Google Rank Brain: What is it and how will it affect SEO?

Bloomberg News recently broke the story on a new artificial intelligence program from Google that it calls “Rank Brain”:

"For the past few months, a “very large fraction” of the millions of queries a second that people type into the company’s search engine have been interpreted by an artificial intelligence system, nicknamed RankBrain."

So what is Google's Rank Brain, how does it work and how does it affect your SEO strategy?

Google Rank Brain
Google Rank Brain

What Is Google’s Rank Brain?

Rank Brain is an artificial intelligence (AI) program used to help process Google search queries.

RankBrain uses artificial intelligence to embed vast amounts of written language into mathematical entities, called vectors,  that the computer can understand.

If RankBrain sees a word or phrase it isn’t familiar with, the machine can make a guess as to what words or phrases might have a similar meaning and filter the result accordingly, making it more effective at handling never-before-seen search queries.

In practice, for a search phrase like  “How many tablespoons in a cup?”, Google's Rank Brain will show different search results based on things like what country the search was made from.

Google told Search Engine Land that RankBrain favoured different results in Australia versus the United States for that query because the measurements in each country are different, despite the similar names.

And it's effective: Google search engineers were asked to look at some pages and guess which ones they thought Google’s search engine technology would rank at the top of search results.

While Google search engineers guessed correctly 70 percent of the time, Rank Brain had an 80 percent success rate.

Overall, Rank Brain is capable of learning and recognizing new patterns and then revising SERPS (search engine results page) based on its new knowledge.

How important is Rank Brain?

RankBrain is one of the “hundreds” of signals that go into an algorithm that determines what results appear on a Google search page and where they are ranked.

According to Google it’s the third most important factor in determining the results that appear in your search queries.

At the moment, Google's Rank Brain is reported to be responsible for 15% of all online searches and is now one of the most important signal out of the hundreds of signals used to determine search ranking.

How Will Rank Brain Affect Your SEO?

The first step in developing an SEO campaign has always been about defining your keywords.

When you’re defining your keywords, you will be looking for relevant keywords to your business that customers are searching for. This has always been the foundation to a successful SEO campaign.

If you’re targeting keywords customers are not searching for, then your campaign is doomed from the beginning.

This part of the SEO process, the foundation, is what Rank Brain will most affect.

Before Rank Brain, Google’s software engineers would create a mathematical algorithm that would determine search rankings.  That algorithm would be a constant until an update was made.

However, with Rank Brain that algorithm is now learning and constantly changing.

As a result, your SEO campaign has to be more nimble and adaptable to changes in the search engine rankings landscape.

What next with Google's Rank Brain?

If you want to learn more about Google Rank Brain, learn more about word “vectors” — the way words and phrases can be mathematically connected.

Start with this blog post, which talks about how the system (which wasn’t named Rank Brain in the post) learned the concept of capital cities of countries just by scanning news articles.

Google have said that there was a gradual rollout of Rank Brain in early 2015 and that it’s been fully live and global for a few months now, so if you haven't seen any significant changes in your search rankings then this is nothing to worry about.

Google makes lots of changes to its search algorithms all the time, so as long as you're sticking to SEO best practice, then you'll be fine.