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How the Google AI Algorithm RankBrain Affects Your Site Ranking

A good page ranking on Google can be a great source of website traffic, business leads and revenue. Different studies estimate the percentage of clicks captured by page 1 results as between 70 and 92 percent, while page 2 results could be as low as 6 percent. (From Forbes: The Value Of Search Results Rankings) So it’s not surprising that using Search Engine Optimization (SEO) techniques to improve page rankings is important for marketing folks. However, SEO is becoming increasingly tricky over time as Google makes frequent changes in ranking factors, and these changes are not shared in great detail.

SEO experts estimate that the Google ranking algorithm consists of over 200 factors. Some of the important ones are known to be content, backlinks, mobile page speed and metadata, plus there are new developments like voice search, but exactly how each one is to be tinkered with is not clear anymore. Practices that were prevalent once are now simplistic and ineffective, for example, keyword optimization, or increasing the occurrence of certain key phrases in the content.

To add to the challenge, SEO folks now have to deal with a new animal, an Artificial Intelligence (AI) algorithm that Google calls RankBrain and uses to give better search results. Google first announced the role of RankBrain in 2015 and said it was among the three most important factors for ranking.

Initially, RankBrain was used to handle queries given for the first time or those that were complex to understand. It related these to previous queries and learned from patterns and behaviors, to ‘guess’ what the searcher wanted. RankBrain learns by analyzing batches of past searches and matching search results. It is constantly learning the context and intent behind search queries and estimating how well a site has satisfied visitors. This is done by analyzing metrics such as click-through rate (CTR) – the percentage of users who click on a link when it’s displayed to them, bounce rate – the percentage of visitors who leave the site from a particular page, and dwell time, or time spent on the page.

So when a search query is given, RankBrain analyzes the pattern, connects it to previous, similar queries, and then presents pages with a higher CTR, lower bounce rate and higher dwell time.

Since 2015, the number of queries that involve RankBrain has steadily been growing, as well as its impact on site rankings.

How does this impact your site’s page ranking and how should you now approach SEO? The answer lies in understanding the underlying philosophy in all Google’s ranking algorithms. Very clearly, Google wants users to have the best possible experience, by presenting those sites that best match with the search query given.

This is a business imperative for Google, as it ensures that their search engine remains the most popular among users, which in turn drives many revenue streams.

So the focus of marketers and SEO professionals has to move away from the mechanics of SEO and towards providing valuable content and great user experience for a searcher looking for something specific. Does your content fulfill the visitor’s query so well that she doesn’t need to search any further? Will she spend some time browsing the content on your page, and read more pages on your site as well? These are the indications that RankBrain will use to ‘learn’ that your page is the right one to serve for this particular query, and your ranking will improve.

As RankBrain can tell that a search is similar to another one based on intent, you no longer need to add many different phrases for keyword optimization. So if you have a page about living the zero-waste lifestyle, you can now focus on giving plenty of valuable information through text as well as rich media such as videos, charts or infographics and adding content regularly. You no longer need to worry about whether you have optimized for variations of the search such as ‘how do I live a zero waste life’ and ‘living the zero-waste lifestyle’ and ‘how can I start zero-waste’. RankBrain will serve up your site if it’s the best thing for the seeker.

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