Will Google’s RankBrain change SEO for the better?

If you’re into your SEO and are a keen observer of Google and its work, you may have noticed there’s a new kid in town – in algorithm terms at least. If you haven’t noticed, it’s time you started to find out more about this new algorithm. It’s called RankBrain and it’s part of the Hummingbird algorithm update. 

You may be surprised to learn that this new algorithm has been in use since October, 2015, yet very few people have cottoned on to the fact. Why should this latest change concern small businesses? Well, because it has the potential to change the parameters of search engine optimisation as we currently know them. RankBrain works in a fundamentally different way, in that it uses machine- learning technology to filter results, rather than the synonym filter that Google has previously employed in its search results.

The advantage of employing machine-learning filtering is that RankBrain is able to interpret and effectively translate most queries – including multi-word queries and long-tail queries, by using patterns generated between other complex searches. Does that sound complicated? Probably – but it’s a lot more straightforward than you might at first suspect.

Historically Google has used a synonym list, or manmade stemming, to make database connections, but machine-learning filtering means it can now make more intricate or nuanced connections. Although Google has not been explicit with examples of the new technology, Bloomberg has published one example of the new algorithm in a recent article: it lists the user search – ‘what’s the title of a consumer at a food chain’s highest level?’ Previously Google’s definition of the word ‘consumer’ would have included the synonym ‘predator’. With RankBrain’s machine-learning filter, however, the definition is broadened to include more nuanced queries like ‘top level of the food chain’. The result of this algorithm update should, therefore, help to provide more accurate and appropriate results.

Why is the new update so important for businesses and why should small businesses adapt their SEO strategy to accommodate RankBrain?

Well, the principle reason is that BrainGoogle, or Google Brain depending on your preferences, has said that RankBrain is now the third most important SEO factor. To get the most out of search from now on, businesses will have to combine RankBrain with Google’s other top two search ranking factors – links and content – if they want to get the best results possible on the search results pages.

To get the best results with the new algorithm, businesses will have to not only include targeted keywords, but also a number of variations on that keyword. If businesses can successfully negotiate the new algorithm and optimise by including keywords, key phrases, variants and synonyms, they will be able to successfully demonstrate that they are an authority and to be trusted. So Bloomberg suggests businesses should write more clearly and comprehensively, take time to answer more customer questions and queries and publish enough content so that the search engines are clearly aware that they are an authority in their field.

How can businesses optimise their content for RankBrain?

Well, as good a starting point as any is to use the free tool Google AdWords Keyword Planner. When you search your keyword, Google AdWords will show a list of keyword phrases associated with your search term. For the best results, try to use as many of these as possible in your blogs and subheadings. The important thing to remember is that your content should not sound or look forced or artificial. Google still expects quality content that reads well and informs: stuffing keywords and phrases in willy-nilly will only hinder your cause.

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