RankBrain – What Does Google’s New Artificial Intelligence (AI) Mean For Search?


by Joy Go (Google+)
Posted on December 01, 2015 in digital-strategy-business-consulting, seo.

RankBrain is a new AI system rolled out by Google Search to help make sense of queries never searched before. It’s a Machine Learning Technology, meaning it’s a type of artificial intelligence (AI) capable of learning over time. It was deployed in Q3, but was officially announced on October 26 via a Bloomberg article.

“True artificial intelligence (AI) is where a computer can be as smart as a human being, at least in the sense of acquiring knowledge both from being taught and from building on what it knows and making new connections.” (via Search Engine Land)

RankBrain is one of hundreds of signals that go into an algorithm that determines what results appear on a Google search result page. Google has over 200 search signals, also called ranking factors, but Google’s Senior Research Scientist Greg Corrado has said “In the few months it has been deployed, RankBrain has become the third-most important signal contributing to the result of a search query”.

It is said that there are at least 3 billion searches every DAY. Of the 3 billion searches daily, approximately 15%, or 450 million, of them are completely new to Google.

What Does It Do Differently?

RankBrain is the first of Google’s search signals that will change its requirements on its own without human input. “The other signals, they’re all based on discoveries and insights that people in information retrieval have had, but there’s no learning,” according to Google’s Greg Corrado. Google has always pioneered the embedding of technology into every aspect of its business. The addition of RankBrain to search has been part of a half-decade-long push by Google into AI.

According to Search Engine Watch, “RankBrain embeds vast amounts of written language into mathematical entities into a format that a computer can understand, then if RankBrain sees a word or phrase it isn’t familiar with, using this information, it can ‘guess’ what words or phrases might have a similar meaning and filter the results accordingly.”

How Could RankBrain Impact Search Engine Marketing Efforts?

This truly signals the start of Google’s ability to decipher and perform contextual search (also called Semantic Search). What this means is that websites that provide the most valuable content will be rewarded for the value it brings to users without being restricted with the “keywords they are optimized for”. This may open up more search impressions for websites as the content can now be “searched for” and understood in context versus literal words and terms, including tenses and forms (singular vs. plural, misspellings, etc.).

In forecasting, we are most likely going to see the same rankings for singular-plural word versions and synonymous terms where before, there were total distinctions. Google’s ability to award rankings have still been processed, for the most part, quite literally for search terms as they were typed.

Visibility for small businesses is expected to improve in local searches.

So, Is RankBrain Good News Or Bad News for SEO and SEO Practitioners?

First, let’s take into consideration what RankBrain brings to search. “Google can now do a better job of recognizing the relationships between words -- what they mean, what concepts they reference, and why they’ve been strung together to make a search term. RankBrain deepens this understanding.” (via Search Engine Watch) 

Second, RankBrain was rolled out a few months ago according to Google, and thus far, there have been no reported dramatic changes in rankings and/or traffic from websites. Reinforcing the fact that RankBrain is a signal and not an algorithm, there are no penalties associated with it, only benefits (if your site provides relevant content, especially to never-before-seen-searches). So far, it hasn’t had the same effects that the Panda and Penguin Algorithm updates have caused on “guilty” sites.

If anything, RankBrain probably helps SEO because of its ability now to pull in more relevant searches. Local websites and local SEO may see the most benefit from this new update. Customer reviews may also play a bigger role because these use real language that can now be interpreted and attributed properly.

As for our answer to the question: RankBrain is good news if your SEO strategy has always been focused around delivering relevant, useful content to your users. SEO strategies that have focused on providing valuable content to its users will now be more amply rewarded.

In summary

RankBrain is now the third-most important search signal in Google’s Hummingbird search algorithm (rolled out in 2013).

We are to expect more accurate search results from Google, because now, RankBrain adds the element of “human intelligence” and “intuition.”

Content. Content. Content. If this has always been a major part of your SEO strategy, RankBrain is going to be your best friend.


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