Google RankBrain [2019]: The Definitive Guide

Announced in 26th October 2015, RankBrain is Google’s latest big algorithm when it comes to search and SEO.

If you are interested to shine out SEO of your blog, you must know about Google RankBrain. Why? Let's find out.

Google RankBrain: The Definitive Guide
Google RankBrain: The Definitive Guide

Google, in an interview to Bloomberg, said that RankBrain is the “third most important factor” when it comes to determining the order of the search results they show. (The other two being content and backlinks).

In this article, I'm gonna review RankBrain, what RankBrain algorithm is? How to optimize for google rankbrain? Let's dive in.



Here's what Rand Fishkin (@randfish) spoke on Optimisation for RankBrain.

Overview:


What is RankBrain algorithm?

RankBrain is a machine learning (AI) algorithm that helps Google process and understand search queries.

Machine learning is an application of artificial intelligence (AI) that provides systems the ability to automatically learn and improve from experience without being explicitly programmed.

Before RankBrain was introduced, all Google Search Results were tweaked manually by engineers based on metrics they thought were useful (i.e. CTR, dwell-time or load speed).

Its not that post RankBrain implementation, human engineers are at rest, but that RankBrain has made their work efficient.

In short, RankBrain tweaks the algorithm on its own.



Depending on the keyword, RankBrain will increase or decrease the importance of backlinks, content freshness, content length, domain authority etc.

Then, it looks at how Google searchers interact with the new search results. If users like the new algorithm better, it stays. If not, RankBrain rolls back the old algorithm.

How RankBrain works?

RankBrain has two main jobs:
1. Understand search queries
2. Measure how people interact with the results

As I write above, RankBrain constantly tweaks the SERPs to find the most accurate rankings for a particular search query.

RankBrain uses semantic analysis to understand what the query is all about.

Clearly, RankBrain no longer just looks at keywords (and keyword density) but rather, it tries to comprehend the meaning behind your search.

For example if I search, “first product by lenovo”, then RankBrain produces the following accurate results.

first product by lenovo
first product by lenovo

In the past, pages where the keywords “first”, “product” and “lenovo” appeared the most and had the most relevance would be shown.

Similarly if I search for “who sings despacito”

who sings despacito
who sings despacito

As you've seen, Google cares more about the context and meaning of your query.

To achieve that, RankBrain groups words into concepts and searches pages that cover those concepts in depth.

It also takes into account the user's location. For instance, if you search for the “Cricket World Cup 2019 location” and are located in UK (World Cup host) , then it might show map directions. If you are located in the India, then it might just show information about the city where it is being hosted.

How RankBrain measures User Satisfaction?

Google’s ultimate goal is to show you the best possible set of pages and user satisfaction is at the core of Google search.

Although there is no actual satisfaction metrics released officially by Google, we can assume as to what those are.

Personal opinion: I would say RankBrain looks at-
  1. Organic CTR (Click Through Rate)
  2. Time-on-Site (aka. Dwell time)
  3. Bounce Rate
  4. Domain Authority
  5. Pogo Sticking (when you quickly leave a page and go back to the SERPs)

Based on these factors, RankBrain continuously moves pages until each page has achieved its deserved spot on the SERPs.


For instance, let’s say that most people
click on result #1,
skip results #2 and #3,
and click on result #4, spending a lot of time in the #1 and #4 results.

RankBrain tracks this and gives result #4 a promotion the next time when someone searches for that keyword. It also demotes results #2 and #3 because they were not appealing.

With the tons and tons of search queries that Google receives, RankBrain has a lot of data to work on and pick best results.

How does Google Rank Search Results?

As mentioned earlier, the results are ranked by:
1) keyword relevancy,
2) number of backlinks and
3) Rankbrain.

Following question now arises, How do I optimize for RankBrain?

Keyword Research and RankBrain

As you saw, Google can now understand the intent behind a keyword.

