Google RankBrain – The Artificial Intelligence Behind Search

Google RankBrain

Google – they keep coming up with ever-more code named technologies, keeping everyone on the edge of their seats and most people in a state of permanent confusion. The rules and recommendations change constantly, with many webmasters still using hopelessly out-dated SEO techniques that do more harm than good.

The good news is that if you follow just one simple rule, which is to provide the highest quality of content that you can, it is hard to fall afoul of Google unless you deliberately provoke them by undermining your good efforts.

The bad news is that RankBrain is the code name for Google’s new artificial intelligence system that analyses page content and tries to put the content into context. The purpose of this is to decide how relevant the words are on the page when matching them to searches.

Should you be worried about Google RankBrain?

Really, it’s probably not something you need to give a lot of thought to. Google has hinted that out of the 200 or so factors they assess in determining PageRank, their RankBrain part of the algorithm is the third most important. That sounds serious, but in reality there’s not much you can do to influence it. There are minor adjustments you can make (described later), but your focus should still be on providing high quality content. RankBrain is not a policing tool, it is just something used for classifying content, to help quantify how “high quality” the information is.

How does Google RankBrain work?

Probably the scariest thing about Google RankBrain is that it teaches itself as it goes. Fortunately it’s not SkyNet and it doesn’t have access to any ICBMs so you don’t need to concern yourself about RankBrain’s power getting out of control. RankBrain really just scans your content, compares it to what people search for, and compares it to other pages it has found to match the search. This allows the engine to make a guess as to whether the document is on-topic and relevant to what a user is searching for.


When Google RankBrain makes a mistake, what are the consequences?

It’s a fairly minor issue, but RankBrain could theoretically downgrade the status of your page if it mistakenly believes that your content is not relevant. It could do this for several reasons, but here are a few of the leading contenders:

  • RankBrain could not access your content to perform analysis (unavailable)
  • Your content was too similar to other content (plagiarism)
  • Your content was too different from other content (off topic)
  • Your content was much shorter than other content on the same topic (stub)
  • Your content omitted important information that a majority of other pages include (incomplete)

As an example, let’s suppose you created a web page about pandas. If a vast majority of other pages included the scientific name for pandas, and certain very common words such as “omnivore”, “bamboo”, and “bear”, it could have some impact if yours does not include those words.

However the above fact shows one of the potential flaws of RankBrain, which is that if your page is a serious scientific guide to pandas, and the majority of other pages about pandas are just about how pandas are “cute”, “fluffy”, “gentle”, etc., that could mean RankBrain thinks your more worthy information about pandas is not relevant to what people want to know when they search for information about pandas.

In summary, how will RankBrain affect you?

For the majority of websites, it will be business as usual. If you focus on creating good content, you shouldn’t have a thing to worry about. Just be mindful that if you’re not getting the results you expect, something as simple as having not remembered to state that pandas are cute and fluffy may be the only thing that was holding you back.

A good scientific guide to pandas is likely to rank better due to other PageRank factors, such as high quality inbound links, so don’t think that RankBrain is the whole story. It is just a small cog in a very big machine. More important cogs include having good content that people want to share, and endorsement from “authorities”.