What is RankBrain?

RankBrain is now entrenched as part of Google’s search ranking algorithm and is said to be the third most important ranking factor after inbound links and great content. It is having a big effect on how searches are presented.

But what exactly is RankBrain and why should small business owners care?

RankBrain is “artifical intelligence” (AI) applied to search engines.

AI is all about machines learning how to get better at doing things. So RankBrain is software that helps Google to improve it’s search results by learning what worked for a particular user in the past.

Search graph

Back in October 2015 Bloomberg broke the story that Google was using a new system to help deliver search results.

It started out as a way for Google to perform better on the 15% of searches it had never seen before. These are searches that Google was being asked to carry out for the very first time.

The remaining 85% of searches, Google had seen before and could already test which search results were proving popular (being clicked on).

But those pesky 15% of never-before-seen searches were proving difficult for Google to confidently provide results for.

Enter RankBrain

RankBrain aimed to assist by using machine learning to link words together into “vectors” and figure out the relationships between words and word clusters.

For example: Google may have seen the query “what’s the best digital marketing company in London” many times before. But it may never have seen the query “show me top London online marketing firms”.

RankBrain can tell that these queries are similar – that is, the search intent is the same (to find top digital marketing companies based in London).

Here’s a technical post from Google about machine learning in search – very cool.

What’s the state of play today?

RankBrain worked so well for these never-before-seen queries that Google decided to integrate RankBrain into almost all searches.


So now Google has a tool which can much better interpret theĀ intentĀ a user search. This understanding of meaning transforms Google from a dumb machine into an intelligent interpreter of meaning.

So where next for small businesses?

I stress that today, RankBrain is just one of hundreds of factors involved in generating search results.

It means that small business need to worry just a little bit less about creating pages which contain the exact keywords and phrases used in search queries. Perhaps instead of creating two pages, you could create one.

It also means that content should be aimed more and more at human readers and less at search engine spiders.

That’s good news for search engine users and for content providers like SMEs.

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