Understanding Google RankBrain and How It Affects SEO

January 5, 2021 by in category SEO tagged as , , with 0 and 1
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In late 2015, Google announced RankBrain, an artificial intelligence system to help sort search results. By 2016, Google announced that RankBrain has since become the third highest ranking factor on their search engine.

So, obviously, we can no longer neglect the importance of RankBrain in our SEO strategy. Yet, many SEO practitioners fail to understand what RankBrain truly is and how it affects search engine ranking.

So, in this guide, we will discuss all the ins and outs of the Google RankBrain, how it affects SEO, and how you should adjust your strategy around the RankBrain.

Let us begin by addressing the elephant in the room: what actually is RankBrain.Understanding Google RankBrain and How It Affects SEO

What Is Google RankBrain

Google first confirmed the existence of the RankBrain in October 2015. In its essence, RankBrain is a part of Google’s ranking algorithm that is capable of machine learning. The term ‘machine learning’, along with ‘artificial intelligence’ has been the buzzwords of recent years as we are seeing huge developments in the field. Yet, what actually is machine learning?

In short, machine learning is the ability of a machine to teach itself through data, eliminating the need to program it. In the case of RankBrain, the machine learning process

is utilized to determine the ‘relevancy’ of search results. It studies all the relevant factors including the searchers’ location, personality, and analyzing the search query to understand the searcher’s true intention.

This way, the RankBrain can provide more relevant results for the searcher, and the next searchers with the same profile and intention.


How RankBrain Works: The Simple Explanation

We can use all the complicated terms and jargons to explain RankBrain, but that’s certainly not what we want. So, we will try to explain how RankBrain works in a dead-simple way.

As we have mentioned above, what RankBrain does is analyzing how you interact with the search result. So, how does RankBrain do that?

Let’s say you search for ‘Google RankBrain’ in Google.

The 3rd result looks interesting, so you click on it. Apparently, the article is really good, so you spent quite some time reading it. RankBrain will take note of your activity, and this 3rd-ranked article will get a rank boost.

On the other hand, let’s say you do the same search, and this time you clicked on the topmost result.

However, turns out the content is terrible, so you only spend a few seconds before bouncing. RankBrain will also notice this, and this 1st-ranked result will be demoted.

So, we can conclude that RankBrain focuses on two things:

  • How long a user spends time on your site. We call this Dwell Time
  • The Click-Through-Rate, which is a percentage of how many people who clicked on that result

The Click-Through-Rate, which is a percentage of how many people who clicked on that result

So, these two factors will also be our main focus in how to adjust our SEO strategy according to RankBrain. Let us first discuss dwell time.


RankBrain, Dwell Time, and SEO

Google recently confirmed that dwell time is now indeed a ranking signal, thanks to RankBrain.

Dwell time is calculated when the user clicks your link until they hit the back button or close your window. So, how good should your dwell time be to rank high? According to a recent study by SearchMetrics, you will need to have an average dwell time of 3 minutes and 10 seconds to rank top 10.

So, how can we achieve that? The answer, obviously, is to have high-quality and engaging contents. Our previous guide to content creation might help you (link). But here are some tips to help you get started:

  • No matter what type of contents you are publishing, the opening section should be interesting and promising enough to keep your audiences hooked. This guide by Copy Hackers might help you for word-based contents.
  • Keep your articles focused and comprehensive. Longer is not necessarily better, although it can help.
  • Although focusing on keywords is still important, you should first focus on making your contents engaging for human readers.
  • We do judge the book by its cover, so your website design does matter. Besides making sure that your site is mobile responsive, make sure you pay enlightenment attention to UX.
  • One of the biggest reasons for the high bounce rate is slow load speed. Improve your load speed by following simple tips listed in this guide here.

In short, we should put more focus on the quality of our contents, and our site in general.


RankBrain, CTR, and SEO

Arguably, the biggest effect RankBrain bring to SEO is how it analyzes CTR. Why did we do SEO in the first place? To rank higher in search engine results and get more people to click our site. In short, to have more CTR.

So, now that RankBrain calculates the CTR as a ranking signal, it might seem counterproductive. Now, a site that ranks high might get demoted if very few users click the link. Vice versa, our site might get promoted if a lot of people click our snippet.

What does this mean for SEO? Now, we should rely on other tactics besides SEO to get more organic CTR.

How do we do this? This guide by Search Engine Journal might help you. Here are a few tips:

  • Descriptive and comprehensive URL is always better. Don’t be lazy with your URL naming.
  • Your headline is your lifeline for organic CTR.Thankfully, there are many tools available that can help you make better headlines.
  • Understand your audience, and how to engage them with powerful, relatable headlines.
  • Always keep a lookout on what your competitors are doing. Do your competitive analysis and find out what they are doing better than you.


To Summarize: The Top Three SEO Concepts in Post-RankBrain Era

SEO has changed dramatically over the years, but arguably the inclusion of RankBrain is one of the biggest changes SEO has ever faced. There are three key concepts you should understand to truly optimize your SEO strategies in this post-RankBrain environment.


1.Post RankBrain Era=The Era of Compound Keywords

In the past, it is a common practice to use one page and one content to focus on just one keyword. For example, we create one page for ‘soccer’, one page for ‘football’, one page for ‘football players’, and so on. This practice has gone obsolete over the years, but RankBrain is indeed the final nail in the coffin for this one. Why? Because you will have a huge bounce rate with your crappy one-keyword article that sounds robotic. Also, nobody wants to click on an obvious SEO-focused headline nowadays.

Now, we should combine all of the necessary phrases and keywords into a single piece of in-depth content with natural human language. We should keep it engaging and informative to keep a high dwell time.


2. No More Get Rich Quick Schemes

It is no secret that a lot of people are using the online world for short-term businesses generating a lot of money in a short amount of time. Most are scams, and most are responsible for spammy, black-hat SEO tactics.

With the advent of RankBrain, these practices are now much harder to perform, especially using SEO. With RankBrain, SEO is now truly a long-term practice.

How to consistently get more dwell time and organic CTR? The only valid answer it to have a good reputation, and building your site’s reputation takes time.


3. Content Requirements Are Now More Dynamic

Before RankBrain, we can arguably use the same SEO strategy for any niche, keywords, and search queries. In the old days, a content that is comprehensive enough with proper depth and keyword focus can rank well virtually any time.

That is no longer the case today, as we will need to post a relevant content to our readers depending on their needs. For example, an entertainment site might not want the contents to be too in-depth, but instead will need to stay up-to-date and fresh.On the other hand, if you are a review site promising in-depth reviews, depth should be your focus.

So, as a marketer and SEO practitioner, we will need to always be adaptive depending on our market behavior.



The inclusion of Google RankBrain as one of the top ranking signals might seem scary for SEO. However, RankBrain is actually a very good addition to the search engine world, to make it a healthier, better environment.

There are two key things you should especially focus on with RankBrain in effect: optimizing the dwell time of your audience, and optimizing your organic CTR. How? To have high-quality contents that can entice your audiences, keeping them engaged, and building your site reputation.

By following our guide above, you can optimize all these things and have a better SEO practice in the post-RankBrain era. You can also work with SEO expert Mike if you want to make sure your pages and meta tags are optimized for RankBrain.

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