In October 2015 Google took the rare step of announcing a major addition to its search ranking algorithms.
That new addition, already in operation at the time of the announcement, was named RankBrain. It was revealed to be a major application of machine learning technology to aid a better understanding of search queries made by humans.
In his Future of SEO and Digital Marketing presentation before a group of top marketing professionals in Boston, Stone Temple Consulting CEO Eric Enge explained not only the basics of RankBrain, but its implications for SEO and digital marketing.
Watch that section of the presentation below, followed by my text summary, and relevant links for your further study.
What Is RankBrain and Why Does It Matter?
In their announcement of the addition of RankBrain to the Google search ranking algorithm, Google said it is now the “third most important ranking factor.” That makes it one of the most significant updates to Google Search since it was invented by Larry Page and Sergey Brin in their Stanford University dorm room. The first and second most important factors remain backlinks to your site and the quality and relevancy of your content.
So what is RankBrain? RankBrain’s primary function is to translate ambiguous or unusually worded queries into the standard queries Google can understand. Here’s an example of the type of query Google says RankBrain can understand and translate:
Can you figure out what question that person is actually asking? As a hint, here’s the result that Google returns with RankBrain in effect:
Now maybe you’ve got it! The more common language for this question: What predator is at the top of the food chain?
Most intelligent humans would probably have been able to figure that out eventually. But it’s a monumental task for a machine, given all the nuances and vagaries of human language. There are always a great number of different ways to say almost anything.
That’s where machine learning steps in. A machine learning algorithm is programmed to observe, test, and learn from its own feedback. In this case, RankBrain observes the language people use in queries on Google, and watches what results seem to be the ones that actually satisfy the users.
In this way, RankBrain continually grows its understanding of the variety of ways humans express themselves.
RankBrain is especially important as more people use mobile devices and voice search. People ask questions differently out loud than they do in text.
- Our in-depth study of how RankBrain has affected search results.
- Learn more about machine learning: The Machine Learning Revolution: How It Works and Its Impact on SEO on the Moz Blog
- View Eric’s full Future of Digital Marketing and SEO presentation.
- View the slide deck from that presentation.
- See the previous post in this series: The Rise of Rich Answers in Search
- Learn about our SEO services that can help your site win the visibility wars!