How Does Rank Brain work and How Will it Affect Your SEO

How Does Rank Brain work

Google uses hundreds of parameters, all of which are coded by engineers at Google, for ranking search results.

If you are somewhat aware of SEO practices, you can make changes to the website and tweak your content here and there and do well in terms of those parameters. (Think link building or site speed optimization for instance).  

Except for Rankbrain.  

Rankbrain, the third most important ranking factor, is neither coded by engineers nor you can do SEO specifically for it.

Not in a conventional sense.  

But you can still indirectly influence Rankbrain and secure higher ranks. It takes some mindset shifts and proper understanding.

What is RankBrain  

RankBrain, simply put is an AI system that improves search results according to user intent and takes care of new search queries.

What do we mean by “new search queries”?

With the advancement of technology, new terms are being coined every day. And whenever people search those, Google receives queries which are never heard before. These new queries take up 15% of all Google searches. Considering Google receives 3.5 billion queries, that 15% equals to whopping 525 million queries everyday.

RankBrain is a self-learning system— It tries to guess what users want to mean, provides results, measures user satisfaction and update results again for maximum relevance. In that way, It learns in the same manner any human does. In fact, RankBrain outperforms human engineers by 10% when it comes to handling new ambiguous queries.

Long story short, RankBrain is a reliable smart  AI system which is here to stay.

How does RankBrain work:

RankBrain mainly does two things:

  1. It tries to understand the keywords and guess the search results.
  2. Measures user satisfaction.

When someone types a query which is new to Google, it splits the query into multiple word vectors using a mathematical formula. Now each word vectors is given an “address”. Now Google looks at its database and tries to learn the intent of the new query by comparing it with other similar yet known queries. Simply put, RankBrain converts the query into a concept and display pages that covers similar concepts.

For instance, if you search “email sender with a chimp as logo”

RankBrain goes far deeper than regular keyword matching. It understands that you are searching for an email marketing company with a chimp logo, not some chimp meme or random things about email. Thus, it shows Mailchimp Company page, instead of pages with keywords like “email” and “chimps”.

After displaying the first set of results, RankBrain takes account of user satisfaction in order to make the search results more relevant. Links people love usually go up in search ranking and rest are usually went down or get replaced.

But how does RankBrain measure user satisfaction anyway?

It monitors how you interact with search results and take account of  several user experience signals:

  • Organic Click-Through Rate: Click-through rate is the ratio of the number of time links was clicked vs the number of times it appears on search. High organic click-through rate is a good indicator of how useful is the link to the searcher. Since RankBrain favours links that users pay attention to, links with high click-through rate make their way to top fast.
  • Dwell Time: Dwell time is basically for how long visitors takes to consume your content and explore your site. The common misconception is dwell time is no different from time on site metric. But actually, it is an amalgamation of bounce rate and session duration.

Here the rule of thumb is, longer the dwell time indicates more relevance so that is a score. Usually, pages with in-depth content have longer dwell time.     

  • Bounce Rate: Bounce is the percentage of visitors who check out from your website without viewing the other pages. Low bounce rate implies visitors find website content is valuable and they want to explore. RankBrain uses bounce rate as a parameter of measuring user engagement.


  • Pogo sticking: Pogo sticking is when a visitor clicks on a link, finds the content not what he is seeking, immediately hit back button and clicks on another link. This “back and forth” often ends when visitors find what they are searching for. And RankBrain pays a lot of attention to this pogo sticking.

Pogo Sticking ( BackLinko)

When visitors immediately leave a page and move to next one, RankBrain considers that link isn’t very relevant for given search query or intent and that link moves downwards.

On the other hand, Rankbrain improves the rank of the pages where pogo sticking ends and visitors spend some time.  

The effect of Google RankBrain on SEO

Without a doubt, Google RankBrain have changed search and SEO in more than a few ways.

  • Long-term keywords have lost their importance to some extent:

Gone are days when creating pages, each targeting one or two long term keywords, made sense. With RankBrain on board, Google algorithm shifted its focus from just keyword matching to deciphering the intent behind the search. That means, now Google will present nearly identical result for two long keywords which are basically same.

