Google’s RankBrain: What It Means to Your SMB

As a small business, having a solid search strategy is of utmost importance, as more than 77% of users conduct a Google search and 84% check a business website before making a purchase today.

Additionally, as a small business, you may have to compete for real estate against larger, more established brands within the search engines. So by staying ahead of the search trends and adopting current best practices, your small business can outsmart and outserve your competitors.

That’s why we’re here to discuss one of the fastest evolving factors in SEO: Google’s RankBrain.

What is RankBrain?

In short, RankBrain is Google’s machine learning algorithm, a bit of artificial intelligence (AI) that can affect how your small business ranks in the search engine results pages (SERPs). It is also now the third most important ranking signal in Google’s algorithm, which means that it helps fuel the core algorithm’s understanding of certain queries (about 15% of all queries currently use RankBrain to help interpret query meaning and that number is rising).

Google RankBrain & Artificial Intelligence in Search

The essence of Google’s RankBrain is that it is designed to interpret - much as a human does - a searcher’s language and intent behind his or her queries. So if a user searches for something fairly long-winded and non-specific like, “what is that jewelry shop that makes wooden necklaces in kansas city,” RankBrain is able to make connections and return the most relevant results to help answer the question without requiring the user to input a specific key phrase.

How does it do that? Well, we’re still learning a bit about how exactly this happens, but it appears that Google “feeds” RankBrain offline data to help it learn and make connections between language and topics based on common associations that searches make in their queries. The “food” it gets fed are based off of what Google believes to be good connections for it to know (for example, if you coin a popular phrase, Google may tell RankBrain to attribute that phrase to you, your company, and/or your website). So, it seems that earning Google’s trust means that you can ultimately earn RankBrain’s trust.

How to Optimize Your Small Business for RankBrain

Optimizing for RankBrain is about thinking like it thinks (and how marketers should anyway): in terms of complex ideas and relationships that mimic the style a prospective site visitor is going to be thinking.

In the past, you might have wanted to rank for the term, “wooden jewelry.” This means that you might have performed some keyword research, found that “how to make wooden jewelry” is a popular phrase that people search for, and wrote a blog post focusing on that topic with that key phrase integrated multiple times.

Connect Ideas

With RankBrain, it’s about more than just trying to rank for one keyword; it’s about connecting ideas and demonstrating thought leadership so that Google’s algorithm can understand that you and your business’s website or blog is an authority on a particular topic. So what RankBrain encourages us to do is that now, when you want to rank for “wooden jewelry,” you’d consider creating a comprehensive digital guide entitled, “The Expert’s Guide to Wooden Jewelry” that explores many topics related to wooden jewelry-making, not just one small aspect of it.

Content Marketing Using Natural Language

Use Natural Language

Optimizing for RankBrain is also about using natural language as much as possible, as RankBrain uses what’s referred to as “Natural Language Processing” (NLP), a shift away from the traditional keyword-based searching. Again, this is Google’s move to make its search engine the most friendly for users, and that means allowing users to interact with Google the same way (or very close to) they would with their friends or coworkers.

This means that it’s important for your writing style to reflect this natural language, being written more for the user in mind rather than the search engine. And don’t worry - with RankBrain, ranking for these types of non-hyper-targeted terms is possible because it’s able to use context to decipher these natural language queries (which are also on the rise along with increases in the use of voice search) and return relevant results.

An example would be the first paragraph of a page written about your wooden jewelry business. Perhaps back in yesteryear, the paragraph would have read something like:

If you are interested in wooden jewelry-making, you have come to the right place! We have all types of wooden necklaces, wooden bracelets and other wooden jewelry, made straight from the hands of our expert woodworkers.

But today, RankBrain is looking for content that reads more colloquially so that users can relate, yet content that still demonstrates your expertise on a topic. For instance:

When our founder was a young boy, he thrived on working with his hands. His father was a woodworker and taught him all about the craft of carving wooden necklaces, bracelets and earrings from the finest of wood north of Kansas City. Today, Mr. Woodsmith trains his woodworkers with the same care his father taught him so that all of our wooden jewelry is handcrafted to perfection.

The first paragraph is written for search engines - it is crawling with keywords and sounds very stiff. The second paragraph, however, tells a story, yet it still shows expertise and has keywords integrated naturally into it. See the difference? The latter is what will resonate most with your audience and with RankBrain in this day and age.

What RankBrain Means to Your Small Business

RankBrain is changing the way that marketers need to think about search and SEO in that it prioritizes the user and quality content. And like the example above, it emphasizes natural language and stories that engage both humans and artificial intelligence alike.

This isn’t anything necessarily new in terms of SEO; this trend has been growing steadily since about 2010. However, it does mean that your small business needs to leverage content as a part of its marketing strategy in order to continue showing up in that coveted first-page real estate in the SERPs.

To keep up with the changing search landscape that RankBrain is helping develop, challenge yourself, your marketing team and/or your in-house writers to think beyond single keyword targeting and instead about producing rich, quality content that demonstrates thought leadership and authority in your industry. And it doesn’t hurt to tell a great story while you’re at it.

You should also make an effort to target semantic (that is, topically related) key terms throughout your website and in your content. Going back to our “wooden jewelry” example, that means you may incorporate words like “wooden,” “necklace,” “hand-carved,” “sustainable,” “crafted,” and “woodworker” into your site and copy, instead of just “wooden jewelry,” so you can create added value and context for searchers.

Keyword research can help you get started with understanding what semantic keywords or topics are valuable to integrate into your website and related content assets. These keywords and key phrases can then help to shape your content, as you will have a much better idea of how your consumers are talking and searching for your small business’s products or services, as well as what their motivations and pain points are. Working with a dedicated team can also help you to craft your original content strategy and tell a story to search engines and users.

Recapping RankBrain

So, to review:

  • RankBrain is a machine learning aspect of Google’s ranking algorithm that helps it to better interpret and understand natural language queries.
  • The best ways to optimize for it are to mimic that natural language in your content by using a colloquial yet professional writing, telling stories, and focusing on both primary keywords and semantic keywords, and moving away from the “one keyword per page” mentality.

As a small business owner, you can get ahead of your competitors by making these changes now and implementing a content strategy to help you adapt to the ever-changing search landscape. You can also make moves to position yourself as a thought leader in your industry by publishing valuable content that matches both user intent and necessity.

Ready to learn more about optimizing the content on your small business your site for the age of RankBrain? Contact us today.

Mitch Hankins
Digital Marketing Specialist
Mitch Hankins is an inbound marketing specialist and entrepreneur with 7+ years experience working in the digital marketing industry. He specializes in SEO, copywriting, brand strategy and more.

Comments 1

  1. Great post Mitch! Do you think that RankBrain will ultimately take over as the single ranking factor, being able to make its own ranking decisions without any outside input such as links?

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