Google Search Algorithm Update: RankBrain

Google Algorithm UpdateDuring a Bloomberg Business interview, Greg Corrado, Senior Research Scientist at Google, subtly dropped the name “RankBrain,” into the conversation. Reportedly, RankBrain is now the third most important signal that Google’s search algorithms use when trying to determine what content should be displayed in search results. Out of the 200+ signals that the algorithms use, RankBrain has exceeded expectations by rising to the third spot after being introduced on a wide scale earlier this year.

What Is RankBrain and Why Haven’t We Heard Of It Until Now?

According to Mr. Corrado, RankBrain is the only Google ranking signal that actually learns. It “uses artificial intelligence to embed vast amounts of written language into mathematical entities — called vectors — that the computer can understand.” This ability to learn is vastly different than the other signals, which according to Mr. Corrado, “[are] all based on discoveries and insights that people in information retrieval have had, but there’s no learning.”

RankBrain was introduced to help the other signals handle the approximately 15 percent of daily queries that represent combinations of words and phrases that the search engine has never seen before. If the ranking tool sees a word or phrase that it doesn’t understand, then it can use previous searches to deduce what the phrase might mean; it then filters results accordingly. In this vein, it is far more effective than the other 200+ signals at handling never before seen search queries.

Is RankBrain Paving The Way For Machine Learning?

According to Google SEO Sundar Pichai, the company has been making several efforts over the past years to leverage the power of machine learning to subsequently improve Google products. During a Q3 conference call in October, Sundar Pichai stated that, “Our investments in machine learning and artificial intelligence are a priority for us. Machine learning has long powered things like voice search, translation, and much more. And our machine learning is hard at work in mobile services like Now on Tap, which quickly assist you by providing additional useful information for whatever you’re doing, right in the moment, anywhere on your phone.”

RankBrain seems to fit in perfectly with Pichai’s vision of harnessing the benefits of machine learning. The signal could prove particularly effective for Google’s push towards better mobile search results. According to Pichai, “50% of our searchers are on mobile. Mobile gives us very unique opportunities in terms of better understanding users and over time as we use things like machine learning, I think we can make great strides. … Machine learning is [a] core transformative way by which we are rethinking everything we are doing. We’ve been investing in this area for a while. We believe we are state-of-the-art here. And the progress particularly in the last two years has been pretty dramatic. And so we are – we are thoughtfully applying it across all our products, be it search, be it ads, be it YouTube and Play et cetera.” With these admissions in mind, it becomes clear why RankBrain has quickly become increasingly important to Google search algorithms.

What Does RankBrain Mean For The Future Of Google Search?

As machine learning continues to permeate throughout the Google enterprise, it is predicted that RankBrain will continue to evolve and grow in importance. If the signal continues to perform well, then Google’s search experience should continue to rapidly improve on both desktop and mobile devices. The only question that remains is, “what can webmasters and site owners do to take advantage of this important ranking signal?”

At this point in time, experts acknowledge that there isn’t a lot that webmasters and site owners can do to take advantage of RankBrain. There is a chance that the signal will help to point more users towards your content — especially if that content is complex in nature — however, there is no concrete evidence of that shows how to “harness the power of RankBrain.” If sites are to continue to perform well, then they need to rely on the stand-by proven methods of proper link building, as well as the actual words that are used to write website content. After all, the Google search algorithms may evolve, and machine learning might become more prevalent, but people will always use some combination of words to conduct a Google search.

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