Google announced RankBrain back in October 2015, however since then there have been some considerable updates. While Google continues to remain fairly tight-lipped about how these updates work, we have researched all that you need to know.

Let’s get started…

What is RankBrain?

Like the name suggests, RankBrain is part of a ranking algorithm that is designed to learn things over time. In fact, RankBrain is a type of artificial intelligence program that is used to help Google process search queries.

According to Search Engine Land, RankBrain can be defined as-

“A machine learning artificial intelligence system that is used to help process its search results.”

Machine learning means that the program continues to expand the more it is used, which adds to the sophistication and importance of understanding how RankBrain really works.

It is important to remember that RankBrain is also part of the Hummingbird algorithm, and doesn’t stand alone. To put it simply, Hummingbird is the overall search algorithm whereas RankBrain is an addition or part of it.

It is not 100-percent clear as to how RankBrain works, however we do know that it helps to match search queries with a greater amount of accuracy.

RankBrain does this by picking up on even the smallest nuances in what you are searching for. If it can’t pick up what you are searching for, it can make a guess as to what phrases may have a similar meaning.

According to Bloomberg-

“If RankBrain sees a word or phrase it isn’t familiar with, the machine can make a guess as to what words or phrases might have a similar meaning and filter the results accordingly, making it more effective at handling never-before-seen search queries.”

This system was designed by Google to help support the 15 percent of queries that come through on a daily basis that their search algorithm had trouble detecting.

This means that users can also type in more complicated search phrases and more specific search phrases in order to get better results.

According to Search Engine Land who spoke with Google:

“(RankBrain) can see patterns between seemingly unconnected complex searches to understand how they are actually similar to each other. This learning, in turn allows it to better understand future complex searches and whether they are related to particular topics. Most important, from what Google told us, it can then associate these groups of searches with results that it thinks searcher will like the most.”

Since RankBrain was first launched, it was believed to be used only in a certain percentage of queries, but today in 2016 it has been revealed that RankBrain is being used for every search query.

This has been one of the major developments of RankBrain, and it looks like the artificial intelligence program is here to stay.

How Does RankBrain Actually Work?

As previously mentioned, it is not clear exactly how RankBrain works. What we know is that RankBrain essentially refines search results, helping to deliver accurate and efficient page ranking.

It does this by relying on simple connections between words and concepts. It uses mathematical process and language semantics to understand complicated and highly specific search queries.

This unique combination allows RankBrain to look beyond basic language markers and instead focus on-

  • Variations of a word (ie. searching or search)
  • Synonyms (ie. business vs. company)
  • Conceptual understanding (ie. searching for Coach the brand and not a lifestyle “Coach”)

RankBrain is able to do this because in many ways, it leverages human understanding and interpretation in order to deliver the most accurate results.

For example, say someone types into Google- “best mexican restaurant in melbourne”. RankBrain will then match this search query with a more popular one, for example “top mexican restaurants melbourne” and deliver results for that instead.

Why does RankBrain do this?

From Google’s point of view, the search results for a more popular query deliver more trusted and tested results, hence they feel more confident about switching your search query.

It is important to understand however, that RankBrain does not change the ranking of a webpage, it simply adjusts the search to deliver more accurate results.

There has been a lot of speculation and misunderstandings about what RankBrain actually does, but Google’s Webmaster Search Analyst, Gary Illyes has repeatedly stated that the artificial intelligence program does not change rankings.

“Lemme try this one last time: RankBrain lets us understand queries better. No affect on crawling nor indexing or replace anything in ranking” – @methode (Gary Illyes)

It is also important to remember that Google is part of the bigger Hummingbird algorithm, which means that it is just a fraction of what goes in to yielding search results.

As Bloomberg states-

“RankBrain is one of the hundreds of signals that go into an algorithm that determines what results appear on a Google search page and where they are ranked…..RankBrain has become the third most important signal contributing to the result of a search query.”

What makes RankBrain one of the top signals is the fact that it doesn’t use manual language analysis. Instead it works on creating relationships and intuiting the meaning of your phrase to deliver the best results.

This means that search results will be different depending on the country you are searching from. This is due to the fact that RankBrain is able to note the differences in meaning and aims to deliver results that are more specific to your location.

So, has this been effective for Google?


This has helped Google to have an 80 percent success rate when it comes to more complex search queries. It has also helped Google to remain as one of the leading search engine sites in the world.

How Will Rank Brain Effect My Brand?

RankBrain has many positive effects. For one, it will help to match your brand with the perfect audience, which means that you can find your perfect customer quicker and more effectively.

