What Is RankBrain? How Google’s AI Interprets Search Intent

Aaron Haynes
Feb 2, 2024
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RankBrain is arguably Google’s most impactful machine learning-based algorithm to date. Why? Every time a user enters a query into Google’s search bar, RankBrain works its magic, reading between the lines and delivering on-context, nuanced results that were previously out of reach.

But here’s where RankBrain really shines—unlike Google’s non-machine learning-based algorithmic iterations, RankBrain has the unique ability to learn and improve over time, making it a game-changer in search technology.

This level of sophistication has serious implications for search engine optimization (SEO) and content creation, especially considering that out of over 200 different ranking factors, RankBrain is now considered the third most important signal in determining ranking on Google search.

To get you up to speed with everything RankBrain, in this guide, we

  1. answer the question, “What is RankBrain?”
  2. delve into its impact on SEO,
  3. and why it’s a key player in Google’s suite of search algorithms.

What Is RankBrain?

Announced back in October of 2015, RankBrain is a machine learning-based algorithm developed by the ingenuitive folk at Google. It uses artificial intelligence (AI) to interpret the nuances of human language, particularly in complex, ambiguous, or never-seen-before search queries. And unlike Google’s less sophisticated algorithms that rely on a pre-set of rules and calculations, RankBrain has the unique ability to reflect on and learn from past experiences.

Here’s how it works: prior to RankBrain’s introduction, Google would simply see a search query as a string of characters and words. As described by Google, “…it helped us understand how words relate to concepts.” So when RankBrain was rolled out, the machine learning-based algorithm allowed the search engine to take into account a search query in its entirety and even consider previously ignored “stop words,” like “the” and “and.” While seemingly insignificant, these words are sometimes crucial to fully grasping a search engine user’s intent.

RankBrain also possesses the ability to identify patterns between searches that, at first glance, might not appear related but help to further enhance its understanding and improve user experience (UX).

Learn more: Interested in broadening your SEO knowledge even further? Check out our SEO glossary, where we’ve explained over 250+ terms.

Why Is RankBrain Important?

The effects of RankBrain on search cannot be understated. It’s not just another cog in the machine—since its roll-out, RankBrain has had a significant impact on search results.

As we just hinted at, the introduction of RankBrain puts user satisfaction at the forefront of Google search. Its algorithmic considerations go beyond traditional ranking signals like keyword use and backlinks, instead honing in on the true intent behind a user’s search query.

In other words, it doesn’t just look at the raw data—it looks at the story behind the data, considering various user interaction signals, such as click-through rates, bounce rates, and dwell time, to gauge how satisfied users are with the search results. This focus on user satisfaction is a game-changer, pushing websites to not only provide relevant content but also to create a positive user experience.

RankBrain is a true testament to Google’s commitment to delivering not just high-quality, relevant search results but also an ever-increasingly smooth user experience. Since its introduction, it’s become a key player in Google’s suite of search algorithms. The exact reason why understanding its inner workings is crucial to mastering SEO.

The Relationship Between RankBrain and SEO

In the pre-RankBrain era, SEO was largely based on keyword optimization—including keywords in your content that users were most likely to type into the search bar. And while this strategy is still fundamental to on-page SEO best practices, the focus has shifted to a more nuanced position. Now, more weight has shifted toward creating content that quickly yet comprehensively answers a user’s query.

The Death of One-Keyword-One-Page Strategy

To really drive this point home, take the one-keyword-one-page strategy as an example of the shift enacted by RankBrain. The one-keyword-one-page strategy, a once-popular approach where each page of a website was optimized around a single keyword, has essentially lost its effectiveness in the wake of RankBrain.

Given RankBrain’s ability to understand both the context and intent behind a search query, the algorithm can match a query with relevant content, even if the web page doesn’t include the keyword at all. Google’s John Mueller has spoken on this previously, “Over the years, our systems have gotten quite good at recognizing what a page is about, even if the keywords are not mentioned at all.”

However, it’s important to note that while RankBrain has changed how we should approach SEO, traditional tactics like keyword research, on-page optimization, and link building are still vital. So, at the end of the day, if you base your SEO strategy around creating high-quality, helpful, and relevant content that provides value to the user, you’re giving your web pages the best chance to rank on the search engine results pages (SERPs).

How to Optimize for RankBrain?

Here are some ways you can optimize your content for RankBrain:

Prioritize User Satisfaction Metrics

RankBrain and UX go hand in hand, meaning metrics like click-through rate (CTR), bounce rate, and dwell time are more important than ever. To improve in these areas, ensure your content is engaging, relevant, and provides value.

Use Keywords Effectively

Understanding the intent behind a keyword is crucial to aligning with RankBrain’s algorithmic preferences. Instead of focusing on a single keyword, consider the broader topic and the related keywords that users might search for. Taking this approach will help you create comprehensive content that satisfies a range of user queries.

Optimize Titles and Description Tags for CTR

The way in which you write your title tags and meta descriptions plays a significant role in attracting clicks from organic search results. Make them compelling and relevant to a user’s search query to encourage them to click on your content.

Reduce Bounce Rate and Boost Dwell Time

Improving user engagement on your website’s pages will send positive signals to RankBrain. Take the approach of writing in an engaging tone, break your text into small, digestible chunks, include visual elements, and answer user queries early in your content, but encourage them to read more to keep readers engaged and increase dwell time.

Use Natural Language

RankBrain loves easy-to-understand, natural, and conversational language. In other words, don’t just optimize for search engines—write your content for human readers.

Update Old Content

Updating old content is another great way to optimize for RankBrain. You could consider merging topically relevant posts into one comprehensive guide and then redirect the old URLs to the merged one.

Conclusion and Next Steps

Here at Loganix, we offer a range of SEO services that are designed to not just navigate the complexities of RankBrain but also other Google algorithm iterations. Whether you’re on the hunt for a comprehensive SEO audit, keyword research, or a full-fledged SEO campaign, our team of experts is here to help.

So why wait? Take the next step in your SEO journey today.

🚀 Discover how Loganix’s SEO services will help you optimize for RankBrain and achieve your digital marketing goals. 🚀

Written by Aaron Haynes on February 2, 2024

CEO and partner at Loganix, I believe in taking what you do best and sharing it with the world in the most transparent and powerful way possible. If I am not running the business, I am neck deep in client SEO.