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The Machines are Coming! Google RankBrain, AI, and SEO

Matt Brady
#Inbound Marketing, #SEO
Published on June 29, 2016

We look at how RankBrain, Google's artificial intelligence algorithm, is changing the world of SEO and offer tips for how to achieve the best search rankings.

Google_RankBrain.jpgArtificial Intelligence, or AI, is a perennially popular topic in technology circles. Whether intelligent computer programs are being used to fight disease, drive our cars, or control our houses, people are constantly finding new and exciting uses for AI. And even though doomsayers say we should be worried that the machines will eventually surpass humanity and enslave us in The Matrix, it’s obvious that AI is here to stay.

While AI technology seems like something that will be relevant in the future rather than something that is currently part of our day to day lives, there’s at least one area in which it directly affects us: online searches. In October 2015, Google introduced RankBrain, an artificial intelligence system that plays a big part in determining how websites rank in search results.

But how does RankBrain affect you? Let’s take a look at what RankBrain is and how it impacts the world of Search Engine Optimization (SEO):

What Is RankBrain?

The algorithms that Google and other search engines use to determine relevant search results for people’s search queries could already be considered a form of artificial intelligence, but RankBrain takes things a step further by using machine learning to classify sites according to the types of information they contain, find out what people are searching for, and determine the combination of ranking signals (such as keywords, meta tags, and content quality, to name a few) that will return the best search results for each individual query.

RankBrain is part of Google’s Hummingbird algorithm, and it is now one of the most important parts of how Google processes search queries. Its artificial intelligence is used to find patterns in what people are searching for and how they behave, with the goal being to provide people with the most relevant possible search results, even for complex, conversational queries like “Where is a coffee shop near me that is open after midnight?”

How Does This Affect Me?

As with any algorithm update that Google makes, the goal of RankBrain is to help people find what they want when searching for information online. This means that the same basic SEO principles still apply: make sure your site contains relevant content, provides a good user experience, is mobile-friendly, and doesn’t contain any errors.

If you’ve already got those bases covered, there are a few other things you can do to specifically ensure your site is optimized for RankBrain.

Make Sure You Have an Audience in Mind

Defining the personas of the users you want to target and then creating content that provides those personas with the specific information they are looking for will help RankBrain categorize your content correctly and direct people to your site to find the answers to the questions they are looking for.

Use Natural Language

As we mentioned above, RankBrain is meant to help people making conversational queries, so think of the specific questions that you want to answer with your content and provide the answers to those questions.

Check Your Backlinks

One of RankBrain’s functions is to classify sites and group similar sites together, comparing their content and structure to determine which sites can provide the best answers to people’s queries. This means that any links to your site from other sites which fall outside of your category might look suspicious, and thus lead to penalties in your search rankings.

For instance, if you have an e-commerce site which sells flowers, it probably doesn’t make sense to have links coming in to your site from a site which provides people with information about mortgage rates. Using a tool like Moz’s Open Site Explorer to find out who is linking to you and then disavowing any unwanted links in Google’s Search Console will help you avoid any penalties.

The Future of SEO

As computers continue to get smarter and faster, AI will become a more significant part of our lives, but that’s not a bad thing. AI is a tool meant to improve our lives, and RankBrain is a great example. Google’s goal with RankBrain is to be able to help people find the answers they are looking for with every query they make, even (or especially!) the queries which have never been typed into Google before.

As always, the best approach to SEO is to make sure that your site provides a quality experience and demonstrates how you can provide people with the information they are looking for and help them address the problems they are looking to solve. If you’re looking to get started making sure your site is optimized for search, you can sign up for our Free SEO Health Check. If you have any other questions want to share some SEO tips of your own, please feel free to leave a comment below.

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