Google Rank Brain: What it Means for SEO

Google Rank Brain: What it Means for SEO
Justin Alei

Google is using a machine learning technology called RankBrain to help deliver its search results. Here’s what you need to know about it.

What is Google Rank Brain?

RankBrain is a machine-learning artificial intelligence system that helps Google process a portion of its search results, in particular rare, unique or one-of-a-kind queries. Google started using it in early 2015 and it is now used globally.

What is machine-learning?

Machine learning is where a computer teaches itself how to do something, rather than being taught by humans or by following detailed coding and programming.

Is RankBrain the new way Google ranks search results?

No. RankBrain is only a part of Google’s overall search algorithm, a computer program that is used to sort through billions of pages on the web and find the pages most fitting for particular search queries.

Google Rank Brain SEO

So what does Google RankBrain mean for SEO?

This is a big question - but here’s what we know based on research and hard data. While SEO used to be all about building links and using the right keywords - machine learning has transformed the traditional ranking model. Google hasn’t confirmed how rank brain has affected SEO, but here are the most popular theories:

  • Engagement matters: a page that has done all the right keyword research and gets tons of backlinks is great - but not if users aren’t actually clicking and engaging with the content on the page. Google Rank Brain places higher priority on engagement - it makes the algorithm smarter by analyzing user behavior. Pages with low dwell time and low click throughs previously may have gotten high rankings, but not so much anymore.
  • SEO is more competitive: Not everyone is going to win a top spot on the first page of Google - so it’s important to have consistent high engagement (unicorn) pages on your site. If you don’t perform well, you will be kicked off the first page, maybe even back 5 or 10 pages, which hardly matters since no one visits those pages anyways.
  • Search is smarter: Essentially Google RankBrain gave search engines a way to find pages beyond the exact query entered. “so that if you searched for “sneakers,” it might understand that you also meant “running shoes.” It even gained some conceptual smarts, to understand that there are pages about “Apple” the technology company versus “apple” the fruit.” (source)


As Google has confirmed, RankBrain can see patterns between seemingly unconnected complex (long tail) searches to understand how they actually relate to each other. This learning allows search engines to better understand future complex searches and whether they are related to particular topics. Then search engines can associate these groups of searches with the proper results that it feels searchers will like the most.

Google has confirmed that among 20,000+ ranking factors, Google Rankbrain is the #3 search ranking factor - behind backlinks and content/keywords.

Want to learn more about Google RankBrain and how to incorporate it into your SEO strategy? Check out this informative article on RankBrain by Search Engine Journal.

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Digital Media & Content, Search Engine Optimization - SEO