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Google’s RankBrain Makes Smart Content Strategy and SEO Even More Valuable



Brain vector designed by Freepik

In the past month or so there’s been talk in SEO and digital marketing circles about RankBrain. It kind of sounds a bit sci-fi, right? What’s that about?

Like anything new in the world of marketing, there is a bit of a hype phase. Now that the hype has settled some, let’s take a look at RankBrain like rational marketers. After all, we are not interested in hype. Instead, let’s see what RankBrain is, how it works and whether or not you can make it work for you.

What is RankBrain?

RankBrain is the name of a machine learning program Google is using to help produce results for its search engine. That’s right. Google is using machine learning.

Machine learning is when a computer or machine learns from itself instead of relying solely on human programming. Don’t worry. There’s no need to call up Emilio Estevez to stop the machines from taking over (classic ’80s reference).

While not a pure form of artificial intelligence (AI), this is a significant point in SEO and digital marketing because it marks a real change in how search engine results are delivered.

How does RankBrain work?

OK, that’s what RankBrain is. However, for people trying to engage a target audience, it might be more important to understand what RankBrain really does.

“RankBrain uses artificial intelligence to embed vast amounts of written language into mathematical entities – called vectors – that the computer can understand. If RankBrain sees a word or phrase it isn’t familiar with, the machine can make a guess as to what words or phrases might have a similar meaning and filter the result accordingly, making it more effective at handling never-before-seen search queries”.

– Greg Corrado, Google Senior Research Scientist

Has Google has turned over search engine results (and your organization’s SEO destiny) to machine learning?

Not exactly. Google is only using it in a limited way at this point.

  • RankBrain is used as just part of their results algorithm, which Google says has more than 200 ranking factors.
  • RankBrain is being used for a certain subset of search queries.

However, Google is excited at the results so far and anticipates machine learning to be an increasingly important part of their overall business.

How is RankBrain used?

RankBrain is implemented to address unique search queries Google has never seen before.


While that might not sound like much, you might be surprised. Brand new searches are up to 15 percent of search queries in a given day. For those of you keeping score at home, that equates to 450 million searches in a day.

Based on how RankBrain works and how it is being implemented to more intelligently and efficiently handle new search queries, one can speculate that Google is using RankBrain to improve understanding of the context and intent of new searches, and categorize them. It may improve the quality of search results by putting new searches through RankBrain to make its determinations and then work in conjunction with already existing aspects of the algorithm.

Over time, as RankBrain continues to improve, it will potentially build on its learning abilities and increase its ability to handle new queries in a meaningful way.

How does RankBrain affect SEO?

That depends. If you are the kind that doesn’t think creating content for your audience matters and try to get by on technical aspects of SEO or driving a ton of links to a limited set of mediocre content, then you should be concerned. Then again, you should have been concerned long before RankBrain. But, that’s another topic.

If you are the kind who has truly invested in providing high quality content to your audience in a strategic way, then RankBrain may potentially affect your SEO in a beneficial way.

The simple fact that Google created RankBrain should tell you some things:

  1. Good content is important.
  2. New, fresh content is important.
  3. Relevant content to your audience is important.
  4. The intent of your content is important.
  5. Understanding content is a huge priority for Google.
  6. Google is constantly working on building a better set of brains to understand content for serving search results.

What does this all mean?

Smart content strategy is really important for SEO!

Can you make RankBrain work for you?

Look at the bigger picture. Google is not going to stop its effort to create a better set of brains to understand websites and the content on its pages. They will not stop at trying to learn and detect tactics people use to game the system and take shortcuts to “trick” Google into ranking content. Google’s goal will continue to be ranking valuable, credible, relevant and authoritative websites and content.

If you can understand and embrace these things, you can make RankBrain work for you.

The big digital marketing and SEO lesson …

Here’s the simple, yet incredibly important, marketing lesson that RankBrain offers:

Provide great value to people who are most likely to be interested in buying your products or services.

Underlying all of the intricacies of digital marketing and SEO are fundamental principles of human nature and marketing.

If you invest and make a real commitment to providing authentic, high-quality content for your website’s audience and combine it with an intelligent SEO approach that puts users first, you will increase your chances of reaping a ton of benefits.

About The Author

A journalist by trade, Shane tells stories that connect brands with target audiences and inspire them to act. He’s a writer, not a copy machine, and that approach brings exceptional content to every print or digital piece he pens.

Shane taps into his past as a reporter and editor to develop clear messages that resonate in every medium, be it blog or brochure, sponsored content or script.

Daily newspapers developed a habit for idea generation, attention to detail and knack for question-asking. His background as a magazine and web editor keeps client communications grammatically sound and effective.

Shane’s word-based deliverables range from long-form features to concise digital copy to persuasive prose. He’s been on both sides of the PR pitch and puts some muscle behind ABC’s media relations.