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Google RankBrain, The Rise of Machine-Learning, and The Future of Search

The past six months have seen a spike in interest in artificial intelligence (AI). Most of this has been focused on the increasingly widespread application of the technology behind what makes AI work: machine-learning. While the impact of machine learning is being felt in industries all over the world, from manufacturing to advertising, where it affects all of us equally is in the realm of Google search.

The web has become such a part of everyday existence that we barely question it. Google is supplying us not only with the answers to all kinds of queries, but also providing us a globally accessible portal for business and commerce. Google’s success can be summed up in one word: relevance.

These algorithm updates are designed to help Google realize their mission to be the best search engine in the world: by being the most relevant.

Of course, in order to achieve this, Google has to collect and collate data on virtually every topic imaginable, while scaling an ever-expanding Everest of information, and managing billions of requests for directions to extremely specific locations. A near impossible task for even the most skilled engineers. So, Google introduced RankBrain!

But what exactly is the Google RankBrain algorithm update, how does it affect SEO, and what are the key things online content creators should know? Find out in today’s infographic on the topic. Did you learn anything, or have an extra point on the subject to make? Let us know in the comments. Don’t forget to share this infographic!

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What is Google Rank Brain?

Very simply, Google RankBrain a machine-leaning AI system that forms part of Google’s Hummingbird algorithm update.

Hummingbird is all about semantic search, or in other words, contextual relevance.

Google handles over 2 billion searches every day, of which 15% (or 450 million) the search engine has never seen before. RankBrain sorts these unique queries into contextual “entities,” chunks of language that have meaning, rather than simply returning results based on keywords.

RankBrain translates unique queries, ambiguous sentences, and more obscure “long-tail” keyword phrases into mathematical vectors, which it then uses to search for patterns in the gigantic pool of data that is the web, in order to sort and return the most relevant pages and results for the searcher.

It essentially searches for common queries and relates the more complex ones to them, based on context, and then refining its abilities to make similar connections in the future.

It is this aspect of RankBrain that makes is so powerful.

Each search is an opportunity for it to learn. After processing each query, the machine-learning engine makes slight adjustments to itself, essentially updating its part of the algorithm automatically as it makes connections and relates complex searches to data about similar or related searches it has collected in the past. It then revises search results based on this new information.

RankBrain, then, is the part of Hummingbird that makes the algorithm so powerful and effective at fulfilling Google’s mission.

Why Does It Matter?

After the devastation the Panda and Penguin algorithm updates caused online marketers, SEOs (and their clients) in 2012-2013, the entire landscape of online marketing and business has been on edge about any major announcement coming from Google about their new algorithm updates.

Part of why RankBrain caused such stir when it was announced in an article published by Bloomberg in 2015 is that it was revealed that out of the 200+ ranking signals Google currently uses to rank pages, RankBrain was named as the third-most important.

(The first and second most important are links and content, in case you were wondering.)

However, what is most significant about RankBrain is that it is not a ranking factor that can be “gamed” by SEOs. In fact, it encourages Google’s prime directive of extreme relevance by forcing best practices in content production and link-building.

This is not to say that traditional SEO doesn’t matter anymore. In fact, RankBrain interacts dynamically with Google’s other ranking factors to return relevant answers – factors like social shares, bounce rate, time on site, etc. Part of what it does is read data from how other users interacted with a particular site related to a specific query, and uses that data to rank search results.

So the reason RankBrain matters is because it is geared towards improving the overall user experience of Google search, by affecting search results. But hopefully for the better.

How Google Rank Brain Affects SEO

RankBrain is primarily designed to handle the 15% of Google searches that are uncommon, so the impact on SEO is minimal.

What is crucial to understand, however, is that RankBrain represents a significant step forward in Google’s use of machine-learning and AI to sift, sort and filter search results.

What this means in practice is that SEOs and marketers looking to rank highly in search results need to pay attention to where Google is going.

In 2015, Rand Fishkin declared that Google is a “two algorithm world” and that the major impact of the future of Google on SEO was the fact that optimization had to account for ranking inputs for machines, as well as user outputs for humans.

So as well as ranking factors like keyword targeting, quality and uniqueness of content, being spider friendly, having excellent UX, and multi-device optimization, user output factors like task completion success, relative CTR, and content gap fulfilment are now a much more significant piece of the SEO puzzle.

This seems to be the very essence of RankBrain, which is the first major step toward the refinement of Google’s evolution into the realm of machine-learning.

