In this article we will share and explain to the best of our knowledge, information about the latest Google algorithm update, RankBrain. Moreover, we will teach you methods and search engine optimization hacks to use, if you don't want your website to loose ranking. I'm sure you will find it very useful if you are interested in keeping your online business alive.

What Is RankBrain?

RankBrain is Google’s name for a machine-learning AI system that’s used to help process its search results, as was reported by Bloomberg and also confirmed to us by Google. Machine learning is where a computer teaches itself how to do something, rather than being taught by humans or following detailed programming.

Is RankBrain Part Of Google’s Hummingbird Search Algorithm?

Probably. Hummingbird is the overall search algorithm, just like a computer has an overall mother board in it. The mother board itself may be made up of various parts, such as an CPU, a cooler, a net card and so on. In the same way, Hummingbird encompasses various parts, with RankBrain being one of the latest. Hummingbird also contains other parts with names familiar to those in the SEO space, most known being PandaPenguin,  Pigeon designed to improve local results and Mobile Friendly designed to reward mobile-friendly pages.

The way 30 trillion web pages are ranked changed forever on October 26, 2015. That's when the world became aware of RankBrain, Google’s machine-learning artificial intelligence system.

Keep in mind that Google calls RankBrain "the third-most important signal contributing to the result of a search query." The main concern of Google is to eliminate any web pages from search results that don't provide the highest-quality content and to find the most relevant answers for users. Now online marketers who want to gain visibility on organic SERPs, must prepare to fight a new war: The war against RankBrain.

The Pre-RankBrain Terminators

Judgment Day: How RankBrain can affect your website and what to do

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Judgment Day: How RankBrain can affect your website and what to do

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In the year 2010, when Google started to take control over the net, sent a G-800, codename Panda, to hunt and kill the rankings of websites with low-quality content. The second algorithm, came in 2012, known as Penguin, and changed the rules of the game. Then, Google sent a G-1000, to find websites with unnatural link profiles and terminate them from the search results (If you managed SEO campaigns back then, I think you remembered how you where swearing beneath your teeth when you lost ranking for websites with backlinks from domains unrelated to your website, I remember I did). Anyhow, while neither algorithmic update was perfect, both succeeded in their overall mission. Now Google is sending a third.

RankBrain is Analyzing Page Relevance on a 1-10 Scale

Now, Google has sent a G-X, a new machine learning system that will change SEO and the organic search results as we've known them. This page relevance is based on your previous search results, bounce rate, the long tail keywords compared with the same searches from other users, social media shares, likes and geo-location (my assumption is that this algo is implemented only for English language, because the differences between grammars). Everything is related to page authority and relevance. Every page will get a score between 1 and 10, with 1 being a dubious result and 10 being extremely strong.

Judgment Day: How RankBrain can affect your website and what to do

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This RankBrain technology is eerily derived from earlier G-350 technology, you may know it better as Google AdWords' Quality Score. AdWords technology never needed external signals (e.g., links) to rank paid search ads for relevance. Soon it will be the same for organic search. Is this the SEO apocalypse? Are we going to be forced to pay Google AdWords for first page ranking? I don’t think so, and in this article will share some solutions to use and to help you prepare for what’s coming. We have learned how to fight back and now it's time to share our intel on how to defeat RankBrain (joking, not defeating him, just adapting to it). We make our own fate and today I’m sharing three key strategies to prepare for RankBrain in order to prevent your website from facing Judgment Day. After the lastet algorithm update and rollout, have you checked your rankings?

Judgment Day: How RankBrain can affect your website and what to do

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Keep in mind that for everything, there is a solution. Don’t sweat, relax and imagine that if you don’t protect and improve your website, one day you’ll wake up to find your online business it’s just gone, due to loss in ranking. Its fate decided by a new order of machine intelligence in just a microsecond.

It’s common sense to assume that in the future, RankBrain will take over all search results. All of them. In one possible future, Judgment Day happens on September 27, 2018 (Google's 18th birthday). Now, RankBrain is mainly used on complex long-tail search queries. But assuming RankBrain will only ever be used on long-tail queries would be dramatically underestimating its potential.

Google has confirmed that that 15% out of the millions of queries it handles have never been searched before (on this link you have an info graphic to confirm that). Google simply doesn't have enough signals (insufficient link and historical page data) to determine the most relevant search result for users. In order to understand an unclear query, RankBrain uses vectors, which are "vast amounts of written language embedded into mathematical entities," and it tries to see if those vectors may have a meaning in relation to the query it's trying to answer. The point is that RankBrain is learning in an advanced way what people click on and whether or not they are satisfied with the result when they click through. Google's RankBrain will learn and come up with better answers based on analysis of user success metrics.

