What is Google RankBrain? And Why Should You Care?
This post is about Google RankBrain. You’ll learn what it is, how it works and (most importantly) how to prevent RankBrain from breaking your SEO.
When it comes to building your online presence, Google keeps moving the goalposts. Frankly, it’s annoying. According to Neil Patel, who knows about these things, Google’s algorithms are changed 500-600 times a year.
To save you doing the maths, that’s about twice a day.
How the heck are we supposed to keep up?
If all those Pandas and Penguins weren’t enough, in 2015 Google dropped a massive algorithmic bombshell. RankBrain.
Yeah great. Something else to worry about.
But the fact is, if you want to get found online, it’s important to know what RankBrain is.
What is Google RankBrain?
It’s a machine-learning AI (artificial intelligence) system. RankBrain takes difficult or hard-to-understand queries and relates them to previous searches based on intent and end results.
Let me explain:
Let’s say you wanted to buy a custom-made cigar humidor. Back in the day, Google would search millions of results and come up with ones that included the words `custom cigar humidor’.
The trouble is, you often ended up with results that looked like this:
It’s called keyword stuffing, and quite a few dodgy SEO firms used this technique to fool search engines.
Some still do. But RankBrain has made it more difficult to get away with it.
Instead of relying entirely on keywords, Google can now understand the intent behind the search. This is particularly useful when your search term is a bit… vague. It will use previous searches to work out what you mean.
When Bloomberg released the first statement about RankBrain in October 2015, they quoted one of Google’s senior research scientists, Greg Corrado:
“That phrase seems like something I’ve seen in the past, so I’m going to assume that you meant this.”
In other words, RankBrain learns as it goes and understands search terms that don’t necessarily make sense.
Most importantly, however, it also measures the quality of content.
Huh? How does RankBrain measure content quality?
RankBrain now measures reader engagement – whether readers like your content. Or not. It measures reader engagement via these 4 user experience signals:
- Organic click-through rate – The number of clicks a search result receives
- Dwell time – How long visitors stick around on your website
- Bounce rate – Percentage of visitors who navigate away after viewing 1 page
We all do the pogo-sticking thing. Let’s say I’m searching for `Best American pancake recipe’. I land on the first result and I click on it.
This content stinks so I bounce straight off and move to the next result. That’s rubbish too. I hit the back button again until… Yay! I’ve found exactly what I need.
If enough people are quickly bouncing off your page onto a different result, Google will notice that your content isn’t up to scratch. You move down the rankings while your competitor, who posts excellent content, moves up.
In short, you want visitors to hang around.
A recent study by Searchmetrics found that the average dwell time for the top 10 Google results is 3 minutes 10 seconds.
How do I increase dwell time?
Engage your reader. Draw them into your content and they’ll stick around. How do you do this?
- Use short sentences – 20 words or fewer.
- Keep paragraphs short – No more than 4 lines per paragraph.
- Stick to plain English, not long complicated words.
- Address the reader directly with the word you.
- Make it easy to navigate from one page to another.
Above all, understand your audience. Every piece of published content should be about the reader, not the writer.
Think about it. When you have a problem or a question, you search for answers on Google. An army of potential readers are doing exactly the same.
If your content is the most engaging and readable, they’ll keep coming back for more. If it consistently provides more comprehensive answers than your competitor, you’ll outrank them.