What Is Rank Brain?

Posted by Marija Nikolovska

Some of you might have heard of RankBrain. Many probably haven’t. But knowing about this Google technology is vital, and we’ll show you why. Additionally, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about it.

So, what is RankBrain? Why is it important?

In the simplest of terms:

RankBrain is a big component of the core algorithm Google uses to determine which search engine results are the most relevant for specific queries.

We are certain that this one sentence has changed your whole perspective about RankBrain and you now realize that knowing everything there is to know about RankBrain is vital if you’re serious about SEO.

A Little Bit of History

Google RankBrain went online in April 2015, but wasn’t introduced to the public until October of the same year.

RankBrain uses artificial intelligence to understand written language. When it encounters something it doesn’t know – using all the knowledge it has and through machine learning – RankBrain can make an educated guess as to what the word or phrase means.

Google hoped this facility would help its overall system handle the kinds of never-before-seen queries that people make every day.

The company started applying RankBrain to 15% of never-before-seen queries, and less than a year later, it started implementing the algorithm for all search queries.

Fast-forward four years. By 2019, RankBrain has become the third-most important ranking signal. (The first two ranking signals are links and content.)

RankBrain is becoming more important with every passing day, making it vital for you to learn everything you can about it and how you can optimize your content, especially for RankBrain’s benefit.

How RankBrain Works

RankBrain helps Google sort out search results, improving the whole process and helping the overall algorithm understand search queries more like the way humans do.

In the past, every task RankBrain performs today was accomplished manually. We can only imagine how complicated that used to be!

To avoid becoming overly technical, let’s just say that RankBrain tweaks the algorithm on its own to increase or decrease the importance of specific ranking signals like freshness and backlinks.

After that, its machine learning engine waits to see if the new algorithm is better or worse. It keeps the change or tosses it away based on that evaluation. And then it makes and tests another tweak – on and on, gradually remodeling the search algorithm to deliver better results based on feedback from hundreds of millions of queries.

By now, RankBrain understands the intent behind searches better than Google’s human engineers do!

We have RankBrain to thank for whenever Google gives us exactly what we want instead of exactly what we asked for. RankBrain helps Google give users results that they didn’t know how to ask for appropriately.

Consider: Before RankBrain, every time you typed something new into Google the algorithm would have to search page after page for every keyword to try and make sense of what you typed.


Because the algorithm they had then could only match the keywords you typed to keywords on websites. Simple matches were all they had.

With RankBrain, Google has gained the ability to understand what you typed and give you accurate search results in most cases. Even if it’s a query it has never encountered before.

To put it another way: With RankBrain, Google has gained the ability to match new keywords with similar older ones, not just to the same ones – all thanks to the understanding this AI has of the English language.

RankBrain and User Experience

That’s what RankBrain does and how it works.

Now, let’s answer this question: What is Google RankBrain’s connection with user experience?

It’s an important question. Optimizing your site for RankBrain is essential for a quality UX.

We’ve established that RankBrain tries to guess your intent. It tries to predict which sites you’ll appreciate in the results. If you happen to like the results, RankBrain takes note and upranks the page you visited. If you don’t, RankBrain tries a different page the next time that query comes up.

It’s that simple, or at least it’s a simplified answer to the first two questions: what is RankBrain and what does it do? We can only guess, since no one but Google knows exactly how the algorithm works.

All of that means that RankBrain doesn’t just dabble with search results; it also measures how users interact with the results.

The algorithm does that by following the click-through rate, bounce rate, how long people spend on sites (the dwell time), and something called pogo sticking  – the back-and-forth behavior you exhibit by visiting each of the search results before opting for one that answers your question in the best way.

RankBrain monitors these UX signals to determine which sites people want to see in response to specific queries.

So again: What is RankBrain and what makes it important for SEO? Let’s explain further.

How Much Does RankBrain Affect SEO?

In our opinion, a lot!

However, although RankBrain is one of the hottest SEO trends, it doesn’t mean you need to abandon all the strategies you’ve known, even if this is the first time you’re hearing about RankBrain and it’s starting to seem like the only thing that matters.

We say this because context matters when it comes to RankBrain and its influence.

We advise you to keep the knowledge you already have and tweak it a bit to make sure RankBrain optimization is included in what you’re doing.

With that in mind, let’s see how you can optimize your site for RankBrain.

