In 2013, Google created a new search algorithm and named it Google Hummingbird. There are several elements that make up the overall algorithm of Hummingbird and RankBrain is the latest and one of the most significant additions. The influence of RankBrain is such that it has ignited a heated debate among industry experts about what the current leading ranking signal factors are. For the first time, Google has confirmed that that current top two signals are links and content, but not the order of those two. Google is known for regularly changing the significance of signals (much to SEO practitioners’ dismay) and many believe that the introduction of RankBrain will lead to a dramatic shift in signal importance.

What is Google RankBrain?

RankBrain is a machine learning artificial intelligence system. What this essentially means, is that the system is able to build its own knowledge base by teaching itself how to perform actions, rather than being pre-programmed or taught by humans. Often relegated to the pages of science fiction, Google has developed and applied this AI technology to help interpret and then sort nonspecific search queries.

How does RankBrain help to interpret search queries?

Google processes on average an impressive 3 billion searches per day. According to Google’s estimations in 2013, around 15% of these are unique queries that have not been searched for before. While sorting these huge amounts of queries has always involved a degree of automatic computer cataloguing, the foundation of this has always been human generated stemming and synonyms lists. RankBrain specifically works by learning how to understand multi-word or ‘longtail’ search queries and then translating its interpretations to provide relevant search results for users. According to Bloomberg, RankBrain sees patterns between apparently unconnected searches and infers their similarities. This allows it to understand future complex searches in terms of the related topics. It can then group further searches together to produce more accurate results for users. RankBrain is given historical search batches and it is from these that it teaches itself how to make predictions.

How important are RankBrain signals for SERP rankings?

Google is notoriously vague when it comes to explaining what the most important signals for ranking web pages are. Google has stated over the years that there are hundreds of major ranking signals but they usually refuse to actually list what they are because according to them, they are always changing. This may be the case, or it may be because they don’t want to encourage black hat SEO practises, either way it comes down to making educated best guesses. When it comes to RankBrain however, Google has openly claimed that it is the third most important signal that contributes to the results of search queries. Considering RankBrain is a relatively new update, this suggests it has had a considerable impact already. Especially when you consider that we only now found out that links and content were definitely the top two after many speculative years. In the opinion of Search Engine Land’s industry experts (unverified by Google) the top signals order is:

  1. Links
  2. Words (Content)
  3. RankBrain

If you are interested in learning more about SEO signals, RankBrain, Google algorithms or you just want to stay on top of the ever changing digital landscape, get involved in one of the workshops hosted by OMMAX.