Andrey Lipattsev, Google’s Search Quality Senior Strategist, recently confirmed the top 3 search ranking factors: links, content, and RankBrain.
Greg Corrado, Google’s Senior Research Scientist, has also confirmed that RankBrain is now the 3rd most important signal in matching results to a search query.
The idea of links and content being critical to SEO is old news, but RankBrain is of recent interest. If you are unfamiliar, RankBrain is a new artificial intelligence that has been processing a significant percentage of searches for the past few months.
RankBrain is not an algorithm update, nor is it a standalone process. It’s a modification that was developed to help Google interpret ambiguous search queries. It uses a machine learning process to transpose written language into mathematical format, “guesstimating” words it doesn’t understand to filter search results appropriately.
What is Machine Learning?
Machine learning is a method of data analysis. It uses algorithms that repeatedly learn from data, responding to hidden insights without the need for explicit programming. (Or in simpler terms, machine learning is when an algorithm can independently adapt to data.)
While algorithms have been around for a while, there’s been an increased interest in machine learning due to the vast amounts of data we now have available. There is a need to be able to digest, interpret, analyze, and apply new data and calculations on a large scale in real time.
Web search is far from the only application for machine learning, but it’s an excellent one. In recent tests, RankBrain displayed a 10% higher rate for returning valid search results over Google engineers. General Google users also seem to be pleased with the improvements in search, after participating in experiments.
So How Will Machine Learning Change SEO?
RankBrain won’t actually change SEO much. However, it does call for reiteration of the importance of content. Due to its ability to pull in more relevant search factors, every word on each page will likely pull more weight. For small and local businesses in particular, RankBrain may actually make it easier to rank higher in SERPs. However, it remains to be seen how much of an impact RankBrain will have on SEO in the long run.
In general, machine learning strives to have a positive effect on SEO. How it will change the future of optimization in its entirety is still unknown, though I can speculate it will make long-tail keyword strategies less important. The number one ranking signal – links – will likely become the central focus for most SEO strategies. It will also continue to emphasize great content and user experience, as opposed to trying to outsmart the system.