Besides content and links, RankBrain is confirmed as one of the most important in ranking factors in Google algorithm, after having been launched in late 2015.
As it is not as clearly understood as the first two major SEO factors, let us spend some time to understand what RankBrain is.
Now, I’ll try to make a concise description based on what I know.
Being aware that content and links are the most important ranking factors that have plenty of derivatives in tow.
But as Google revealed the foundation and basis for search rankings, these factors have been heavily manipulated in order to game results.
Abuse in content came in various shapes and sizes: keyword stuffing, content scraping and so on that Panda update was released in an attempt to address the problem and weed out low quality content out from search index.
Abuse in links arose with the emergence of black hat link building and other processes that were deemed unethical such as buying links, creating link networks and guest posting using specially crafted anchor text and prompted Google to release Penguin to penalize websites although enabling them to ‘disavow’ inbound links they cannot remove from their link network.
Indeed, the cat and mouse game played between Google and certain websites has made search engine optimization more complicated. But nonetheless it was necessary to provide better user experience among users. The emphasis on UX can’t be more elaborated with the recent announcement about Google about importance of HTTPS, mobile-first indexing and site loading speed.
While both inbound links and content factors are important ranking signals — as links indicate authority and content is ultimately what search engine users are looking for — Google’s ability to understand what they are looking for is equally crucial. Those days when basis for search result lies plainly on search query were long gone. Additional factors have been incorporated since — search history, location, locale and so on.
Basically that’s the idea RankBrain is trying to convey to webmasters and marketers — understand what people mean when they search using a specific query and continuously adapting to find the connection between what they actually are looking for and how they are doing it.
If Google has been giving hints on search ranking factors like inbound links and content, only to be abused by keyword stuffing, content scraping, link selling, etc. But with RankBrain it can be “abused” only for the benefit of search engine users, especially when they use rather complex or broad terms that have multiple meanings.
So the ultimate question you need answered: how can I integrate RankBrain into my SEO campaign?
Before delving deeper into the details, understand that this doesn’t alter the basic process of doing SEO, uniting rich content and sound website structure — only that we’d focus a bit more on content part.
As keyword is the foundation of SEO, every campaign includes keywords at the beginning. We research for keywords people use and try to connect with these keywords with appropriate content based on user intent.
For example if we are a language learning company, we can imagine prospects start by typing in learn german, german language lessons, german language school.
Although the main keyword is apparently german language, related terms are best if also included. With RankBrain’s machine learning feature, a searcher’s query is better understood based on his or her intent rather than what’s literally typed on the search box. This means making the whole page devoted to the same topic of german language and its variations, RankBrain algorithm will have a better understanding about the context of the page.
With a list of keywords similar to that list above, you can create a rather comprehensive article about the main theme, along with subtopics. To a searcher, it makes sense if your page about learning the German language is comprehensive: where to start learning the German language, basic German phrases, local German-language schools, best techniques to learn it, common challenges, or free German tutorials online, and so on. In that way, no matter what the search user’s intent is, your article is likely going to cover it.
Using Google AdWords, you’d like to enter the main keyword and similar terms and extract the most promising ones — those that attract at least decent amount of queries every month. Keep a list or download a spreadsheet of these terms.
After extracting your list of keywords on AdWords, you can then perform a query for these terms. For example, I used learn german in hong kong. The results will give a hint of what search engine users might have used or refined their their original query.
Such terms can be further incorporated in the content, such as when you create a section called Schools that Teach German Language in Hong Kong. You will be able to list down the terms included in the list, plus a brief description if you want to.
Now, I must warn against keyword stuffing as seemingly new list of keywords need to be incorporated into the content. Without content direction, it is easy to be tempted into sprinkling these keywords into the page. These keywords should be added so they bring value to the whole theme instead of just an SEO requirement.
It is like using this keyword in a sentence, and finding a place in the whole article where the sentence makes sense without disrupting the thought of the article, instead of randomly appearing in the page without much coherence.
If there are several keywords that have high volume of queries (whether this is 400 or more) every month, you can decide whether to expand that section within that singular but comprehensive page, or create a separate page within your site that your visitors can experience better user experience (such as easier to locate the fine points), and link to that page. This is beneficial because visitors don’t have to leave the page to access a related online content.
Without leaving anything to chance, you now must have diligently researched the keywords and incorporate them into a selected page. This is to ensure that once your page is ranked prominently, you don’t have to worry about it getting pulled down because unsatisfied users left negative feedback (see the Feedback link below right of the image above) regarding their experience with your page.
RankBrain, powered by machine learning, is just an enhancement, not a replacement, of Google Hummingbird to take semantic search one step further as it analyzes ambiguous, broad or otherwise indistinguishable semantic queries, learns from its previous experience and applying that learning in the future. Adopting this into our SEO strategy can pay much bigger dividends than just focusing on singular target keywords that are too difficult to find any ranking progress.