RankBrain is an algorithm based on machine learning (artificial intelligence) that was deployed at the start of 2016 to augment Google’s existing search engine algorithm.

What does RankBrain do?

The main Google search algorithm is based on “hundreds of factors” (signals) that combine together to rank the relevance of pages to a search term. RankBrain is an additional signal that Google has stated is the third most important, after content and links respectively, in determining the results of a search. Only Google knows for sure, but the intelligent guess is that RankBrain is associated with how the search ranks the long-tail versions of the keyword(s) in the search by making connections between topics that the searcher may not have thought of. In a sense, RankBrain augments the searcher’s own search term choice by trying to guess what the searcher is actually looking for based on the results of similar past searches by other people.

What Are the Implications of RankBrain for SEO Techniques?

If RankBrain is making search results better reflect what the searcher is looking for by helping them make connections that they may not have thought of, what are the implications for SEO techniques in the future?

User Behavior Will Shift

As a result of RankBrain’s influence, search results are more likely to display what the searcher is looking for in less pages. The more accurate the search, the less the searcher needs to click through to find what they want. Therefore, searchers will expect that the very top spots have what they’re looking for, and end up just clicking the first few results and completely ignoring everything else below.

The implication is that the first few results will get more hits, while the hits on everything else after will drop significantly. To stay competitive in SEO, you’ll need to aim for those very top spots and not just for the first page or two of ranks.

Competition Is Going to Increase

Getting to the top of the result page will require extremely high-quality web pages. As people compete for those top spots in the most valuable market niches, they will have to compete in terms of quality to stay ahead. No more slapped together pages based on dated SEO tricks: the real SEO technique going forward will be to create actual high-quality, relevant and up-to-date content.

Google’s War on Black Hat SEO and Spam is Just Getting Started

As Google gets better at implementing machine learning techniques to optimize searches by learning from past ones, black hat SEO loopholes will continue to close.

People Will Start Gaming RankBrain by Inventing New Terms

Since RankBrain is an algorithm churning through 3 billion searches a day, there is no way to oversee the connections that it is making between words. If you invent a new term that gets associated with a popular search term by the algorithm, then you’ve become your own expert authority on whatever long-tail version of a major search term you have connected to, which means you may get to those coveted top search result spots after all.

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