Like it or not, if you're a marketer, you spend a lot of time thinking about Google. You have to consider whether Google will like a piece of content every time you publish something, and that extends throughout the brainstorming, writing, and copyediting states as well. But not in the sense of whether Google will find the topic interesting; rather, if the content will satisfy Google's sophisticated search algorithm that determines when and where your content ranks in the search results.
But are you familiar with one of Google's newest components: RankBrain?
Google RankBrain means machine learning and artificial intelligence now play critically important roles in the process of SEO (search engine optimization). But what does this mean for your content, moving forward? After months of testing and up-close interaction with RankBrain, answers are coming to light.
What is RankBrain?
Fully understanding Google's search algorithm is impossible; even the world's most successful SEO strategists are often left guessing in regard to how certain pieces of the algorithm function. With that being said, we have a reasonably good understanding of what Google RankBrain is and how it fits into the larger SEO picture.
RankBrain is the name given to the machine learning system that's used to help the Google search engine process and formulate the appropriate results for a given search. The machine learning nature of RankBrain presumably means that the system gets smarter and more sophisticated by building on what it already knows and making connections without human assistance.
But in order to understand RankBrain, you have to first grasp the big picture: Google Hummingbird. As Danny Sullivan, founding editor of Search Engine Land, explains in layman's terms, "Hummingbird is the overall search algorithm, just like a car has an overall engine in it. The engine itself may be made up of various parts, such as an oil filter, a fuel pump, a radiator and so on. In the same way, Hummingbird encompasses various parts, with RankBrain being one of the newest."
With RankBrain playing an important role within the bigger search algorithm, it's clear that Google is continuing to make progress in the direction of moving away from a heuristic-based approach and closer to a machine learning approach. Overall, things currently land somewhere in between heuristics and machine learning.
As a marketer, this means you have a multi-faceted responsibility. Not only do you have to understand human search behaviors and how people search for content within the confines of an internet search engine, but you also have to get familiar with Google's machine learning components- i.e. RankBrain.
How to Develop Content That Satisfies RankBrain
As any digital marketer with experience knows, developing high-ROI content isn't just about typing words into a text box and hitting the publish button. In order for that content to stand any chance of being successful, it has to abide by the rules of the road.
You have to take Google's search algorithm into account and optimize accordingly. In other words, SEO and content marketing may technically be separate pursuits, but they intersect and overlap in very significant areas.
If you want to develop successful content, you must seek to understand RankBrain. It's not easy to understand RankBrain - nor will it ever be. But here are some different tools, strategies, and techniques you can use to develop content that appeases both human readers and the machine that is RankBrain.
1. Stop Guessing and Start Testing
The correct way to optimize your content strategy isn't to make random guesses and see what pans out. You need to spend time testing and implementing tweaks and changes that stand a chance of being successful.
One tool that's gaining increasing popularity among digital marketers is Market Brew, which was developed by Scott Stouffer. Recruited by Google for many years, Stouffer instead decided to do his own thing and eventually founded an AI-powered SEO platform that now does an impressively good job of making predictions.
As Stouffer explains, "Our generic search engine model can train itself to output very similar results to the real thing. We then use these predictive models as a sort of 'Google Sandbox' to quickly A/B test various changes to a website, instantly projecting new rankings for the brand's target search engine."
While Market Brew is designed for larger website optimization, it can help you confirm whether your content strategy is headed in the right direction, or if changes need to be made. The overall moral of the story is that you need to surround yourself with tools and resources that set you up for success.
2. Tighten Up Your Focus
Google claims that RankBrain is the third most important ranking factor in the Hummingbird algorithm (links, content, RankBrain). Assuming that you have a decent foundation in place, you should be okay on the links and content front. But how is the quality on your individual pieces of content?
Pages with lots of fragmented ideas and random information rarely, if ever, rank well on Google. In an effort to optimize your content according to Hummingbird and RankBrain, you have to tighten up your focus and really zero in on specific topics for specific pages.
3. Raise Your Organic CTRs
"Google uses its Quality Score algorithm to rate the quality and relevance of your keywords and AdWords ads," SEO expert Larry Kim points out. "Click-through rate, the relevance of each keyword to its ad group, landing page quality and relevance, ad text relevance, your historic AdWords performance - all of this ultimately determines your cost per click and your ad rank in the ad auction process."
In order to beat out the Quality Score Algorithm for ads, you simply have to beat the expected click-through rate you're up against. Do this and you'll see your visibility increase, which will ultimately have a positive impact on your overall marketing strategy.
As Kim goes on to explain, the key to getting an above average click-through rate is to properly structure headlines, optimize for task completion, and increase search volume.
Ignore RankBrain at Your Own Peril
Far too many marketers don't give SEO the attention it deserves. Sure, they may hire someone to handle their SEO strategy, but they don't see any value in getting personally vested in the process. Sadly, this is the wrong approach.
On a macro level, digital marketing success depends on understanding and accounting for SEO. On a micro level, it's virtually impossible to experience any sort of short- or long-term content marketing ROI without respecting Google's search algorithm.
In 2017, one of the smartest things you can do for both your content marketing and overall digital marketing strategy is to pay attention to Google RankBrain and how it influences search results and rankings. It's a complicated topic, but one that's worthy of any marketer's time and energy.