It will also help you to offer valuable content to your audience and really discover what their needs are.

In fact, RankBrain will reward sites that offer valuable content and are visited by readers for a longer period of time.

Let’s take a more detailed look into how RankBrain effects your brand and online presence-

1. Content

We all know that content is king and with RankBrain this does not change. In fact, having high-quality and relevant content becomes far more important. With RankBrain, it also means that the language that you use in your content can be more creative and less specific to a single keyword. RankBrain also supports using more natural language and variations. This means that you don’t have to use awkward phrases like “flower shop sydney” and instead you can offer more meaning and general phrases.

2. Testimonials and Reviews

Because RankBrain gives a preference to natural language, reviews and testimonials are going to be important. This is because when people write reviews they use language similar to what other people may be searching for.

For example, in a review someone may have written –“I recently visited this Perth vet because my dog was having a hard time breathing. The doctor at this vet was friendly and helped cure my dog… etc.”

With RankBrain this review could then turn up in the search results for “perth vets specialising in dogs with breathing problems” or even “what to do if your dog has a hard time breathing.”

Of course, these are just rough examples but you get the idea- RankBrain is here to make search more intuitive and human friendly.

3. Makes SEO Fairer

The other major change brought about by RankBrain is how it effects SEO. We will go into more detail about this below, but essentially RankBrain makes SEO fairer.

Firstly, RankBrain cannot be manipulated and instead uses the suggested meaning of your phrase rather than the words themselves. This means that well written content that actually offers meaning will receive preference, not websites that are simply keyword stuffed.

Essentially, RankBrain will have very little effect on your business if you are playing by the rules. All it means is that businesses that offer value and informative content are going to continue to receive search ranking preference.

To help manage this, it is important that your brand-

  • Has a regularly updated blog
  • Offers informative content
  • Has testimonials and reviews
  • Is on social media
  • Has a mobile friendly webpage

These factors will go a long way in ensuring that your business is not negatively impacted by Google’s RankBrain.

How Will Rank Brain Effect My SEO?

One of the most important questions since the announcement of RankBrain is what effect it is going to have on SEO.

The easiest answer is – nothing. But let’s explore this a bit.

The first step in SEO has and maybe always will be, your keywords. With RankBrain, you will still have to define your keywords but instead it may be beneficial to change the way you research your keywords.

RankBrain is based on understanding the language of users, so you may have to tailor your keywords to be more language appropriate. This means that instead of focusing on just one keyword, you may have to get more specific with what your webpage is really offering.

For example, say you are writing an article about “how to stay motivated”. In the past, you may have chosen your keyword to be “motivated”. But for RankBrain purposes, you may want to choose a long-tail keyword such as “how to stay motivated” or even, “how to stay motivated when you feel depressed”.

The more specific you can get with your keywords, the more chances you have of ranking higher in Google’s search results and finding your perfect audience.

When it comes to choosing the perfect keyword for your landing page, here is a step by step process you can use that is RankBrain friendly-

1. Start with Google Adwords Keyword Planner 

Here you are going to look for multiple keyword phrases that you can use on one page, instead of just one keyword. By searching a few terms in Google’s keyword planner, you can work out which phrases may work best and which ones are most commonly searched for.

2. Test your Keywords on Google Search

Once you have found the perfect keyword, or at least made a short list, enter them into Google to see what results come up. Look for any competition, but also any search recommendations that are offered by Google. These recommendations may also be connected to the way RankBrain works and may provide an understanding as to how RankBrain finds correlating keywords or phrases.

3. Write Your Content

Once you have chosen the perfect keyword, begin writing your content. Be sure to actually address your keyword phrase and create a valuable piece of content that offers valuable information to your audience.

When writing your content, ensure you definitely don’t keyword stuff. With RankBrain, it doesn’t really matter how many times you enter your keyword, as long as your article offers the right answers.

While this may be very similar to the practice you are already doing, there is one thing that RankBrain cannot do and that is- be manipulated.

This means that your ultimate goal needs to be centred on creating content that actually meets your readers expectations and offers value.

As Search Engine Journal states-

“It’s not about learning how machine language or artificial intelligence works, or looking for ways to manipulate as many ranking factors as possible. You need to be focused on what Google is focused on: providing the best content in search results for searchers.”

RankBrain helps Google’s algorithm to look more holistically at what people are searching, which means that in order to enhance your SEO, you need to move away from keyword matching.

This is useful because it helps to provide meaning to searches rather than simply matching the exact keyword.