What is Rank Brain - SEO

How to Optimize Your Page for RankBrain

1. Never forget that RankBrain ranks sites high as long as they serve users’ needs.

This is key when you’re looking to optimize your page for RankBrain. That’s why you need to make sure that your page is optimized to meet users’ needs.

Since RankBrain is mainly about matching ranking signals to the intent of the query, your SEO efforts need to follow that too.

That means that you need to optimize content behind the intent of the main keywords – which essentially means that you need to understand what users want to learn when they type these specific queries and then optimize your content to provide the best answers.

2. Never fail to revisit and reoptimize your older content.

There’s a wonderful strategy for optimizing your site for Google BrainRank that not everyone seems to be using, except for the top specialists – which is to review old content and improve it – or remove it if it’s no longer working for you.

When you improve older content and manage to get more traffic to these posts, RankBrain will notice and it will give you a nudge by moving you a few places up in the search rankings.

This was a big part of how you could optimize your page for RankBrain in 2018, and it continues to be so today. What’s more, it will likely continue to be in the near future. 

3. Optimize for medium tail keywords.

Instead of long tail keywords, which are overly specific, it’s better to stick to medium tail keywords.

What is RankBrain’s crucial role in all of this?

When you manage to optimize a page around a specific medium tail keyword, RankBrain will rank you for not only that keyword, but also thousands of similar ones.

Regular keywords are a big part of RankBrain, but you also need to take into account the LSI keywords. These less important keywords are only related to the main topic at hand but are very important to RankBrain, as the algorithm uses them to fully grasp what your page is about.

4. Titles need to be emotional

This one is simple and already pretty well-known. RankBrain looks at how many clicks you get, we’ve established that. What gets more clicks? Emotional titles, of course!

That’s something content writers have recognized as a good idea for years. It’s essential in optimizing for Google RankBrain in 2020.

We say this because emotional headlines are more crucial today than they have ever been – mostly because they bring more social shares.

CoSchedule has a great analyzer that shows how good your headline is. It shows you that to make headlines really good, you need to focus on emotional and power words, using numbers and adding brackets and parentheses at the end. Further, you always need to use your target keyword in the title, and you should also copy the words paid ads tend to use.

5. Do what you can to boost your dwell time

As we’ve mentioned, the Google AI algorithm behind RankBrain focuses heavily on peoples’ dwell time on sites.

The longer people spend at site, the higher RankBrain will rank it – it’s that simple.

When you take that into account, it’s clear that it is very beneficial to optimize your site in a way that will get people to spend more time there.

To do that, take into consideration what people want – just like the RankBrain of Google does.

First, make sure you’re answering their questions as soon as possible. Users don’t want to have to scroll down and read all your content to get the info they want.

Then you have to pay attention to your intros. Make sure they are short, concise, and to-the-point. And make sure you keep the rest of the content detailed and long – but not filled to the brim with useless content.

Since you need your content to be long and you don’t want to overwhelm the readers, make sure you break text into smaller chunks, which are easier to read or merely scan. You can also use bullet points, subtitles, and similar things to make sure the content is easy to read.

6. Improve your brand awareness

With every Google RankBrain update, it places more emphasis on brand awareness. In other words, the better a brand is known, the higher the algorithm will rank it. Such logic is fairly obvious once you take into consideration that people are more likely to click on sites they know already.

Ready to work on brand awareness? HubSpot has a great and detailed post on the subject. In essence, you need to focus on ads and create a lot of quality content if you want your brand to reach new heights.

What is Rank Brain - Google


So there you have it. Hopefully, we’ve provided answers to this important question: What is RankBrain and how can you optimize your site for it?

We’ve covered what the algorithm is and how it works.

We’ve summarized RankBrain’s history and its connection with user experience.

We’ve essentially covered everything necessary when it comes to RankBrain, including how RankBrain affects SEO. The only thing that remains to be done is for you to start heeding our advice.

If you follow the suggestions we’ve given you on how to optimize for RankBrain, you will undoubtedly improve your site’s ranking. But don’t let our advice be the last word. Follow what’s happening with Google. They are continually enhancing RankBrain and every other algorithm they employ in search ranking.

We know that it’s time-consuming and hard to follow everything that Google does. It’s even harder to discern what’s important and what’s not. So we’ll keep researching it all for you and keep you updated if you stick with us.

In the end, if you want to know more about it, you should take a look at how Google’s Gary Illyes explains it. What is RankBrain, how does it work, and all the other related questions you may still have can also be answered by Neil Patel’s comprehensive guide.

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