There’s been a ton of buzz in SEO circles about Google’s new RankBrain algorithm. This is very understandable for two reasons. First, it’s a nerd’s dream. It’s an artificial intelligence-based algorithm, and anything with AI in it is buzzy and awesome. Secondly, and more importantly, Google has stated that RankBrain is already the third most important ranking factor behind content and links.
To really understand what RankBrain means for life science SEOers, let’s zoom out a bit and understand what RankBrain is and what it does.
What Is RankBrain?
Put simply, Google RankBrain is a machine learning artificial intelligence system designed to help process search results in order to provide more relevant results to searchers. Specifically, RankBrain is intended to help Google return more relevant results for terms and phrases it’s never heard before. This was particularly important as the internet ever increasingly quickly spews forth new vocabulary and people speak in a stream-of-consciousness type manner into their phones.
Put somewhat more technically, RankBrain converts all language into vectors, with any given vector’s position and direction representing its conceptual meaning. Semantically related terms have vectors which are positioned close to each other and, similarly, groups of related terms (vectors) are positioned closely to other groups of vectors which have close semantic meaning. Through some crazy mathematics and / or magic which I’m sure would be beyond me even if I did have access to the details of it, this ever-changing map of vectors enables Google to make a best guess with regards to terms or phrases it does not know. However, it also [presumably] allows it to better map known concepts to each other as well.
How to Optimize for RankBrain
If this isn’t the first article you’ve read on how – specifically – you should optimize for RankBrain, then let me apologize on behalf of whatever other advice you may have received. The correct answer is: you do nothing. Continue to be a person, and do the rest of your job like a person. The “like a person” part is important.
Since the beginning of search engines, people have been trying to game the system. It’s been a decades-long battle between website owners, who want to convince search engines that their websites are important, and the search engines themselves who want to return the most relevant results to searchers. Initially, search engines were fairly rudimentary and it was easy to convince them your website was more important than it actually was. As time went on, search engines took away more and more tricks. By and large, search engines have won – it’s now extremely difficult to game the system. However, that doesn’t mean that the ranking systems were perfect. RankBrain is simply a response to allow it to better adapt to the actual people doing the searching. In other words, it’s attempting to make Google’s search algorithm a little bit more human. It’s becoming less important to obsess about every word you use since Google is starting to place less importance on the term itself and more importance on the meaning. After all, that’s what people are really looking for. They don’t want results that just have the words they used. They want results that will provide the meaning they seek.
This doesn’t mean that SEO is dead. It’s not. All this means is that you shouldn’t be trying to fool anyone. The best way to increase your website’s value to search engines is, by and large, to increase your website’s value to your target audience. Have great content that makes people want to share it? That’ll be good for SEO. Have a well laid out and easily navigable site? That’ll be good for SEO. Is your website highly relevant to the people you’re looking to target? That’ll be good for SEO as well. Of course there’s always some technical factors that people still manage to overlook – for instance, ensuring your title attribute is relevant and meaningful and that your page load times are decent – but at the end of the day if you’re making a site that’s great for your target audience, it’ll probably end up having fairly good SEO as well.
Don’t Forget to Use Words
I personally find this to be the most amusing piece of advice that I find myself giving over and over again: don’t forget to use words. Seriously, you can have the flashiest website, all the video content in the world, giant shiny infographics, and a totally cool podcast, and all those things are great. You know what none of them have? Words – the text kind. Think of it this way:
- What do people type / speak into search engines? Words.
- What do search engines’ web crawlers read? Words.
- What form the bulk of the results that search engines return? Words.
While the above is admittedly an oversimplification, it’s still 90% true. Words are still very important. It still comes down to the content.