Google’s latest innovation looks at a user’s intent when searching the Internet, to automatically customise the user experience. Richard Conway explains why it’s fast becoming one of the most important factors in search engine marketing.
SEO is dead, right?
No, far from it. SEO may have changed, but it is more alive than ever.
In today’s landscape, SEO has become a rich, nuanced art. And now this artform has been made even more important by Google’s recent innovation called RankBrain.
Based heavily on artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, RankBrain looks at a user’s intent when searching, and automatically customises the user experience based on that.
It’s rapidly becoming one of the most important factors in search engine marketing, so it’s best we understand it quickly.
But first, let’s have a brief refresher of AI and machine learning basics.
AI and machine learning: the foundation of RankBrain
AI and machine learning have taken the world by storm over the past decade and they’re now being used as the foundation for Google’s new algorithm tool, RankBrain.
Essentially, AI is about getting computers to respond to situations in the same way that humans would. It’s about introducing elements like judgment, perception, reaction and decision-making – all factors that until recently, just didn’t exist in computers.
Machine learning is a type of AI that focuses on experience – a computer will remember the outcome of a previous situation and adjust its reaction accordingly.
These two concepts are absolutely critical to RankBrain because they are the premise on which it operates. RankBrain seeks to understand what a user is looking for (AI), and improves experience every time based on previous searches (machine learning).
Here’s a deeper look at what RankBrain actually does.
What does RankBrain do?
Put simply, RankBrain exists to provide Google users with the search results they want to see. The premise of its algorithm is understanding user intent, linking this to common searches, and presenting these results.
RankBrain strives to understand what a user is really searching for.
Let’s look at an example. Say you search “best bar in Auckland”. What you’re likely to want to see is articles and ‘listicles’ comparing the top bars in the city. You want lots of information, so you can run through and do your own comparisons, based on what “best” actually means to you. What you don’t want to see, is a bunch of websites claiming that they have the best bar in Auckland – that’s not helpful to you.
If you search “best bar in Auckland”, and only get ads or articles about specific bars, you’ll likely do another search, something like “top 10 bars in Auckland”. This would then show the results you’re after.
RankBrain’s job is to predict this in advance and understand your intent based on your initial search, linking this to other, more common searches, and presenting you with those results.
Better results for users, a bigger challenge for SEO
Ultimately, RankBrain is all about making the user experience more relevant. In fact, Google has announced that RankBrain is the third most important factor in determining search rankings, behind content and links. This is fantastic, but has deep implications for SEO practitioners and anyone wanting to make the most of search marketing for their business.
Why we should pay attention to RankBrain, now
RankBrain is a major change in the world of SEO. It’s the nail in the coffin of archaic methods like keyword stuffing, well and truly welcoming a new era of user intent.
RankBrain looks at every users’ search terms, compares these to billions of other searches, and assumes the intent of what they’re wanting to see. It’s no longer good enough to only have content about the terms users are search for. Knowing what a user is truly searching for has become critical.
We must play a similar game to RankBrain, and dive into the mind of the user, predicting what they are looking for and adjusting our content accordingly. SEO practitioners and content marketers who don’t make this adjustment, and continue targeting keywords and common search phrases, will be left behind.
Static, automatic approaches will no longer suffice; we need to be constantly changing to keep up with these modifications.
Here’s what needs to change
The good news? There’s a straightforward way to optimise for RankBrain’s impact.
There are two key actions to take:
1. Research the intent behind keywords. Yes, you can still focus on keywords but the important work to do is behind the scenes with these keywords – what are users actually wanting when they search for “best bars” or “marketing in New Zealand”?
The easiest way to ascertain intent is by putting yourself in the users’ shoes. If you were looking to find out about great marketing firms in New Zealand, what would you enter into Google? And what would you want to see in the results? Constantly run keywords through this experience-based lens, and you’ll succeed. In addition, Google gives us handy hints down the bottom of the page with their ‘related searches’ list.
2. Create content optimised for this intent. Once you understand what users are really meaning when they search for a term, you can use this as a platform to generate great content that will rank highly and drive traffic.
For example, if you understand that users searching “marketing in New Zealand” are looking for information around marketing best practices, and aren’t wanting to be sold marketing services immediately, you can write educational pieces around this subject. These will then generate potential leads for your business, who will be much more open to buying at a later time.
The laws of SEO still apply in this new era – great content wins. But the technicalities are changing. We now need to be looking at what type of content works, and considering why people want to be viewing it.
Do this, and you’ll stay further ahead of the curve in SEO.
Richard Conway is the founder and CEO of Pure SEO.