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  by Sean Si |

How Google’s RankBrain Algorithm Affects SEO in 2016



Yes, I know you’re wondering about the exact same thing. RankBrain is out. It has been covered in lots of SEO news sites – but how does this “Third most important ranking factor” really affect SEO?

What does RankBrain do?

As far as we know, it’s a machine learning algorithm that has rolled out at the start of this year. Its effects are gradual so most of us haven’t really made a big fuss out of it. But it has affected us albeit in a subtle way.

Here’s the video from Bloomberg if you haven’t watched it yet.

I’ll keep this post short and filled with my assumptions of how RankBrain will affect SEO long-term.

First Assumption – User Behavior is Shifting and will Shift even Further

Since search results are becoming better and better in terms of relevance to the user, getting to the top 3 spot – whether that spot is a local listing, a knowledge graph listing, etc – so long as it’s an organic listing and not paid (since paid has an obvious yellow button-like label that says ‘Ad’) it will get more clicks from users now more than ever.

The top 3 spots will eat up the clicks of the rest of the SERP listings. That’s because people are getting more and more satisfied with the results of the top 3 spots that we have a natural tendency to just check out the top 3 and we’re almost sure that we’ll be satisfied with the results.

Takeaway: It’s no longer a matter of ‘getting to first page’. Now it’s a matter of ‘getting to top 3’.

Second Assumption – Competition is Going to get Tighter

Search took a leap up the competitive ladder. What RankBrain really did is prioritize meaningful results. “Strings to Things” isn’t all that friendly to those playing the search game primarily for traffic. All the articles that are less comprehensive than its 10x counterparts will drop in rankings. Only the best will get ranked – all the other mediocre results will start to fall off.

Search is a zero-sum game. It’s always been. And just when we thought the game wasn’t getting any harder, it bites us back in the ass.

Third Assumption – Machine Learning will Crush Spam and Black Hat Practices

We can conclude that this is the beginning of numerous years of machine learning being incorporated into Google (because it worked better than they thought it would). Considering the direction of Google has been to fight spam and close up loopholes (we’ve felt the effect of this quite strongly since 2010), it’s a surprise that RankBrain is not an algorithm that targets black hat tactics.

That being said, I think that the next machine-learning algorithm Google will launch after RankBrain would deal strongly with fighting spam and loopholes. If RankBrain worked better than they expected, I’m quite sure that they will use the positive result in shutting down spam and black hat problems.

Fourth Assumption – You can affect RankBrain

Google feeds RankBrain ‘offline’ data. Meaning it does not learn on the internet as it is. What Google thinks is good enough to feed to RankBrain, that’s what they feed it. So coining terms that spread such as ‘Growth Hacking’ or ‘Inbound Marketing’ or ‘Link Earning’ could actually signal that you are an authority in such a term and concept.

If this is fed to RankBrain and it recognizes you as the source of the term, that could turn out to be a positive signal for your site and all that is related to it. It’s not easy, but it’s definitely something that I assume could affect the algorithm as it is fed.

RankBrain and SEO in 2016

1) Websites that are laser focused on its topics will see better rankings BUT they have to improve their current content to become 10x content. I’m about to do that with this blog. You should too.

2) Keeping it laser focused and building on technical improvements such as site speed, microdata, and SSL is now more important than ever. Branching out to other topics or niches will become less of a priority for blogs and news sites.

3) Do the things that never die in SEO. Cyrus Shepard of Moz is right on point as he laid it out to me via email:

  • Write more completely
  • Answer more questions
  • Answer questions byond the head term – i.e. questions people haven’t asked yet.
  • Publish enough to become an authority on a topic
  • Create evergreen resources over short-term pageviews

Tough things to do especially if you plan to roll it out to all of your clients. But there’s no arguing about it – these things are foundational in SEO. Pull it off, and it’s likely that you and your clients will be able to stay in the top spots of Google for a long, long time.

You either create 10x content that will enable you to top this 3rd most important signal or you lose out.

What can we do to make RankBrain work for us?

I admit – we don’t know a lot about RankBrain yet but from what we know we could already lay out some actionable strategies. That’s not to say that these strategies have not been available before – these are strategies that have always been the cornerstone of what Google wants the web to be – a better place for users.

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  1. This may create problem for everyone and every site so this could spoil ranking of SERP. I think google should not change this anymore.

    1. I think generally Google is trying to make search all the better. I don’t see how this will spoil SERP rankings and I also don’t see Google stopping with RankBrain for integrating machine learning into its engine.

  2. Hello Sean thank you for your great information about Google Rankbrain. It’s annoying because i still blury about this algorithm. I read you post and i still don’t get it what is the meaning of create 10x content.

    Are you mean to create more content everyday, for example if i usually create 2 content a day, for this algorithm i need to make it 5 or more? or make it more readable and more words?? Sorry about my grammar 🙂


    1. Hi Willy,

      It means that you have to create content that is at least 10 times better than the nearest competition. 🙂

      10 times better can be spread to quality, depth, readability, design, and so on.

  3. This is something that was expected for a while now. And if your SEO strategy is built around following Google’s guidelines or as they say “future proofed”, and pumping out the best content possible in your niche, this isnt something to really worry too much about. I agree though, competition will be much tighter. And in some cases, bigger brands will dominate these placements. If your content was well planned and if you put thought into it, i think competing would be just a matter of distribution. Also, taking advantage of different result types that Google serves. Also, Ive always been a fan of fixing technical issues. These are mostly low effort fixes and small wins that have an impact in overall SEO. It’s not all about links is what i believe. Especially in bigger websites and brands. Putting yourself in Google’s shoes and figuring out where it’s headed in the near future is a great way to plan ahead. Just my two cents. 🙂 great post btw and i think this is a great discussion to have nearing 2016.

    1. Marc,

      Couldn’t agree more with your points. And yes technical SEO is quite exciting isn’t it – especially when the efforts reflect as output in the SERPs. Looking forward to your guest post!

      Thanks for dropping by!

    2. Agreed, Marc. The role of writer rises in importance, exceptional, well-executed content necessary to compete in the world of organic SEO.

  4. If someone follow the classical SEO, he/she will meet the problem for SEO. If he/she are not carefully, his/her websites will be affected…

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