Rand Fishkin posted another brilliant Whiteboard Friday last week on the topic of optimizing for RankBrain . In it, he explained how RankBrain helps Google select and prioritize signals it uses for ranking.
One of the most important signals Google takes into account is user engagement. As Rand noted, engagement is a "very, very important signal."
Engagement is a huge but often ignored opportunity. That's why I've been a bit obsessed with improving engagement metrics.
My theory has been that RankBrain * and/or other machine learning elements within Google's core algorithm are increasingly rewarding pages with high user engagement. Not always, but it's happening often enough that it's kind of a huge deal.
Google is looking for unicorns – and I think that machine learning is Google's ultimate Unicorn Detector.
Now, when I say unicorns, I mean those pages that have magical engagement rates that elevate them above the other donkey pages Google could show for a given query. Like if your page has a 5 percent click-through rate (CTR) when everyone else has a 1 percent CTR.
What is Google's mission? To provide the best results to searchers. One way Google does this is by looking at engagement data.
If most people are clicking on a particular search result – and then also engaging with that page – these are clear signals to Google that people think this page is fascinating. That it's a unicorn.
RankBrain: Into Darkness
RankBrain, much like Google's algorithm, is a great mystery. Since Google revealed (in a Bloomberg article just under a year ago) the important role of machine learning and artificial intelligence in its algorithm, RankBrain has been a surprisingly controversial topic, generating speculation and debate within the search industry.
Then, we found out in June that Google RankBrain was no longer just for long-tail queries. It was " involved in every query ."
We learned quite a few things about RankBrain. We were told by Google that you can't optimize for it . Yet we also learned that Google's engineers don't really understand what RankBrain does or how it works.
Some people have even argued that there is absolutely nothing you can do to see Google's machine learning systems at work.
Give me a break! It's an algorithm. Granted, a more complex algorithm thanks to machine learning, but an algorithm nonetheless. All algorithms have rules and patterns.
When Google tweaked Panda and Penguin, we saw it. When Google tweaked its exact-match domain algorithm, we saw it. When Google tweaked its mobile algorithm, we saw it.
If you carefully set up an experiment, you should be able to isolate some aspect of what Google is proclaiming as the third most important ranking factor. You should be able to find evidence – a digital fingerprint.