FAQs: All You Need to Know about Google’s RankBrain

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Although Google keeps on updating its mainframe search algorithm from time to time, there are a few that are more significant than others. One such update introduced by Google in the year 2015, was RankBrain.

In the world, where technology is breaking almost every barrier, RankBrain proved to be paramount of technical advancements. After all, technology is meant to simplify the human life by reducing the efforts made by humans. RankBrain, with its ultra-futuristic approach, has led to the opening of a whole new dimension for intelligent decision making abilities by machines.

Considering the SEO industry, RankBrain is the new ruler. What could earlier be fooled around, is now teaching itself. Yes, I’m talking about Google’s Search Engine Algorithm that teaches itself. And this has led to major changes in the SEO industry. From strategy making to implementation, and the methods involved are now designed keeping in mind the new intelligence that Google has recently acquired.

The intelligence element that Google has incorporated recently is known as RankBrain. And believe me, it’s truly amazing to know how this wonderful program self-teaches itself, just as any living being would do.


Question: Do you know what RankBrain is?

This is the foremost question that pops up in the mind of every user that is associated with the SEO industry. And it is not an easy one to answer.

  • According to MOZ, ‘RankBrain is a component of Google’s core algorithm. It uses the ability of machines to teach themselves from data inputs, and determines the most relevant results to search queries.’

This may seem a bit tough to understand. Let us understand what this definition from MOZ actually means. But before we proceed, it is mandatory to understand what Artificial Intelligence is.

This would make it easier to understand what RankBrain is. Now that we know what an Artificial Intelligence is, we can proceed.

RankBrain is the program that enables Google to learn and behave, just like humans, from the search terms that are fed to the engine. From these search queries, the Google tries to understand the intent of each search and cater to the user the answer they seek.

Google states that, with the integration of RankBrain, into the core algorithm, the search results that it delivered to its users are more precise. These results are more relevant to the intention behind the search than simply the keywords. In other words, RankBrain is an interpretation model that takes into account the search terms and interprets what the cluster of the terms is signifying to.


Question: How does RankBrain work?

RankBrain isn’t just another update, as already mentioned. To clearly understand what it is, it would be wiser to know how it works. Clearly, Google won’t be playing any part in the revelation of how RankBrain works. Nevertheless, experts have decoded the RankBrain and its functioning. Although these are mere observations based on data accumulated from various sources, these observations have been found to hold true.

The main aim behind introducing RankBrain was to cater to the user by understanding the intent behind the search. Let us take an example to understand what this notion means. Say a user wish to look for the nearest best saloon to their location. What would they likely be feeding Google to get the most relevant results?

Beginning with the search as, “Best Salons near me” would be a good idea. Alternatively, they can also search for, “Best Salons in Downtown, LA” (say the user stay in downtown-LA). Both of these searches may seem the same to the user, but Google would analyze their search, trying to find the relation between the search terms and, of course, their geographical location.

All that user need through this search is to find the best saloon near them. But Google does not know that. This is where RankBrain steps in. RankBrain tracks their search history and tries to develop a pattern. Not just a pattern, it also explores the local directories and tracks the user’s location.

Ideally, if anyone were to find a saloon by asking a local guide or a paddler that crosses their path, they’d be pointed out the best direction based on his experience. The same is true with Google now.

Here’s how RankBrain Transformed the search profile:

  • RankBrain develops a directory of experiences, following the search terms and the corresponding search results that the user engages with, in a similar manner as a human would. This helps Google understand what the intent behind the user’s search is, and deliver the results accordingly.
  • This, in turn, gives the search engine a human-like essence that the user would enjoy and admire. After all, the user wants what they are looking for and they won’t stop until they get it. Be it through Google or any other source. And, of course, losing users isn’t in favor of Google’s business.
  • In order to stay in the business, Google needed to upgrade to cater to the users’ true intention behind the search, rather than just the relevancy to the search terms. The most fascinating part is, with the integration of RankBrain into the mainframe algorithm, every user has a personalized result for their search. And there might be slight variation in the ranking of the search results for each specific user and their specific search term.

