RankBrain, Google's new artificial intelligence ranking system, works with Hummingbird to rank results. Here’s how to stay on top of SERPs.

Google unveiled the latest update to its SERP ranking algorithm. Here’s how to keep your content high in search results.

On October 26, Google unveiled its newest ranking signal, RankBrain, which has been working in conjunction with Google algorithms for the past few months. This machine-learning tool attempts to better understand queries. RankBrain has already carved its place as the third-most important ranking signal influencing SERPs, according to the Google team. Google Senior Research Scientist Greg Corrado says turning off RankBrain would be like “forgetting to serve half the pages on Wikipedia.”

RankBrain is the first version of a new method of search ranking. It perhaps foreshadows what’s next in how Google search returns information, and it’s raising major implications for how we as marketers need to approach our content strategies.

What is RankBrain & how does it work?

RankBrain differs from Google’s more traditional “things not strings” efforts because of its use of artificial intelligence

If you’ve asked Google a simple question in the past few years, you may have noticed that it gives fairly intelligent answers. Since 2012, Google has become more adept at recognizing synonyms, proper nouns and basic concepts. It makes use of stemming – correlating morphologically related words with other terms to offer more complete results, mostly thanks to manual human work.


The difference between this “things not strings” mentality and RankBrain is artificial intelligence. About 15 percent of Google’s 3 billion daily queries have never been seen before. That’s about 450 million queries – many of them specific, niche, long-tail, multi-word phrases – far too many to manually analyze.

These searches are RankBrain’s specialty. It intelligently interprets the vast number of new queries, and translates them to other related queries to bring the best pages to the searcher – and can do it as naturally as a human could.

Google receives about 450 million never-before-seen queries daily. Many are too specific or niche for manual analysis, but this is one of RankBrain’s strengths.

RankBrain is not replacing Google’s Hummingbird algorithm – it works in conjunction with it. Hummingbird strives to match a query with keywords and content on the internet, while RankBrain intelligently extracts meaning from queries so Google’s search algorithms can then find optimal results throughout the internet.

What does RankBrain mean for your content/keywords?

When search queries are analyzed, RankBrain asks: “What was the intent of this search?”

Hummingbird first raised the question of keywords’ role in SEO, and RankBrain reinforces that exact-match is less important than in the past. While it’s still important to try to match the phrasing that users search for, it’s becoming equally important to have content and keywords that satisfy the phrases users aren’t necessarily googling, but are truly seeking.



RankBrain seeks to get to the bottom of what users mean by their specific search query. RankBrain can attempt to re-rout mistaken, or misguided searches to find satisfying results.

RankBrain seeks to adjust and refine search terms to:

  • Learn how users search Google, and what they search for
  • Communicate a user’s search in alternative or more precise language
  • Put satisfying results in front of a user by answer his question better than he asked it
  • Suggest the highest-quality, most relevant content on SERPs

Content is more important as ever. While on-page SEO has its place and RankBrain didn’t drastically change how we run our SEO overnight, it does introduce machine learning in search technology, as well several implications for content marketing strategies.

Search algorithms are getting more accurate, more agile, more human. This rewards good SEO practices, which go beyond link-building and URL-streamlining. Good, honest content is what people are searching for, and it’s what Google RankBrain strives to deliver to them. Keep on managing and improving your SEO the right way – with click-worthy content – and you’ll be in good shape as the machines begin taking over our searches.

Question mapping to provide content that answers queries

The best way to put your content in front of Googlers’ eyes is to write what they’re looking for (even if they don’t realize it)

When selecting topics, it’s often easy to bucket content into categories or subcategories of your choosing. Now that RankBrain is intelligently mapping users’ queries to other terms that might offer a smarter yield, it’s more important than ever to determine how people ask their questions – or better, what answers they want. It’s up to content marketers to match Google’s robotic mapping procedures through strategic research to develop content that meets their goals.

Our question mapping strategies, outlined in detail here, include:

  • Polling customers
  • Conducting surveys
  • Asking coworkers who deal directly with customers (and prospective customers) for FAQs

What does RankBrain mean for semantic markup?

RankBrain makes using schema markup even more important for marketing content. Schema markup helps your page’s listing on SERPs give rich, informative results for searchers. If you’ve ever used rich snippets, you’ll understand exactly why schema markup is so effective and attractive as a search result. As Google’s AI search gets smarter about semantics and meaning, rich schematic results become increasingly relevant for ranking because Google may tend to favor them as desirable, “smart” results.

High-quality SEO will help to make sure that content is as accessible as possible rather than being optimized for crawlers.

Looking to integrate schema markup? Here is some helpful info about coding it into your site.

SEO implications:

Marketers often worry that “SEO is dead” after a major Google update to an algorithm or ranking formula that demonstrates Google wants to answer questions like a human. If you think that SEO strategies will face major changes now that this update has been rolled out, think again – it’s been out for at least two months already. We just didn’t know about it.

Content, design, creativity, fast page loading, and links are still dominant factors in your page’s SEO – Google is just better at understanding and ranking your content now. If you only remember one thing about SEO in the age of AI ranking systems, it’s that:

Consistently posted high-quality content, and research into topics are still paramount to your web presence. The better your content, the better your SEO.

Ben Silverman is Brafton's Marketing Writer. His writing experience dates back to his time reviewing music for The UMass Daily Collegian at UMass Amherst. Ben joined Brafton with a background in marketing in the classical and jazz industries. When he's not writing, he's playing drums, guitar, or basketball.