One of the most vital yet often overlooked SEO influences is Google RankBrain. If you really want to rank well on Google today, optimizing for RankBrain is a crucial step that all marketers should take, in addition to the nearly infinite number of other tasks.
In fact, Google has recently disclosed that it’s the third most important ranking signal for the search engine, making it a necessity.
Here is a complete guide to help define RankBrain and detail how you can use it to your advantage in your marketing efforts.
What Exactly is Google RankBrain?
Put simply, RankBrain is a machine-learning artificial intelligence algorithm that helps Google sort and understand search results for each query. This subsequently helps improve sorting processes and list more relevant results for users.
Prior to the development and implementation of RankBrain, all of Google’s algorithm was manually coded. This meant that Google engineers were responsible for testing different changes on their own and determining if they’re worth implementing or not.
While human engineers still operate the algorithm and continue to work on it, RankBrain also makes its own changes based on user satisfaction.
For example, RankBrain may find that a certain list of search results has culminated in a low user satisfaction rate, test a new algorithm, and then emphasize the importance of high-quality backlinks on the query by a certain percentage, which then results in a higher user satisfaction rate.
This is done independently of the engineers.
Other factors that RankBrain may consider include the freshness of the content, its length, reader engagement, and domain authority, among many others. It then looks closely at how users interact with those results on the new algorithm, and reverts back to the old one if user satisfaction is low.
To illustrate the effectiveness of RankBrain, Google decided to test the effectiveness of this AI against a group of engineers to identify the best page based on a certain search query. In the end, they found that RankBrain outperformed the engineers by an impressive 10%.
Because of these results, we can pretty much conclude that RankBrain is here to stay for a long time, and it’s only likely to improve.
How Does RankBrain Work?
RankBrain has two central purposes:
- Comprehending specific search queries
- Measuring the interaction between users and the results of those entered queries
How RankBrain Learns to Fully Understand Search Queries
One of the key issues that Google has experienced for several years is that 15% of the search terms entered in Google are completely new and never-before-searched.
While this number may seem relatively insignificant at first, consider that this accounts for 15% of billions of daily searches, or roughly 450 million. Needless to say, that’s a lot.
Before the advent of RankBrain, Google had no clue what people were actually searching for when they entered search terms. Instead, it was all guesswork.
For instance, say you wanted to search for a specific product made by a company, but didn’t know the name, so you used descriptors like “new rocket made by tesla,” Google would simply look for results that included all of those in the content.
In turn, the results could be largely inaccurate as a result, but RankBrain actually puts search phrases in context, forming 100% accurate results.
RankBrain achieves this by looking at new keywords that have never been searched before and matching them with familiar keywords.
Basically, Google RankBrain doesn’t simply look at separate words and combine them at random like Google used to do. Instead, it looks at connected concepts and works to better understand them the way a human does.
The Measurement of User Satisfaction
RankBrain is capable of not only understanding new search terms, but it can also make alterations to the Google algorithm without assistance.
However, you may be curious as to how Google determines which results are good compared to the ones that are bad and irrelevant.
Ultimately, it likely does this by using user experience (UX) signals. The process is as follows:
- User types search query into Google
- RankBrain converts keywords into ideas
- RankBrain lists results for that idea
- RankBrain tries another page if user satisfaction is low
- RankBrain upranks a page if user satisfaction is high
This means that RankBrain continually tests which pages work for people and which don’t, and displays a new page if user satisfaction is low. If that page is also unsatisfactory, it will switch it again until it hits that user satisfaction sweet spot.
Some of the specific elements that RankBrain looks at include the organic click-through-rate (CTR), time spent on the page, bounce rate, and pogo-sticking, all of which are UX signals.
Let’s see how this would work if you enter “backpacking in europe affordable” when looking for specific tips on how to keep your backpacking trip consistently inexpensive.
After entering this term, three top results show up. You click on the first one, but it takes you to a pricing guide that simply lists all of the costs in different countries for various things, but this isn’t what you’re looking for because it’s too broad.