Notably, the reason behind the introduction of RankBrain was the increasing use of mobile devices to make the search. While in the beginning, as Google disclosed in a press release, there were 15% of the total searches that crossed through RankBrain, today almost all the searches are passed through RankBrain.

Having said that, referring RankBrain as Artificial Intelligence won’t be completely justified. Since Artificial Intelligence has the ability to selectively choose what it wishes to learn, this is not true in the case of RankBrain. But, it can still be considered as the breaking of dawn for the age of AI. After all, RankBrain does teach itself, be it not selective learning.

Another task enabled by the introduction of RankBrain is the suggestions that Google provides with every search. Before you even complete your search query, Google suggests to you what you are looking for. And it is all possible due to the machine learning upgrade that Google brought in to its mainframe search algorithm, the RankBrain.


Question: How does RankBrain impact your website?

It would be foolhardy to consider RankBrain as a self-contained search algorithm. The master algorithm is known as Hummingbird, as reported by Search Engine Land. And to be truthful, RankBrain is just a small enhancement to the overall module, but an important one.

  • In 2016 Google revealed that RankBrain is the third most important ranking factor for websites in a search result. While the first two positions are occupied by content and links. Although, which one ranks first and which one ranks second, is still unclear.

Since RankBrain has become the third most important factor affecting the ranks of websites in a search result, obviously, the websites are going to be affected. If one considers the other two factors, i.e. the content and the backlinks it would be easier to carry out SEO.

  • RankBrain does not trigger any signal. 
  • It audits various signals and tries to develop a pattern between the signal data. 

With the help of an illustrative example, it would be easier to make out how RankBrain can affect a website.

An important signal that RankBrain takes into account while conducting an audit is Pogo-Sticking and Bounce Rate.

What’s Pogo-Sticking?

Pogo-Sticking is a phenomenon related to the searcher’s behavior, while Bounce Rate is the percentage users that bounce back from a particular website.

Say, a user enters a search for “Best Cars for Sale in Chicago”. Google would deliver relevant results to the user. As any user would do, they click to open the first link. The content on the page is really annoying and full of junk. The user would quickly hit on the back button and scroll back to the search results.

Then they would open the second link, and again find the content to be not beneficial. Then again the first instance is repeated. This is known as Pogo-Sticking. And RankBrain is very interested in these user behaviors.

As in this example, RankBrain would make a note of how often the user bounces back and at which result they spend more time. The one that would engage the user with relevant content and benefit the user would be rewarded an up-rank by Google, and the ones that had fluff, would be dropped down in results.

Evidently, the RankBrain makes use of all the signals and most importantly keeps track of the user behavior to rank the pages in search results. Depending upon how sophisticatedly someone designs the content of their website and the benefit it offers to the user, their website may see a shift in its ranking in the SERPs.

It is crucial to mention the two most important updates that Google brought in to support the accuracy of RankBrain. They are E-A-T and YMYL (Your Money or Your Life). Where the former describes the Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness of the content on the page, the latter describes how beneficial the content is to the user.

Both of these updates concern on-page SEO factors. This is the reason behind the acclaimed king of SEO, the content. The better in-depth content a page provides the user with, the better it has the chances of receiving traffic, and thus rank better in the SERPs.


Question: Do you need to worry?

Although all the other signals including the backlinks, quality of backlinks, content, images, videos, author of the content, social media signals, etc. still hold their position in the ranking mix, RankBrain has shuffled their importance. Every query that is registered in Google is perceived differently and results are measured accordingly.

This means that websites are going to be affected by this reshuffling of the signals. For example, if a website ranks at the first position for a certain search query, it is not at all necessary that it would rank the same for another user at a different location or say for a similar search term.