So does that mean that traditional keyword research is dead?

Nope!

That said, you may need to tweak your keyword research process so it’s more RankBrain-friendly.

Here’s how:

Optimise Title and Description Tags for CTR

As you saw in above, organic CTR is a key RankBrain ranking signal.

The question is: how can you get people to click on your result?

There’s no doubt about it: emotional titles get more clicks.

This is something copywriters have known for years. Off late, this idea has been backed up with data. In fact, CoSchedule found a clear correlation between highly emotional headlines and social shares.

CoSchedule Emotional Headline Result
CoSchedule Emotional Headline Result

For example, here’s a generic SEO-optimized title tag:

Productivity Tips: How to Get More Done

Not bad. But it lacks the “instinct” that urges people to click.

Here’s how one can tweak that title tag into an emotional powerhouse (while keeping it SEO-friendly):

Smash Your To-Do List With These 10 Productivity Tips

Now it's not always relevant to create highly-emotional titles. But whenever you can, you should.


Add Brackets and Parentheses to the End Of Your Titles

This is my all-time favorite CTR hack.

I read about a study that HubSpot and Outbrain did a few years back:

In that study they analysed more than 3 million headlines  and they found that brackets outperformed bracketless titles by 33%.

Here are some examples of brackets and parentheses you can use:
  • (2019)
  • [Infographic]
  • (New Data)
  • [Report]
  • (Case Study)
  • (Proven Tips)

So, now you see.

Use Numbers (And Not Just on List Posts)

The data from several sources (including BuzzSumo) is clear: numbers improve CTR.

The best part?

You can use numbers in your title… even if your content isn’t a list post.

For example, last year I came across this case study:

Backlinko Post
Backlinko Post

As you can see, Brian Dean included not one, but two numbers in the title.

Don’t Forget to Optimize Your Description Tag for CTR

Yes, description tags don’t directly help with SEO anymore. That said, I’ve found that an optimized description can significantly boost your CTR.

Here’s how to create a description tag that gets results:

First, make it emotional.

Just like with a title tag, you want your description tag to convey some emotion.

Here’s an example:

Add emotion to titles
Add emotion to titles

Next, sell WHY someone should click on your result.

Is your content comprehensive? Based on research? Funny? Sell that in your description:

Sell your blog post
Sell your blog post

Then, copy words and phrases that paid ads (AdWords) use.

For example, when I search for “dog food” I see this phrase appear in three ads:

Keywords Adsense
Keywords Adsense

So you’d want to include the phrase “pet food” in your meta description.

Finally, include your target keyword.
Google makes it bold, which can help your result stand out.

Optimise Content for Bounce Rate

Well, you need to show Google that your result makes their users happy.

And the best way to do that? Improve your dwell time.

Does Google REALLY Use Dwell Time? Yup!
Dwell time is the amount of time a visitor spends on your site after clicking on your site link from search results.



It goes without saying, the longer someone spends on your page, the better. This sends Google a message: “Man, people are LOVING this result. Let’s push it up a few spots”.

And if someone exits your site after 2 seconds, that tells Google: “This result sucks! Let’s keep it down a few spots”.

So it’s logical that RankBrain would measure Dwell Time — and shuffle the results around based on this signal.

In fact, a Google employee recently said that Google used to rely 100% on off-page signals (especially backlinks).

Google Machine Learning
Google Machine Learning

And the data backs this up. When we analyzed a massive set of Google search results we found a correlation between high rankings and low bounce rate:

High Rankings and Bounce Rate
High Rankings and Bounce Rate

Reduce Bounce Rate and Boost Dwell Time

Now it’s time for me to share a few simple strategies that you can use to increase your site’s dwell time.

Push Your Content Above the Fold

When someone clicks on your site from Google, they want their question answered NOW.

In other words, they don’t want to scroll down to read your content.

