How can you Optimize for Google’s Rankbrain?

Published: Nov 10, 2016

Recently on’s Whiteboard Friday Rand Fishkin discussed whether or not we should be optimizing for Google’s Rankbrain, and furthermore, is it even possible? His conclusion has some interesting implications for how we should be thinking about SEO.

Firstly, here’s what rank brain does.

Before Rankbrain, when you made a search query, Google would use the same algorithm for every type of query to decide what results to show. Today when you create a query it get’s interpreted through Rankbrain first, which looks at clues within the wording of the query and determines the query’s intent. This will help Google better understand what type of content it should answer with. Then Google uses this interpretation of your query to determine which ranking signals are most appropriate for serving you results.

How are ranking signals chosen?

(To use the example posed by Fishkin) if someone searches for a TV show, then Rankbrain will use patterns it has learned from similar search queries in the past to determine which ranking signals are most important. So for the TV show example, you can expect that ranking signals such as keyword matching, link diversity, and anchor text won’t be terribly important, as they don’t hold much weight in this type of search; however, Signals like freshness will be much more important, because the searcher probably wants to see up to date content concerning their show; content that was posted a year ago would be well out of date by this point. Engagement would be another strong signal here because this is the type of content that will require a lot of engagement; therefore, Google will pull from past search results where people engaged heavily in the content. On the flip side if somebody is searching to find a quick answer to a question, engagement would not be an important signal, and would be assigned much less weight by Rankbrain.

How does this change SEO?

What this means for the SEO minded is that you can determine based on what you do and what type of content you offer, which signals are not very important, and which are most appropriate for you to optimize. Gone are the days where you have to match your keywords to query intent, instead thanks to Rankbrain’s machine learning your domain will earn a reputation for certain ranking signals, and that’s where you should re-direct your efforts.

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