Judgment Day will come when RankBrain becomes the #1 ranking factor.

The link and on-page SEO signals won’t go away completely (they can always be used to corroborate other factors). But one day, they won’t be the most important factor in rankings. RankBrain will accordingly with the relevance score. That sure sounds a lot like Quality Score, right? Google already uses a relevance score with AdWords, the Display Network, Youube Ads, and Gmail Ads. They just call it Quality Score. Organic search will be next.

Judgment Day: How RankBrain can affect your website and what to do

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Now, on those three RankBrain strategies you’ll need to survive in RankBrain new world.

1. High Organic CTRs: Is Your Highest Probability For SEO Success

Google uses its Quality Score algorithm to rate the quality and relevance of your search queries. Click-through rate, the relevance of each keyword to its ad group, landing page quality and relevance, ad text relevance, the history of your website performances, all of this ultimately determines your ranking. The key to beating the Quality Score algorithm is just a matter of beating the expected click-through rate for a given search query. Important: CTRs will vary by time of day, device, location, and a lot of other factors.

What does this have to do with SEO, in a world where "content is king" and backlinks are critical to better rankings? Well, that's where you need to start adjusting your thinking.

The future of SEO isn't about beating another page based on content length, social metrics, keyword usage, or your number of backlinks. Better organic search visibility will come from beating your competitors with a higher than expected click-through rate.

What people search it’s both the problem and the solution. RankBrain is learning from human decisions, specifically what they click on. Attracting higher click-through rates will be critical to your SEO success, just as it is the most important component of PPC success.

To understand how it works, go into Search Console in Google Webmaster Tools. There you will see you average position and click-through rates for the queries you rank for.

To put it simple, if you're in Position 1, and you have a CTR lower than 30%, you're in danger of losing your spot once RankBrain finds a relevant page with a better-than-expected CTR for its current position. If you have a much higher than expected CTR in a lower position (e.g., if you have a 15% CTR in Position 3), you should expect a bump up to at least the #2 position.

How can you figure out your “organic Quality Score”

The problem is that Google doesn’t provide you with a Quality Score number to tell you if your content is above or below the expected click-through rate. Fortunately, I can help you with a hack to determine which of your keywords underperforming compared to the expected click-through rate: Let’s call it: Website Judgment Day Prevention Algorithm. Just download all of your query data from Webmaster Tools and plot CTR vs. Average Position for the queries you rank for organically, like this:

Judgment Day: How RankBrain can affect your website and what to do

Next, plot an exponential trend line. The queries that fall below your average CTR are your queries that are likely most at risk for future RankBrain updates. Conversely, the queries that score above the trend line are most likely to get a boost from future RankBrain updates.

If you then do a secondary sort on your most “at risk” pages using a metric like page views or conversions generated by those keywords, you can prioritize your optimization efforts on the most important, most at-risk pages on your site. The Bottom line is that you must beat the expected CTR for a given organic search position. Optimize for relevance or pay the price.

Judgment Day: How RankBrain can affect your website and what to do

The best bet is on considering the factors of personalized search as priorities, because search entities are strictly related to personalization and insist on content optimization using semantic SEO practices. The point is in helping Google understand the context of your content and the meaning behind the concepts and entities you are writing about.

What we should do is consider Branding, under this perspective, surely is a strategy that may have positive correlation to RankBrain and Hummingbird as they interpret and classify web documents and their content.

2. How to Optimize Your SEO Headlines and Descriptions for Above Average CTR

“SEO” headlines (title tags) and meta descriptions do OK. But keyword-optimized titles are the equivalent of “Dynamic Keyword Insertion” for PPC ads.

Judgment Day: How RankBrain can affect your website and what to do

For a search query like “Search Engine Optimization” these websites probably perform well enough. But, regarding titles and descriptions, they're also pretty boring, generic and average. Would you click on them? Nope.

Judgment Day: How RankBrain can affect your website and what to do

If you want beat RankBrain, "OK" isn't enough. Your organic listings must have REMARKABLE click-through rates.

The best way increase CTR for a website is to leverage emotional triggers and that certain website can help you solve your problem in a simple way:

Judgment Day: How RankBrain can affect your website and what to do

Using emotions will get your target customer/audience to click! Anger. Disgust. Affirmation. Fear. Acceptance. Joy. Anticipation. Desire. Happiness. These are some of the most powerful triggers not only drive click through rate, but also increase conversion rates.

