Google's RankBrain and what it could mean for content marketing

October 27, 2015Uncategorized
Robot giving command with his index finger
Daniel Hochuli, Senior Content Editor & Strategist

Daniel Hochuli, Senior Content Editor & Strategist

Google announced yesterday that over the past few months the tech giant has been testing and using its new artificial intelligence system (AI), codenamed RankBrain, to deliver better results in Google Search.

In an interview with Bloomberg, Greg Corrado, a senior Google research scientist, said a “very large fraction” of the millions of queries a second that people type into the Google search engine have been interpreted and delivered by the RankBrain AI system.

According to Corrado, RankBrain uses AI to embed vast amounts of written language into mathematical entities — called ‘vectors’ — that the computer can understand.

The AI system, which is one of the “hundreds” of ranking signals that go into Google’s algorithm to determine what results appear on Google’s Search Results Pages (SERPs), is being considered as a permanent signal in Google’s method to deliver search results.  Indeed, Corrado revealed that over the last few months, Google has chosen to make RankBrain the third most important signal contributing to results in a search query.

“Search is the cornerstone of Google,” Corrado said. “Machine learning isn’t just a magic syrup that you pour onto a problem and it makes it better. It took a lot of thought and care in order to build something that we really thought was worth doing.”

In an illustration of RankBrain’s accuracy, Google tested the AI system against its own search engineers, whose job it is to build Google’s unique search algorithms. The human engineers correctly guessed the top-ranking search result 70 per cent of the time, while RankBrain had an 80 per cent success rate. “I was surprised,” Corrado said. “I would describe this as having gone better than we would have expected.” That said, Corrado reassured that the AI system is still being “very carefully monitored.”

A new direction for search?

Search Engine Land, which also reported the story, said that RankBrain was not designed to be a complete replacement of the Google search algorithm, also known as Hummingbird. But there are some ways that RankBrain is bringing a new dimension to Search.

“For example, someone might search for ‘Barack’. In the past, Google and other search engines might find pages with only that exact word. But over the past few years – and especially since Hummingbird launched in 2013 – Google’s gotten better at understanding relationships between words. A search for ‘Barack’ might bring back pages and information that also matches ‘US President’, ‘Barack Obama’, or even ‘Michelle Obama’s husband’.” – Search Engine Land

With RankBrain, unique queries are handled differently. If RankBrain sees an unfamiliar word or phrase, the AI system makes an ‘intelligent’ guess as to what words or phrases might have a similar meaning, based on Google’s search library, and delivers results it feels are better suited for the query. RankBrain’s strength is in interpreting never-before-seen search queries and, according to Google, about 15 per cent of the queries RankBrain handles each day are unique.

What does this mean for content marketing?

At this stage it is difficult to say how RankBrain will affect how we create content but, if anything, the AI system is a step towards delivering more ‘human’ results in the search results. This effectively means that any piece of content created for the purposes of SEO and rankings needs to also be more ‘human’.

In the last few years, we have seen content marketing and SEO content evolve in a good way. Content has shifted from keyword targeting and spammy keyword stuffing to targeting semantic relevancy and topical themes, and now RankBrain could be the next level.

With RankBrain said to be the third most important ranking signal, content marketers need to ensure their content delivers an important ‘human’ experience. The old way of writing for the crawlers doesn’t work anymore.

Real-time reporting

Where RankBrain could really deliver unique content marketing value is in Google’s ‘News’ section. The AI system’s ability to better identify unique search terms and deliver better results means Google could be the place to discover trending and breaking news as it happens. This is something social media still has over Google in many ways. Facebook and Twitter are often used as key tools for breaking news. If the RankBrain AI system can filter the intelligent reporting from the noise early, it would mean a better experience for users on Google.

Content marketers and brands who look to adopt a ‘newsroom’ style media strategy could see their own news featured not just in the Google ‘News’ section but for general search queries on the topic before it becomes ‘trend’. The key is for the content to be turned around quickly and at a high quality.

That said, we are still in the dark on what RankBrain will really mean for search in general, though we can anticipate that its success will shake up how rankings are delivered on Search.

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