know it.

What Is RankBrain?

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So, if RankBrain is so important, what exactly is it? According to Google, RankBrain is a machine-learning artificial intelligence system that is used to assist in the process of sorting search results. In essence, this means that RankBrain isn’t taught by humans but rather learns by itself through the course of experiencing tasks and witnessing outcomes.

Artificial intelligence, more colloquially known as AI, is a concept in which computers are able to learn, make connections, and gain knowledge much like humans do. While true AI as seen in science fiction is not yet a reality, Google’s strides forward are remarkable, adding a unique edge to what search engines can accomplish by analyzing user behavior.

What Isn’t RankBrain?

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Unlike most of Google’s big changes, RankBrain isn’t an algorithm. The current algorithm in use, Hummingbird, is unchanged; RankBrain is only one component, a modification, per se, in how Google processes web searches and exits as one of Google’s hundreds of ranking signals. RankBrain is also not a replacement for other AI functions Google uses, like Knowledge Graph. Instead, it works in conjunction with these features.

Users expecting to see big changes in SERPs due to RankBrain may be disappointed, as most adjustments will be below the surface and results users see should not differ significantly. RankBrain is designed to supplement, enhance, and improve what Google offers, rather than replacing current vital components in how search rankings are delivered.

What RankBrain Means for You

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As a web user, you’ve likely entered search queries that came up with limited or irrelevant results. While most questions and keyword combinations are easily deciphered, there are exceptions to everything, and not all queries entered makes sense to search engine algorithms. Sometimes, there may not be words to describe what you’re looking for, or you may be using keywords that are too similar to other concepts to generate helpful results. In this space, RankBrain should be quite an improvement, learning how to interpret less clear queries by correlating them with effective keywords and high ranking results.

In terms of SEO, RankBrain isn’t bringing many changes to the table, despite its position as a ranking signal. As an AI function that fits within current algorithms, RankBrain’s objective is to make searching easier for consumers rather than improving traffic from organic searches for businesses with web presences. While long tail queries may suffer slightly, actual search results should not change significantly. Algorithm changes generally require shift in SEO tactics, but that’s not what this specific AI component is intended to do. As long as you’re adhering to best practices, RankBrain shouldn’t affect how customers search for you and find your site.

The Future of Search

When Google announces changes, this often means big things for marketers, but to the internet’s collective delight, the confirmation of RankBrain doesn’t mean costly or time consuming adjustments. However, like every technological advancement Google implements, RankBrain will likely get better, faster, and stronger over time, leading to developments that may require action for a site to stay relevant.

The utilization of machine-learning AI in SERPs is still in its infancy, but this is likely the path more and more search engines will take in the future. Consumers may not notice any immediate changes with the use of RankBrain, but with all things Google, nothing stays constant for long. Marketers may not need to act now, but keeping up to date on what’s changing and developing is always a good way to ensure a strong, visible web presence, no matter what developments may be on the horizon.

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