RankBrain: Google’s Artificial Intelligence shaking up SEO

In 2015, Google (once again) caused a mini revolution in the SEO world by introducing RankBrain, the third relevance criterion for the search engine, behind content and links. So what does this mean for your SEO strategy? In other words: what’s changing? The answer in the following!

RankBrain: what is it?

In 2015, Greg Corrado, Google Senior Research Scientist, introduced RankBrain. Since then, the new algorithm has become a founding pillar of SEO. Intimately linked to Hummingbird, RankBrain has become one of Google’s most important ranking criteria in the space of a few years. For many years, the company from Mountain View has been investing massively in machine learning and AI. The result is called RankBrain, an intelligent system that aims to better decipher users’ queries. The ultimate goal is to provide ever more relevant answers to Internet users, by deciphering their search intentions.

In short, RankBrain is a sort of artificial brain at the service of the relevance of search results. Its operation is based on a clever mix of automated learning, combined with AI based on a neural network. Hence the “Brain” part of RankBrain. The main challenge of the algorithm is to improve the understanding of how users interact with the search engine, but also why they choose to look at one result rather than another. In short, RankBrain works to translate the user’s query to better interpret it.

Google search: the RankBrain plus

Let’s start by saying that RankBrain does not replace Google’s algorithm, but rather improves it. In other words, RankBrain’s function is to refine the results offered to users. To do this, it relies on a sophisticated semantic understanding, which enables it to analyse the search intentions of Internet users. This allows it to offer results that include synonyms, or simply display a certain predetermined type of results. In addition to RankBrain, AI has also made it possible to develop Featured Snippets in position zero. How did this happen? The algorithm has simply learned to highlight a piece of content that provides a relevant answer to the user’s query. Impressive!

How to optimise for RankBrain?

This is the question that every SEO professional asks: how to adapt to the “RankBrain” factor? The formula is quite simple: to maximise your chances of appearing in the SERPs, you need to adopt certain good practices. The good news is that we’re going to tell you about them below.

Synonyms instead of repeating keywords

Remember, we told you that RankBrain was based on a fine-grained semantic analysis, in addition to a real notion of Automatic Language Processing (ALP). Result: keyword stuffing doesn’t work anymore. The solution is to enrich your semantic universe, taking care to remain coherent. This is the only way you will be able to position yourself on SERPs generated by RankBrain. In short, you need to understand exactly what types of queries users are using to land on your site, and optimise accordingly. For example, with RankBrain, the search result for a transactional query is now completely different from that for an informational query.

What are competitors doing?

It is always a good idea to see what your competitors are doing. As far as RankBrain is concerned, the right strategy is to analyse the content of your competitors positioned in the top 3 of Google’s SERPs. Let me explain: for Google, the priority is to provide the best response to users. So far, nothing too complicated. To do this, RankBrain will take into account, in addition to the analysis of the user’s behaviour in relation to the results proposed on the SERP, several other key factors: bounce rate, time spent on the site, CTR, clicked links, etc.

How does this relate to your SEO performance? It’s very simple: RankBrain calculates your semantic score based on the performance of your competitors. Hence the relevance of analysing the content of your competitors’ pages to develop your own content strategy. At this level, you can use tools such as Ahrefs, which helps you identify new keywords and enrich your semantic field.

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