Thursday, 09 June 2016 03:50

How to Optimize Your Content for Google RankBrain


If you have heard the term ‘RankBrain’ before, you will know that it is ‘the third most important ranking signal for Google’, as this tends to be the most commonly cited fact based on what we know (the facts as opposed to the opinion) about this Google update. You may also know there is some debate, but many experts believe RankBrain is likely to increase in influence over the months to come.

This post explores how to optimize your content for RankBrain and helps you to make the most out of this exciting search and business opportunity.

What Do You Need to Know About RankBrain?

In October 2015 Forbes and Bloomberg were among the first sites to announce that machines were “taking over” at Google. As you might expect, the title, while factually correct, led speculation into the realm of ‘robots taking over’ rather than the real opportunity, which is; ‘How does RankBrain impact my business?‘ and more importantly ‘How can I update my content for RankBrain?‘

If you are keen to explore machine learning, the debate of ‘robots taking over’ and associated topics like Artificial Intelligence (AI), the below are some reads that you may find useful:

Detailed machine learning insight direct from Google – Machine intelligence resource

Robots taking over insight from a post I wrote soon after RankBrain was first released – Good news, machines have taken over at Google
Adding to the Artificial Intelligence (AI) debate and search – How AI is transforming Google

What is RankBrain?

Optimizing Your Content for RankBrain

RankBrain is a form of Artificial Intelligence used by Google to help filter and process a large portion of search queries, so the results displayed are relevant to, and reflective of, the search intent. RankBrain uses machine learning and AI, with the ability to predict meaning, and therefore relevancy, to display the best matching results, even for previously unknown, and new search requests.

RankBrain has a core function of effectively answering new search queries and understanding what results should appear for topics with limited, if any, historical data to base relevancy and therefore ranking on.

The remainder of this post practically explores how to make the most of RankBrain and provides actions you can take to optimize your content for search gains.

Understanding Content

RankBrain looks at new and relatively unknown content topics with a goal of understanding them more effectively so it can display the best results. The more your content supports this understanding, the better. Tactics to deploy will depend on several factors. However, typical SEO actions to encourage content understanding include the following:

Clear purpose: Make it easy for search engines and users to identify why the content was created
Depth of information: Cover the topic in full and providing access to external supporting information
Topic focus: Move away from very refined sets of specific keywords (keyword focus), and cover the variations and natural language used to convey the content meaning spanning target audiences
Term frequency–inverse document frequency (TF-IDF): How frequently you use terms within the content and the perceived importance of those terms to that content – this is not keyword stuffing!

Embracing Machine Learning

Content marketers and search engine optimization experts need to start to see robots/machines as a colleague rather than the competition. Data should be the fuel behind the content you create and reflect your audience wants and needs, as well as the data opportunity that exists. RankBrain learns (remember the AI aspect of this topic) through data (machine learning) and the more your content creation approach is driven by a combination of data and expert insight, the easier it will become to align content output with RankBrain outcomes.

Do not write for RankBrain!

Effectively using data for content insights and ensuring content is easy to understand are core steps in optimizing for RankBrain. Do not start viewing RankBrain as a persona to target. Instead, by taking the right approach you will naturally fulfill the needs of RankBrain.

Refining Your Existing Content

Content should never have just a single chance of succeeding online. When you add content to your website, that is the first step in the process. This enables you to gather new data relating to how that content performed, how people engaged with it, what the content displayed for, whether the content was successful, and associated #WhatDidTheContentDo type questions.

When you take the next steps to analyze the data, refine the content and continue this process of content improvement, you are applying an element of human/data collaboration into content creation that will help maximize any RankBrain interaction with your website.

The Value of Voice Search

Optimizing Your Content for RankBrain

When you create content for your website consider how people will naturally speak about the content – more specifically, how they would search for it using voice commands. RankBrain is in place to help display the best results for search behavior that has limited current data to base decisions on, and vague (less interpretable) user requests—this is where voice search comes in!

People have had less training when it comes to using voice search, which leads to more complex and varied interpretive requirements for search engines. By reflecting more on the audience your content is created for, you can build user targeting and voice query matching into your content

Don’t Forget About Links

Every aspect of content relevancy, trust, authority and value must be considered for creating any competitive advantage from Google RankBrain. With hundreds of Google ranking factors, many tied directly to content, the application of the tried and tested content optimization tactics are a necessity. When you consider the importance of search ranking factors, please do not overlook links.

Links will help provide external relevancy and third-party trust to your content, and provide independent complementary signals for RankBrain to include as part of the broader approach to displaying your content effectively.

Keep the following in mind the following when pointing links to your content:

Domain Authority matters
Quality takes precedent over quantity in the long-term
Relevance to the topic is paramount
Think about the audience before the desired link outcome
Final Thoughts on Content for RankBrain
RankBrain gives content writers and marketers an added incentive to get to know their target audience, refine the content being created, and ensure that content has depth of value and a defined purpose for being produced in the first place.

When you consider how to optimize for RankBrain a good place to start is ‘who the content is for‘ and ‘why it matters‘. There are lots of tactics to use to support RankBrain known and believed information triggers, however, this should be seen as a secondary activity to the contents actual purpose.

I love to hear your thoughts and feedback, so please share them with me and tell me what you think about RankBrain and the tactics you have used that have delivered results.



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