So, you go back to the search results page, and see that the third result is “10 tips for affordable backpacking in Europe,” which is exactly what you want.
Clicking on that result, you’ll likely spend more time on the page, which sends a signal to Google RankBrain that this result is ideal for the top spot.
Because of this realization, RankBrain will likely put that result at the top for that query in the future.
Keep in mind that going back and forth—called “pogo-sticking”—is something that Google pays close attention to when people perform searches. A high pogo-sticking rate will tell Google that the page needs to be dropped in favor of a better result.
How You Should Go About Keyword Research Now That RankBrain is Present
Now that Google has the ability to understand the context of keywords, you may want to consider modifying your approach to keyword research.
Here are some things to think about when conducting keyword research to take advantage of this development.
Don’t Focus so Much on Long-Tail Keywords
While certain specific long-tail keywords may still be important to target to maximize your outreach, they’re mostly obsolete today thanks to RankBrain.
Today, Google will rank common terms together on the same page, providing users with virtually identical search results if the terms are relatively similar.
For example, let’s enter “how to find the best keywords in your industry” on Google. These are the results:
On the other hand, if you search for “how to discover the top keywords in your niche,” the results are very similar.
Although the third and fourth results are different in this case, the first two results lead to the same source, showing that Google considers these terms to be similar enough to provide the same results at the top, which are what people are more likely to click on in any case.
Remember, long-tail keywords are still good to target, but there are other types of keywords to go after that can get better results.
Target Medium-Tail Keywords
Rather than focusing so much on long-tail terms, you’re better off using a strategy built around medium-tail keywords.
Medium-tail keywords are the ones that get plenty of search volume—more so than long-tail—while remaining moderately competitive compared to short-tail keywords.
Examples of medium-tail keywords might include “vegan meal plan” or “vegan diet restrictions,” keywords that are usually around 3-4 words long that are both broad and specific enough to be worth targeting.
RankBrain will create a web of related terms around medium-tail keywords to make them more specific.
How to Perform Keyword Research and On-Page SEO to Appease RankBrain
One of the best ways to take advantage of the RankBrain implementation is to create a single page around relatively generic medium-tail keywords that naturally incorporates modifiers to enhance them, turning them into specific long-tail keywords.
Today, a single page will do well to contain 2,000+ words about a certain topic, as this increases the chances that medium-tail keywords will be mentioned in different contexts, which RankBrain will include in search results.
To put it plainly, long and original pages targeting a few terms could rank for dozens or even hundreds of relevant keywords, provided the content is readable and engaging.
Optimizing Metadata for Increased CTR
One of the key RankBrain ranking signals mentioned earlier is organic CTR, which includes metadata such as titles and description tags.
Here are some ways to go about optimizing your meta titles and descriptions to make your pages appear enticing to Google users.
Create Emotional Title Tags
Emotional titles are far more popular than other types, which is common knowledge among many copywriters.
Avoid writing generic titles that simply list the information that’s on the page, such as “Best SEO Tips to Improve Your Rankings.”
Instead, consider something more exciting and original that stands out such as: “Revamp Your Online Marketing Efforts with These Hot SEO Tips.”
Just keep in mind that title tags have a length limit of roughly 60 characters, but length is specifically governed by pixel width, which can change this limit by one or two characters.
Include Numbers in Titles as Often as Possible
Experts including Neil Patel agree that numbers are an important means of increasing your CTR. Even if the post you include them in isn’t a list, they’re still beneficial in encouraging people to visit your website.
These numbers can include statistics or even a year or number of days.
Use Effective Wording in Your Titles
Also known as “power words,” appealing terms will help pack more of a punch in your titles. These words can include:
- Case Studies
There are plenty of ways to get creative with your titles using these and many other colorful terms in your title tags and content.
Write Optimized Description Tags
While description tags no longer directly affect SEO, they’re still needed to help boost CTR by influencing Google users.