To summarise what this may mean for your SEO strategy, here is what you need to pay attention to-

  • how people are engaging with your content
  • creating useful and valuable content
  • formatting your content in an easy to understand way
  • using long tail keywords
  • avoiding keyword stuffing
  • focusing on the meaning behind your keywords rather than using the words themselves

The bottom line is that Google is moving away from a system that can be gamed or manipulated using certain tactics such as keyword stuffing. They are doing this by offering a more human-like approach to search results and ensuring that the content offered is going to meet searchers expectations.

This means that you really need to ensure that your website is designed and written for real people who really stand to gain value and information from your business.

As Bloomberg summarises-

“RankBrain interprets language, interprets your queries in a way that has some of the gut feeling and guess-ability of people.”

Because Google’s RankBrain is also using machine based learning, it is continuing to learn and grow the more it used.

Where is RankBrain Heading?

RankBrain is very slowly changing the landscape of SEO. It basically is weeding out sites that simply manipulate SEO and instead replacing them with sites that actually offer value.

This means that overtime, there is going to be a shift into how businesses and brands operate and what is important when it comes to building an online presence. For now, the regular rules still apply, but it may be worth keeping an eye on any trends and updates that Google announces.

If you want to learn about Google’s Rank Brain, the best thing to do is familiarise yourself with vectors. Vectors are the way words and phrases can be mathematically connected and are the cornerstone to the RankBrain platform.

Google has also released their own source toolkit called “word2vec”, which aims to help people learn how RankBrain and other Google technology is studying the meaning behind words.

According to Google-

“Word2vec uses distributed representations of text to capture similarities among concepts. For example, it understands that Paris and France are related in the same way Berlin and Germany are (capital and country), and not the same way Madrid and Italy are….it can learn the concept of capital cities, just by reading lots of news articles- with no human supervision.”

While Google doesn’t explicitly state that word2vec is connected to RankBrain, it definitely seems that there is some parallels in the technology.

Google has also confirmed that all the learning that RankBrain does it actually done offline.

This means that RankBrain is given batches of historical searches and then learns how to make predictions based on them. Once the predictions are rested, they go online and then the cycle is repeated.

It may also be worth noting that RankBrain is not the only artificial intelligence machine based learning program out there.

Microsoft also has their own called RankNet, which they have been using on Bing searches since 2015.

Microsoft has been even more tight lipped about their artificial intelligence program than Google, so it is difficult to determine what effect their program is having.

What is certain however, is this form of algorithm ranking is definitely the way of the future. With big players like Google and Microsoft both adopting the software, it won’t be long before this becomes the industry standard.


When RankBrain was first introduced to Google’s Hummingbird Algorithm back in 2015, it was used in around 15 percent of searches. Today, RankBrain is used in nearly every search and its popularity is growing.

As Google works out ways to become more savvy when it comes to offering search engine results, RankBrain is only going to increase in importance.

RankBrain is really an effort to ensure that all pages offered in search results are genuine and actually offer the information that the searcher is looking for.

This is good news for businesses, as it means that your content will be able to be more readily matched by those looking for it.

RankBrain is also changing the landscape of SEO and ensuring that valuable content is given priority.

No longer is it good enough to focus on just one keyword or keyword density. Instead, the priority has turned to giving meaning to your keywords and using alternative phrases and synonyms to create a richer body of content.

RankBrain is designed to be so sophisticated and advanced that it will nearly be impossible to manipulate. This means that SEO results are more likely to become fairer to the consumer and businesses that focus on doing the right thing.

RankBrain is not the end of SEO as some critics may have claimed. Instead, it is a sign of the future, and the direction that all SEO is heading in.

To summarise, here are the main facts you need to know about RankBrain-

  • It is a machine learning artificial intelligence system that is “self-taught”
  • RankBrain is part of the Hummingbird algorithm and is one of the many signals used by Google when it comes to determining search results
  • It has the ability to interpret searches that people submit based on the meaning not just the words
  • It favours content that is valuable and written in natural language that is similar to the search query
  • It offers more detailed and specific search results to more detailed and specific search questions
  • It is intuitive and aims to understand search results on a more human level
  • It is changing the landscape of SEO by turning away from single keywords to focusing on long tail keywords
  • It was first invented to help account for the search queries that Google was unable to perform or match with appropriate results
  • Since its launch, Google has announced that RankBrain has been highly successful and has helped to deliver more accurate search results
  • RankBrain is only going to become more prevalent as it continues to deliver results for Google and for users
  • For those interested, Google offers a “word2vec” tool that can help users understand how the artificial intelligence program works
  • RankBrain does not effect search rankings, and will not negatively impact on your search results if you are following best practices.