For now, however, what is important to know is, firstly, sticking to SEO best practices means that RankBrain won’t affect you too much. Secondly, instead of being concerned with the effects of an algorithm update on your SEO, you should focus on building your page and creating content for search engines and human users.

Here’s what that means according to the wizard of Moz:

  1. Onsite SEO has to be optimized for more for clicks, less for keywords
  2. Go for better engagement by:
  • Making sure your site is as fast as possible
  • Providing content that satisfies searcher needs
  • Having excellent UX across all devices
  • Including features that draw users deeper into your site
  • Leaving out features like pop-ups and auto-play videos that tend to annoy visitors
  1. Fill content gaps in your visitors’ knowledge
  1. Earn more links and social shares, and encourage visitors to return
  1. Create content based on user task fulfillment

Most of this advice is pretty standard, and will take you to 80% of ranking success. Points 3 and 5, however, is where you have the opportunity to provide searchers with that vital 20% which will put you head and shoulders above the competition.

Fishkin calls these essential success factors “10X” content and they are 100% in line with where Google is headed in the future.

Here are Fishkin’s criteria for 10X content:

  • Delivers an exceptional user experience through visuals, layouts, and general design
  • The content should be “meaty,” unique, authoritative, and trustworthy
  • Content should evoke a positive emotional response
  • The content has a viral quality about it, or at least has been shared enough to make it part of the wider conversation in a market
  • Content that solves a problem or provides an answer in a way that is complete, comprehensive and actionable

What All of This Means For You

These criteria are already being held up as the gold standard for content marketing success, and users are being trained to expect this higher quality of content from online businesses and marketers.

This kind of “10X” approach to content creation is going drive the gap separating the winners and the losers online wider and wider as we move further into 2017 and beyond.

So what can you do about it?

First of all, you can’t approach anything related to content marketing online today without a well-developed strategy. Anything less than a professional, committed approach is going to deliver mediocre results.

Here are my top 5 suggestions for creating content that will help you win in 2017:

1. Get specific

As I’ve mentioned multiple times throughout this post, Google wants the most relevant, accurate and content rich results to be delivered to searchers. One of the best ways to do this is to get specific.

The major problem with most content out there today is that it is too broad, which is the result of not knowing your audience well enough. Find out what their most pressing concerns are and create ultra-targeted content pieces that address those very specific problems. You can also take a specific angle or perspective on an issue, make it your own and deliver a unique solution for your market.

2. Get visual

It’s a given these days that you need great design for your website. But as the web becomes more visual and users get used to having a multimedia experience, no only should you start including more images in your blog posts, because online video is more popular than ever, you should also look to post video content and repurpose your most popular written content as videos.

3. Be original

This means not only having a unique perspective, angle or opinion on your industry or topic, it also means being able to deliver original research as part of your content. Talk to your audience, survey your email list, and mine insights from influencers in your niche. Then create stellar content around it.

4. Go Social

This goes without saying in 2017, but to maximize shares and earn quality, natural links you need to be proactive about promotion. Instead of focusing on pumping out reams of “good” content all the time, pour that energy into creating fewer, more valuable content assets and promote them relentlessly.

5. Be Influential

OK, we all know this is way easier said than done, but if you approach your content marketing with this intent in mind, you will make very different choices before you create, publish and promote your content. Look at how the influencers in your market position and promote themselves. How can you take a fresh perspective on the major issues in your market? Is there an opportunity to segment the audience and become the top influencer in that sub-niche?

Conclusion

While Google RankBrain represents a breakthrough in the application of machine-learning, what we have seen up to now is just the beginning of a new way the algorithm behind search is operating.

What this intelligent algorithm will evolve into remains to be seen, which means the best we can do for now is to keep a close eye on Google in 2017.

As far as SEO goes, the best advice from top SEOs is this: stop trying to trick Google and follow where the search giant is going by optimizing for the future, because the future of search belongs to the machines.

Ultimately, what ranking highly comes down to is simply what Google has always wanted – fresh, natural, relevant content that solves searchers’ problems and gives them comprehensive answers to their questions.

If you haven’t been doing this, well, here’s your opportunity to up your game. In fact, this is all in line with the top trends in content marketing anyway.

If anything, RankBrain is a wakeup call to us as marketers that the web has finally grown up and now it is simply time to get serious.

What steps can you take today to make your site more relevant?

Let me know in the comments!

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