For instance,  “what are some good SEO tools for small business” and “ list of best SEO tools for small business” are two different long tail keywords with same search intent. Before Google would come up with different sets of results for each.  Thanks to RankBrain, Google now understands two search queries are same so search results in both cases are identical.

Competition gets tougher:

With RankBrain, Google search results are being more and more relevant to search queries— Google is hell bent to push the best content towards the top. That means, the top 3- 4 spots — whether it is local listing or knowledge graph results, will have more clicks and other positions will dry up. Since RankBrain is out there for offering best search experience it will intensify the race for producing great content multifold. Only best of the best will survive and mediocre content will die a slow death.

Spam and black hat practices are dying:

Google is on all out war against spam and black hat practices. Their “take no prisoner” attitude were clear since 2010 when new algorithm updates punished shady SEO practices. And RankBrain is another nuke against spam. It promotes helpful original content only and frowns upon any practice that tries to deceive the algorithm. You can expect to witness the slow demise of spamming and black hat techniques soon.

How to optimize for RankBrain.

According to Rand Fishkin, You can’t do SEO for RankBrain. At least not in a conventional way. You can, However, make some changes to your content and influence rankbrain.

Without further ado, here are some ways to get you started.

  • Decide the ranking factors for your industry and stick to those:

Rand Fishkin, the co-founder of MOZ, believes Google no longer use one specific set of factors for ranking results. Instead, RankBrain relies on different sets of factors depending on industry and user.

In some cases you need, in-depth timeless content. But depending on your niche, fresh and highly engaging content might make the difference. Sometimes content engagement and link profile reign supreme and so on.

Here is an example:

 Imagine you have this search query“How to buy my first leather jacket”. Now for the sake of discussion, if we go very simplistic, the pivotal ranking factors, in this case, would be keyword matching, domain authority, content depth and related content. These are super important here. On the other hand, factors like content freshness, engagement and link diversity would be of moderate importance at best.

For another query like “What to watch on Netflix” ranking signal hierarchy would be completely different.

Rule of thumb is, figure out the ranking signals which work best for your niche. You can follow top performers of your niche for getting an idea.

Write in-depth content

RankBrain hates keyword stuffing and other shady practices, period. So, your best bet is writing in-depth content in a manner that sounds natural.

Brain Dean, from Backlinko, found out longer content have longer dwell time and RankBrain favours links with longer dwell time.

Moreover, Google assumes longer content will have more potential to fully answer searcher’s query.

Considering these two facts, stay on safer side by churning out a long form, in-depth content.

Pay attention to LSI keywords

RankBrain probably the last nail in the coffin of the old school way of looking at keywords. The new mantra is, think in concepts first then work your way up to relevant keywords you want to target. And this is where LSI keywords come in.

LSI keywords are a bunch of keywords which are related to your main keyword. For example if “email marketing” is your target keyword than some LSI keywords are: Email segmentation, email outreach, open rate and so on.

These keywords help RankBrain to understand the context of your content which in turn ranks your content for the related other keywords, on which you didn’t put much effort into.

 Source: BackLinko

When Brain Dean published his in-depth guide on SEO tools, he sprinkled LSI keywords like “SEO software”, “keyword research tool” and so on. According to SEMrush, that single in-depth content ranked for over 1.8K keywords. That’s is the power of LSI keywords.

Focus on brand awareness

This isn’t any SEO effort perse, but bear with me.

RankBrain favours the links with high click-through rate and people tend to click on the brands they are familiar with. The best part is, even you don’t have top position initially, in the long run, you will definitely get there.

So how can you build brand awareness?

By producing high-value content in a short span of time and getting your brand before your audience. Publish in-depth, long-form articles, write guest posts and run few awareness campaigns on social media.

 Webinars and podcasts also great for building authority in your niche. Companies like Kissmetrics and Hubspot attract the new audience with their webinars and successfully build their brand awareness in the process.


RankBrain is a self-learning system that tries to read intent behind searcher’s query, presents search results and improve those results for maximum user experience. This AI system is one of the biggest Google ranking factors. You can’t do SEO for it per se but you can definitely influence it—Produce content no less than excellent content, build awareness, do keyword research and learn about ranking signals for your niche.

In a nutshell, if you are sticking to google guidelines and producing content that your audience love, you don’t need to worry about RankBrain.      

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