Different signals apply to each different query. Before the introduction of RankBrain, the most important signals used to be the backlinks and the content, including other signals as mentioned above. Google’s search algorithm simply measured the quantitative value of these signals and ranked pages accordingly. With the introduction of RankBrain, the conceptualization of the search terms is the new signal that has aggressively replaced the quantity with the quality. And as already mentioned, to measure the quality, it makes use of user experience.

The more the number of users visit and stay on a particular page, the more Google rewards the page with up-ranking the page. Specifically, it considers more than just the engagement. It takes into account the organic CTR, Dwell Time, Bounce Rate, and, of course, Pogo-Sticking.

As we all know, before RankBrain, Google would scan through all the pages, measure the percentage of keywords in the content, and present the results accordingly. A few years ago, Google reported that around 15% of the keywords that were searched for were never indexed by the bots ever before. This comes out to be millions of keywords if simply to consider the fraction of billions of search terms that are processed by Google every day.

With the help of RankBrain, Google developed relations between words and their variations. Not just that, it also started developing meaningful co-relations between different variations. Say, if a user search for “Capital of Germany”, the Google would not just simply scan for the pages that have these terms. It would indeed look for other variations such as “Berlin is Capital of which country”.

  • Google now understands the various ways to say the same, without affecting the meaning of the sentence. It has become all the more important for the website masters and designers to put up content that intends to serve a purpose and not just monetizes. 
  • It is also evident from the new feature loaded search page, which now includes answer boxes and featured snippets. Which is even better than giving the results. Google is now answering and not just delivering results.

For any website. It is all the more important to optimize their pages for on-page content.


Question: What do you need to do in order to comply with RankBrain?

When it comes to intelligence, even the smartest of the computers would require humanitarian aid. Inarguably, RankBrain is no different. Although it has changed the way the search is conducted, this does not mean that SEO becomes outdated. In fact, with the introduction of RankBrain, the SEO industry becomes ever-more competitive.

In order to comply with the RankBrain and rank better in the search results, the webmasters need to make more efforts to gain higher ranks or even to sustain the same position. Essentially, three concepts have been quoted and stressed upon by the leading SEO analysts and experts.

  1. Varied Signals For Variety of Search Queries.
  2. Reputation Signals for the Website
  3. There is No Such Thing as One-Keyword-One-Page

While the signals for the website may include the originality of the content, number, and quality of backlinks, referring domains, tiered links, on-page and off-page keyword optimization, etc. these signals are all the more important with RankBrain constantly keeping an eye on these. A slight variation in these signals corresponds to change in the website’s rankings on the SERPs.

Webmasters should take note of how search queries are made up. In other words, while conducting the SEO for the website, it is all the more important to know the intention behind the search. Considering the cause behind the search to optimize for different keywords can help.

While we are discussing the keywords, it would be wise to steer towards, the above-mentioned concept. In the traditional SEO, ranking a single page for a single keyword would have triggered the ranking signals. But RankBrain has flipped the scenario and relevant keywords, or search terms have become equally important. In other words, when strategizing the SEO for a website it would be smarter to take into account the relevant keywords. And not forget that the keywords need to be diverse.

To get a better idea of what are the variations of keywords, you can read our article about the anchor text optimization (

Focused on the quality of content, Google makes use of E-A-T and YMYL to make sure that the content is beneficial to the user. The expertise of the author of the content and the content itself matter, along with the authoritativeness of the content and the contributor, and the trustworthiness of the content, are all signals that help make Google measure the quality of the content.

Google has clearly laid the guidelines for maintaining good quality content in the YMYL update. The content that does not benefit the user is considered as worthless according to Google. This means that whenever the content is being published on a website, it should be intended to deliver something to the user. Be its benefits in health regime, financial benefits, or academic benefits.


To sum it all up, RankBrain is no single element, rather a set of elements that observe and control the quality of the results. To rank amongst the top results in any relevant search, it requires a lot of focus and research. Just to make sure that your SEO is going in the right direction. And to make sure that your website is looked upon by Google as authoritative, you need to optimize your content, your backlinks, and most importantly the user experience on your website.

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