Will Google’s “RankBrain” AI Be Another Panda?

Will Google's "RankBrain" AI Be Another Panda?

Google just announced it’s using a type of AI to rank and sort its search results. For the tech community, that’s pretty cool news. But for marketers and business owners the big question is: how will this affect my SEO?

The new system, called RankBrain, was first revealed in a Bloomberg article and has been confirmed by Google. It uses machine learning, a method where a computer program makes connections between pieces of data to essentially become “smarter” at a certain task—like returning search results. Although not the kind of thing you’d see in a Terminator movie, this is a form of AI. And it’s an effective one.

What Does RankBrain Do?

The exact workings of RankBrain are highly secret, despite Google’s bragging. It seems to be used mostly to make guesses about user intent, and deliver better search results. For example, if you searched how to avoid flesh eating fish (which I hope you never have to do), RankBrain could potentially give you results about piranha safety—even if they don’t contain those words.

Of course, Google already did this to some extent, but it depended on humans doing programming work. Previously, if Google wanted to give different results for Sting the musician, sting the hornet wound, and Sting the sword from Lord of the Rings, someone had to catalog those connections and feed them into the system. Now RankBrain acts as a literal brain and makes the connections on its own.

Is RankBrain a Threat?

There’s no question that RankBrain is changing the search results. According to Search Engine Land, Google says the program is the third biggest factor in determining search results.

The good news is RankBrain is not here to rain on the SEO party. A few things to note:

  • The brain is only part of Google’s search algorithm. It doesn’t replace anything; it’s just been added into the mix. Everything you know about SEO still applies.
  • Unlike past unveils, such as Penguin and Panda, RankBrain was not designed to combat bad SEO tactics. It’s not a crackdown.
  • RankBrain will make the biggest difference for long tail search queries, helping deliver results that better fit the searcher’s intent.

Instead of being worried about RankBrain, I would be optimistic. The brain is designed to get more users the results they really want. If less of them get nonsense results, then more of them find you.

The best way to illustrate this is with a real example. According to the Search Engine Land piece, Google offered a strange one. Imagine someone searching this:

What’s the title of the consumer at the highest level of a food chain

RankBrain knows that “consumer” in this case is a scientific term (I didn’t know that) referring to creatures consuming other creatures. Accordingly, the Google results offer pages about predators at the top of the food chain—the highest level consumer there is.

That may sound extraordinarily unimpressive. Who cares? But imagine if you ran a content-based science website. You want people to Google their homework questions and find you. Every time someone reads your “predator” article, you get ad revenue. And some of those people might buy a product.

In that case, RankBrain just did you a solid. A dumber search engine would have sent them to business sites about consumer trends.

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