If you've been stressing over how to optimize your SEO for RankBrain, there's good news: you can't. Not in the traditional sense of the word, at least. Unlike the classic algorithms we're used to, RankBrain is a query interpretation model. It's a horse of a different color, and as such, it requires a different way of thinking than we've had to use in the past. In today's Whiteboard Friday, Rand tackles the question of what RankBrain actually is and whether SEOs should (or can) optimize for it.
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Howdy, Moz fans, and welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. This week we're going to chat about RankBrain SEO and RankBrain in general. So Google released this algorithm or component of their algorithm a while ago, but there have been questions for a long time about: Can people actually do RankBrain SEO? Is that even a thing? Is it possible to optimize specifically for this RankBrain algorithm?
I'll talk today a little bit about how RankBrain works just so we have a broad overview and we're all on the same page about it. Google has continued to release more and more information through interviews and comments about what the system does. There are some things that potentially shift in our SEO strategies and tactics around it, but I'll show why optimizing for RankBrain is probably the wrong way to frame it.
What does RankBrain actually do?
So what is it that RankBrain actually does? A query comes in to Google. Historically, classically Google would use an algorithm, probably the same algorithm, at least they've said sort of the same algorithm across the board historically to figure out which pages and sites to show. There are a bunch of different ranking inputs, which we've talked about many times here on Whiteboard Friday.
But if you search for this query today, what Google is saying is with RankBrain, they're going to take any query that comes in and RankBrain is essentially going to be a query interpretation model. It's going to look at the words in that query. It's potentially going to look at things possibly like location or personalization or other things. We're not entirely sure whether RankBrain uses those, but it certainly could. It interprets these queries, and then it's going to try and determine the intent behind the query and make the ranking signals that are applied to the results appropriate to that actual query.
So here's what that means. If you search today — I did this search on my mobile device, I did it on my desktop device — for "best Netflix shows" or "best shows on Netflix" or "What are good Netflix shows," "good Netflix shows," "what to watch on Netflix," notice a pattern here? All five of these searches are essentially asking for the very same thing . We might quibble and say "what to watch on Netflix" could be more movie-centric than shows, which could be more TV or episodic series-centric. That's okay. But these five are essentially, " What should I watch on Netflix?"
Now, RankBrain is going to help Google understand that each of these queries, despite the fact that they use slightly different words and phrasing or completely different words, with the exception of Netflix, that they should all be answered by the same content or same kinds of content . That's the part where Google, where RankBrain is determining the searcher intent. Then, Google is going to use RankBrain to basically say, "Now, what signals are right for me, Google, to enhance or to push down for these particular queries?"