Google’s RankBrain Offers SEO Opportunities for Savvy Site Owners

Our brave new digital world is rapidly growing in ever increasing strides, placing the vast library of human knowledge at our fingertips, or on voice command. When we want to know something, we simple Google it, ask Siri, or throw out a question to our social network on Facebook. Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning are now powering many of these digital interactions, from Google Search to the Facebook Newsfeed… and this is just the beginning.

Google Canada Headquarters in Toronto

Thought Leadership Forum I attended at Google Canada Headquarters in Toronto 2015

Machine Learning Which Seems Almost Human… Her

The 2013 drama/romance Her starring Joaquin Phoenix, as Theodore, a sensitive writer recovering from the heartbreak of divorce, introduces us to an advanced, highly intelligent operating system, “Samantha,” characterized by the deeply alluring voice of Scarlett Johansson. This advanced OS, not only anticipates Theodore’s daily informational and organizational needs as a very-human-like assistant – kinda like when my iCal app gives me a traffic report and gently reminds me that if I leave now I’ll arrive on time for my next meeting – but learns from every interaction between the two of them, to the point that a genuine relationship, complete with all the drama, develops and flourishes in this new virtual reality.

We may be several decades from such intimate relationships with machines, but the seeds have been planted; and are starting to germinate everywhere from the secluded recesses of our modern day digital behemoths, to inner city pilot projects aiming to arm children with programming skills and computational thinking, as basic educational rights.

Artificial Intelligence (A.I.) research and development has seen a revival in the last half decade, resurrected from the doldrums of semi-plausible science fiction, think Weird Science or Data from Star Trek, into our mainstream digital world; pioneered by tech titans such as Google who are adopting AI principles into their search engine, and Facebook which is seeking greater dialogue with its users, rather than a passive consumption of content through their news feeds.

Google Search now has a significant Artificial Intelligence component, called RankBrain, playing a prominent role in its core search engine ranking factors. Google now openly admits that RankBrain is the third most important ranking factor, behind quality content and reputable backlinks, that influences search engine results in 2016.

What is RankBrain?

RankBrain is Google’s name for a machine-learning artificial intelligence system that’s used to help process its search results. –Danny Sullivan, Search Engine Land

Machine learning is a subset of computer science dedicated to enabling computers to learn without being explicitly programmed for a specific task. Machine learning leverages complex algorithms to transform data inputs into predictive analysis, similar to how Netflix sends you an email notification about a movie that it knows you’re going to love. RankBrain is Google’s deployment of this emerging technology to provide more accurate search engine results, especially for new, or unusually search queries that have never been seen before:

RankBrain uses artificial intelligence to embed vast amounts of written language into mathematical entities — called vectors — that the computer can understand. If RankBrain sees a word or phrase it isn’t familiar with, the machine can make a guess as to what words or phrases might have a similar meaning and filter the result accordingly, making it more effective at handling never-before-seen search queries. –Jack Clark, Bloomberg

This means that as our knowledge and understanding of the world around each of us evolves, in rapid step with our changing times, Google will be better able to handle our unique and personalized queries.

How Does RankBrain Play into SEO Strategy?

From a practical SEO perspective, businesses that want to effectively compete in search engine results need to keep in mind that content about new and interesting areas around a particular line of business will have a greater chance of ranking higher. If your content anticipates a current need by your target audience to be informed about emerging aspects of your business that may affect them, you’ll be adding value for any visitors who might be interested in the subject.

For example, if you conduct a Google search, looking for some information about your business or industry, but you can’t really find a satisfactory answer, this may be a clue about an informational void… an area that needs to addressed. If, through trial and error, coupled with your own intimate knowledge about your business, you can fill this informational void and publish your findings on your site, you could very well get the attention of RankBrain and be rewarded in the SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages).

80% of Google searches are informational in nature The Art of SEO. Yet even transactional related searches, often begin with an information gathering stage as consumers seek to narrow down the best choices that will fulfill their needs. By anticipating informational needs for consumes along various stages of the buying cycle and speaking to those needs, business owners can align with the emerging AI principles baked into RankBrain and bring more targeted, relevant traffic to their sites.

The Human Brain as a Model for A.I.

The name RankBrain is good reflection of what’s been happening in the world of A.I. development. The human brain is a marvelous achievement of evolution. Take the function of driving an automobile, for example, with many moving parts, split second decisions and judgement calls all flowing into one seamless act of cruising around town. Google, Apple, and a host of automakers are competing to bring fully autonomous vehicles to market, using the latest principles of A.I., many of which are now being modeled after the human brain and our capacity to learn from our environment:

That is where deep learning comes in. It is part of the broader A.I. discipline known as machine learning, which is based on principles used to train intelligent computing systems—and to ultimately let machines teach themselves. –Scientific American (June 2016)

Computer scientists are using the human brain as a model to create artificial neural networks which can do things like predict the next word in a sentence, determine the meaning of part of an image (based on the pixels around it) and provide more meaningful interactions for users in search and social media:

Facebook is applying artificial intelligence to everything users share — from status updates to cat videos… The long-term goal is to empower users to interact with the Facebook platform itself, and go from passively consuming content to engaging in a dialogue that helps them find the content that is most interesting to them. –CNBC

Speak Nicely to RankBrain and Open the Door to Search Generated Web Traffic

Our present day Siri may be light years behind Samantha, but the pace of advances in our digital world will only continue to increase as we delve deeper and faster in to the world of computer science; including exciting frontiers like quantum and biological computers, all converging in The Internet of Things.

Those companies, large or small, which can gauge where the wind is blowing and prepare for the commercial opportunities these shifts will mean for critical web business areas like the A.I. aspects coming into SEO, will be well positioned to stand out from the search pack.

If you’d like know more about how to speak nicely to RankBrain and open the door to a flow of beautiful, organic search traffic, contact Samurai Marketing to arrange a professional SEO consult.

Dave Bowman: Hello, HAL. Do you read me, HAL?

HAL: Affirmative, Dave. I read you.

Dave Bowman: Open the pod bay doors, HAL.

HAL: I’m sorry, Dave. I’m afraid I can’t do that.

2001: A Space Odyssey


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