Using Google RankBrain to optimize your content

Updating your website’s content is hard. Google’s various updates and algorithms can leave webmasters and content professionals feeling lost. However, there is one Google tool that can help. Released by Google in 2015, Google RankBrain has led multiple sites into trying to optimize their content for it.

As AJ Kohn from Blind Five Year Old points out:

“You can’t optimize for RankBrain. RankBrain is a deep learning algorithm performing unsupervised learning. It’s creating its own rules.”

But that doesn’t mean people can’t use RankBrain for something else. Understanding how RankBrain looks at content means you can utilize it for improving your content. By looking at what RankBrain crawls in a website, you will know what to improve on your website.

Below we’ll discuss what Google RankBrain is, what it looks at on a site, and how you can use that knowledge to improve your website and content.

What is Google RankBrain?

RankBrain is a piece of software created by Google to simplify their search result ranking  process. It uses machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) to process and filter relevant search results.

Primarily, RankBrain effectively answers new search queries and understands what topics should appear for that search.

An example Shane Barker uses is searching for the “first song in Frozen.” The results will include links to the YouTube videos that match the query first.

Frist song in Frozen

RankBrain has become smart enough to understand that the searcher is referring to the movie Frozen, and not the adjective, frozen.

As Search Engine Journal writes:

“[RankBrain has] the ability to predict the meaning, and therefore relevancy, to display the best matching results, even for previously unknown, and new search requests.”

What Google RankBrain is looking for on a website

When RankBrain looks through a website, it has a few elements to consider when ranking a site in a search.

1. Links in your content

Google RankBrain, like page crawlers, is looking over all the content on your website. It is searching for how fresh your content is, and whether the links in that content are still working and relevant.

When reviewing your content, include when a post was last updated. If it’s been over a year since you last touched something, think of a way to spruce up that data or article. RankBrain will pull a site out of consideration when it’s content isn’t timely. Regardless of what Google RankBrain is doing, you should regularly be checking web pages for toxic backlinks or broken links.

Also, when linking to another web page or source, consider whether it is an authority on the topic. For instance, linking directly to a NASA web page and not a NASA fan site will help your ranking, because NASA will have a higher domain authority than the fan site.

2. Voice search

Individuals are taking to their phones and in-home devices a lot more these days. That’s why it is important to think about how your topic or content in terms of a voice search. Searching something in real-time using your voice is different than typing out a question. RankBrain knows this and is taking this into account.

As advertisements have shown, consumers asking an Alexa or Google device a direct question will generate a direct answer. Whereas in traditional searches, individuals may type in longer queries to get an answer.

3. Technical content

As mentioned above, optimizing older content helps RankBrain see that your site is regularly updated. Think of ways to keep your older content up to par with either new links or adding newer content.

Think about your technical search engine optimization (SEO) in terms of on-page and off-page. On-page is easy to control because that is the material you own. Look at your pages to review your keywords and if it provides a good user experience.

Off-page SEO is a little more out of your hands. However, prior to linking your content or web page to an outside source, consider if the site you want to reference would be considered trustworthy regarding topic you are discussing. Why link to a website run by an un-authoritative person when you can link directly to an expert?

Also, consider how long it takes your website to load or if it is mobile-friendly. These factors also affect how RankBrain will rank your site.

4. Writing for users, not keywords

Gary Illyes, a Google Webmaster Trends Analyst and long time spokesperson for Google’s search team, said:

“Try to write content that sounds human. If you try to write like a machine then RankBrain will just get confused and probably just pushes [sic] you back.”

When creating content for your blog or web page, know who your audience is.

  • Are you writing for chief executive officers (CEOs) and experts?
  • Or are you writing for a mom and kids?

Knowing your audience affects the type of writing you will do. A CEO will be familiar with larger word terminology than a mother reading a blog on the go. By properly identifying who your audience is, you can then write for that group. Writing for your target demographic rather than trying to stuff in keywords will provide them with a clear understanding of your writing’s topic or goals.

As Gary pointed out, knowing your audience will also help RankBrain understand your content as well. Remember some of the earliest writing classes you took: write like you speak (within reason).

Trying to stuff your content with keywords or fancy lingo just confuses everyone in the long run.

How to improve your content for Google RankBrain

By looking over the four qualifiers mentioned above, you can get a picture of how to use Google RankBrain to help you improve your website. The overall idea is to think about where you link to, is the content searchable by voice search, have you considered on and off-page SEO, and are you writing for your end-user and not just keyword optimization. Yes, it seems like a lot, but pairing these requirements off, can help with organization. For instance, pairing together content you link to with on and off-page SEO ensures that you’re getting the best and most recent data into your content.

For example, find a good place to link to a wedding planning expert for your post about steps in wedding planning. Once you’ve found your source, look over that web page.

  • Are other websites mentioned on it?
  • Is this website a resource for others?
  • Is the content recent?

Answering those questions helps verify the site is a good site to link to. That leaves taking care of your on-page SEO. Another example would be teaming up writing for your target audience and optimizing for voice search.

By thinking about your end-user, you’ll know how they might search for your chosen topic. Keep a list of phrases or sentences of how that audience would find your post. But that also leads to knowing which of those to include for voice search optimization for your post.

Look at the 4 qualifiers Google RankBrain uses

Although it is difficult to optimize a site or content for Google’s RankBrain, using what RankBrain qualifies site with, can help you optimize your content. By looking at the four qualifiers RankBrain uses when ranking content, individuals can use this information to improve their writing, subject matter, and ultimately their positions in Google’s search results.

This guest blog article was written by Amanda Peterson, who is a software engineer and contributor to Enlightened Digital. Located in New York City, she enjoys visiting record stores and Netflix binging with her puggle, Hendrix.