Keep in mind that you first need to test out headlines and see what’s working using different headline, look at click through rates. Audition your headlines, eliminate the losers and use your winners as your SEO titles.

Use emotions. On the other hand, don’t forget about keyword and utility, just focusing only on the emotion. If you focus only on one of them and not all of them is a recipe for average titles and descriptions. You need a combination between keywords, convincing about utility and emotional triggers to create SEO superstorms that result in CTRs and leave your competition devastated. So, if you want more than just “OK” CTR, use this technique. 

3. Optimize for Task Completion

One of the hidden things that Quality Score measures is task completion rates (i.e. conversion rates). Google definitely knows what your conversion rates are, or did you think that was a private matter? Well, Google doesn’t see things like you and I. The machines have learned to tell whether traffic to your site converts. Now in organic search, a conversion may not equate to completing a form. If you're pushing a piece of content, Google can look at engagement metrics like time on site and bounce rate, because higher engagement correlates with higher interest/relevance.

How can Google has so much information about your online business? Well think as of his products used by more than a billion users (Android, Chrome, Gmail, Maps, Play, Search, and YouTube) as a way of collecting a lot of information and used that information for comparing it with your metrics. So, Google knows, he has a lot of different ways to know when signed-in users are successful or unsuccessful at their tasks or not. Also, Google Analytics tracks millions of sites and gets a lot of valuable data from AdWords. The best way to beat this is to improve your task completion in a way to be better than others with similar sites.

Let's say you have an online store. If your visitors, on average, are bouncing away at 80% for the typical session, but users on a competing website are viewing more pages per session and have a bounce rate of just 50%. RankBrain views that the competing website is better than yours and they will appear above you in the SERPs. In this case, the task completion rate is engagement. For high task completion rates, Google will assume your content is relevant. If you have crappy task completion rates, RankBrain will penalize you.

The best way to highlight the information above is using an example:

Let’s take this search query “What’s the title of the consumer at the highest level of a food chain?” In my opinion, “consumer” sounds like a reference to someone who buys something. However, it’s also a term for something that consumes food. There are also levels of consumers in a food chain. That consumer at the highest level? The title — the name — is “predator.”

Entering that query into Google provides good answers, even though the query itself sounds pretty odd, to say at least:

Judgment Day: How RankBrain can affect your website and what to do

Now consider how similar the results are for a search like “top level of the food chain,” as shown below:

Judgment Day: How RankBrain can affect your website and what to do

Imagine that RankBrain is connecting that original long and complicated query to this much shorter one, which is probably more commonly done. It understands that they are very similar. As a result, Google can leverage all it knows about getting answers for the more common query to help improve what it provides for the uncommon one. I’m not sure that RankBrain is connecting these two searches, but I know that Google gave this as an example. RankBrain might be using it to connect an uncommon search to a common one as a way of improving things.

Take note:  It’s no longer a matter of ‘getting to first page’. Now it’s a matter of ‘getting to top 3’ and that it's harder and harder to achieve, but don't worry, it was done it before, so it can be done again.

A note of caution for Aspiring RankBrain spammers

As we all know, Online Marketers are very effective for taking any technique that works and over using it. There where a lot of link-building methods that worked but now are crushed (comment spamming, Wikipedia and forum spamming, embeddable widgets and infographics, guest posting exchanges, etc.) because of this sequence of events:

  • Online Marketers seen that these methods were effective
  • They started doing it excessively, manipulatively or even abusively
  • The main reason for latest Google algorithm updates is because he caught on that the link type was no longer a signal of quality and shut it down via manual penalties or algorithm changes, OR most importantly
  • Our audiences just got sick of it

You might thing that “If CTR affects ranking, I can game the system for sure!”. I thought of that my myself and from the things I learned, DO NOT try to outsmart RankBrain using bots. Google has been building PPC ad click-fraud detection systems for over 15 years now. You cannot beat a bot at their own game.

In this new world an unknown SEO future rolls toward us. But now you can approach it with a sense of hope. Keep in mind to ensure above average click-through and task completion rates for your main organic keywords before Judgment Day, at which time the computers will take over the ranking, much like how it is done in AdWords using no external inputs (e.g., links).

The future of SEO isn't set. There's no fate but what we make for ourselves. It is our destiny to survive Judgment Day, together. Never stop fighting. The battle against RankBrain has just begun. You are our only hope. Join the SEO resistance and contact Programming the Web team if you have any questions related to how this algorithm might affect your website.