If you’re already familiar with meta descriptions, you may be aware that the older meta description length limit was roughly 156 characters. However, this has recently been expanded to 320 characters, which leaves a lot more room for original and influential descriptions that encourage people to visit.
You can create the perfect description by including your target keyword once to bold it in the results, emotionally connecting in conjunction with the tone of the title, and featuring a brief call to action that tells individuals why they should visit that page.
Optimizing Content to Reduce Bounce Rate and Increase Engagement
Once you’ve given enough attention to the CTR side of optimization, it’s time to place emphasis on content optimization to keep those visitors engaged.
Google wants to know that people are happy with your content, which makes increasing dwell time an absolute necessity.
Why Improving Dwell Time is Necessary
The key indicator of your content’s quality is dwell time, which is the actual amount of time a visitor spends on the page after clicking through the search results.
The more time someone spends on the page, the more Google will take this as a sign that your page is worth raising up in the rankings.
If someone leaves the page within seconds of first arriving, this will tell RankBrain that your content is unhelpful and should drop in the rankings.
Ways to Improve Dwell Time
There are several strategies you can use to increase dwell time and significantly reduce bounce rate.
Step 1: Include Above-the-Fold Content That Stands Out
As soon as a visitor comes to your webpage, they want an immediate answer to their question, rather than have to scroll all the way down to a section that provides a sufficient answer.
One of the main ways to push content further down the page is a large image that occupies too much space at the top. The best way to avoid issues like this is to include your content right at the top of the page so the reader can jump in as soon as the page loads.
Step 2: Keep Intros Concise and Appealing
Try to avoid keeping your intros lengthy and bland. You may even want to spend more time constructing your intros than titles, because this is where a vast majority of visitors will determine whether they should continue reading or look elsewhere.
Keeping your intros between five and ten sentences at a maximum is good practice.
Step 3: Make Sure Your Content is Long and Detailed
Publishing long and in-depth content is something that can greatly increase dwell time and maintain reader engagement.
Even if it takes readers a longer time to get through a page because of the length, they’re more likely to stay if there’s enough information to help them and keep them absorbed.
Answering every question that a person may have about the topic you’re covering can help make sure they don’t turn to any other source for additional information.
Step 4: Divide Content into Easy-to-Read Subsections
Nobody wants to read a single wall of text that reaches over 2,000 words in length at a time. Thankfully, there’s an easy way to make long content more readable: subsections and subheadings.
Using subheadings such as H2s and H3s, you can easily break up content and keep it easy to read.
This is similar to how books work, as more people are likely to binge-read a novel with more chapters than one that contains fewer.
Ideally, you should include a subheading every two to three paragraphs.
Other Ways to Take Advantage of RankBrain
Here are some additional strategies that you can use to optimize for RankBrain.
Increase Your Brand Awareness to Further Increase CTR
While we already went over the numerous ways you can improve your website’s CTR, you can also give it a boost through more brand awareness.
Naturally, the more people know about your brand, the more they’re likely to perform searches pertaining to your business and trust you to provide them with the information they want.
You can increase brand awareness by:
- Using Facebook ads
- Informative email newsletters
- Releasing lots of content in a short period of time
Improve Dud Pages
If you have any pages such as blog posts or landing pages that aren’t performing the way you’d hoped, you can always refresh them.
You can improve these poorly performing pages by taking steps such as adding more appealing content, modifying titles to be more emotional, or revamping your meta descriptions, and then sharing the page as a new source of information.
Do Your Best to Appeal to RankBrain and See a Difference
With RankBrain in the back of your own brain when optimizing your website, you’ll be able to increase your rankings by appealing to your audience. Think of RankBrain as your visitors; it wants the same thing they want: helpful content.
The more you focus on optimizing the experience for the end user, the more you’re likely to get on RankBrain’s good side and see the kind of results you want.
Have any other information about RankBrain you’d like to discuss, or an experience you’d like to share regarding your success as a direct result from optimizing your strategies? Share with us below!