That’s why it's highly recommended removing anything that pushes your content below the fold, like this:

Above the fold
Above the fold

Instead, you want the first sentence of your content front-and-center:

First Sentence Front and Centred
First Sentence Front and Centred

That way, you’ll hook your reader right off the bat.

Use Short Intros (5-10 Sentences MAX)

Believe it or not, but I spend MORE time on my intros than my headlines.

That’s because your intro is where 90% of your readers decide to stay… or go.

And after A LOT of testing I’ve found that short intros work best.

Why?

When someone finds something on Google, they already are aware about that topic. So there’s no need for an explanatory introduction.

Instead, use your intro to sell the content they’re about to read, like this:

Use Short Intros
Use Short Intros

Publish Long, In-Depth Content

I’ve tested this ten ways to Tuesday. And I can tell you with confidence that:

Longer content = better Dwell Time.

It goes without saying it takes longer to read a 2000-word guide than a 400-word blog post. But that’s only part of the equation.

The other reason that long form content improves Dwell Time is the fact that longer content can fully answer a searcher’s query.

For example, let’s say that you search for “how to drive a car”.



And the first result that you click on is a 300-word post. It kind of answers your question… but leaves you wanting more.

So you click on your back button to find something better (as you might remember, Google calls this “Pogo-sticking”).

And this time you hit the jackpot.

You find a comprehensive guide that covers EVERYTHING you need to know about driving a car.

So you grab a cup of coffee and read the guide from start to finish. You even re-read certain sections. All this reading is racking up serious Dwell Time.

Long form content works so well that I tend to publish content that’s at least 2,000 words.

Break Up Your Content Into Bite Size Chunks

Let’s face it:

Reading 2,000 words is HARD.

And it’s even harder if those 2,000 words are presented as a giant wall of text.

Fortunately, there’s a simple way to get around this problem: subheaders.

Subheaders break up your content into comprehensible, bite-size chunks. This improves readability, and therefore, Dwell Time.

I use plenty of subheaders at TechGydbySM.com for this exact reason.

All in all, I try to toss in a subheader for every 200-250 words of content.

Target Keywords that RankBrain loves

It seems like the days of long-tail keyword targeting are gone.

Earlier, it made sense to create content for different but closely related long tail keywords like:

Best physics books for students
Best student physics book

Each page having meta tags optimized specifically for each long tail variation.



Nowadays, that SEO technique is dead.

Why?

Because with the advent of RankBrain conceptual search, long tail keywords are now grouped into concepts rather than specific wordings. The previous example looks like

(Best, Top) <–> (Student, College) <–> (physics book)

Also any possible combination of those keywords leads to practically identical search results.

Thus, optimizing for long-tail keywords is not effective in 2019 anymore.

So what’s the alternative?

Optimise for medium tail keywords

Unlike long-tail keywords where both search volume and competition are rather small or medium-tail keywords generate a good amount of traffic (and thus healthy competition).

Infact, a post won’t rank very high for just “SEO”, it will rank high for tons of long-tail variations. Only if that blog post is written perfectly.

How to make your medium-tail keywords even better?

To help RankBrain understand what your blog post is all about you should include natural variations of your keywords in your article (known as LSI keywords).

For example if you are writing about “push ups”, you can mention keywords like “push ups for beginners”, “perfect pushup”, “pushups for chest”.

All these LSI keywords help RankBrain associate the concepts easily.

Conclusion

RankBrain is a great algorithm that continuously modifies itself to provide searchers with the best results.

SEO in 2019 needs proper understanding of RankBrain. Keyword targeting is not just a long-tail game but a much deeper contextual battle.



If you want your blog to rank at the top, you need to do the following:

  1. Write in-depth contents.
  2. Include different forms of your keywords.
  3. Provide satisfaction to viewers, that they keep coming back for more.

If you liked this article, why not check out my other posts on SEO.

Also drop a comment if you have other ideas as well. It really motivates me to do more work and help you guys further.

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