Insane in the RankBrain

Recently Google announced that it has released an update to its algorithm called RankBrain, and, although this information is newly public, the update was actually activated earlier in 2015. A refresh designed for the Hummingbird algorithm, this adjustment was designed to improve the Artificial Intelligence Google uses to decipher longer tail/unfamiliar keyword searches, so that it can associate them to familiar searches without compromising the quality of the results it provides users.

Ultimately, the change will impact around 15% of total searches. To put that in perspective, the Panda update Google initially released in 2011, which was centralized on content quality, impacted 7% of searches, and the Penguin update from 2012, which  focused on link quality, impacted only 1% of searches.

Why did this update occur?

It’s speculated that the reason this occurred is to better prepare Google for:

Voice Search – The expansion of search queries that are performed by talking into a connected device (For example, “Hey Siri, What is…”). Google is hip to the fact that nobody speaks in keywords when searching and they prefer to ask questions.

Device Search (The Internet of Things) – As the amount of products connected to the internet grows, the chances that your devices will eventually search on your behalf are increased.  For example, a printer that runs out of paper will automatically order more for you and will find you the best available price or the fastest shipping, depending on your preferences.

Knowledge Graph Improvements for Mobile Search – Mobile search is expanding tremendously and, these days, mobile search users have less time and more distractions when they are looking for information. Google wants to accommodate these users by improving the quality of their knowledge graph so that they can present them with what they are searching for, without having to actually go beyond a search results page.

How can we adjust our SEO strategy to accommodate this update?

“Strings” not “Things”

One of the clearest points Google made when they announced this update was that RankBrain was going to improve Google’s ability to associate searches together and build its network of understanding. Because this update is longtail query focused, it’s suggested to take more of a semantic approach to identifying search opportunities and creating content. For your content strategy, focus on “concepts” rather than “keywords” and make sure that your main objective is to aid users who are looking for answers rather than focusing on ranking for a specific keyword phrase. Approach content creation with the intention of having each article you create be a piece of an informational puzzle for your site. It won’t be until all the pieces fit together correctly that you will be able to see the whole picture.

All Schema, Everything

Additionally, you want to ensure that you are communicating the intention of your content clearly to search engines. The simplest and most effective way to do that is to utilize Schema Markup as much as possible. Schema was created to assist search engines with indexation through designated universalized tagging for key elements of information. It clarifies intent for a variety of elements on your site (business names, industries, addresses, news articles, recipes, etc.). Using these tags in as many relevant places as possible will help Google understand the information on your site and associate your content with a larger percentage of keywords, which, in turn, will increase your exposure and fortify your online presence.

SEO and UX: A Match Made in Heaven. Again.

This update has also been speculated to further reinforce the relationship between SEO success and User Experience. Google is performing its due diligence to ensure that the listings it provides to users lead them to the answers they are looking for quickly and accurately, by evaluating how you present the information on your site. Boiled down: the way users interact with your site will have more of an impact on your rankings.

High bounce rate, low conversions or minimal time spent on page could negatively impact your SEO rankings, so, be sure to take the time to guarantee that your site delivers an enjoyable and informative experience to users. Any significant issues that result in users reverting back to the search results page should be addressed because, if users don’t respond to your content properly, devices most likely won’t either.

It’s crucial when planning your SEO Campaign for 2016 that you really start to focus on breaking the old habits of putting on your “keyword-blinders” and start to really focus on supporting users with information, providing them with an unbeatable site experience and making your intentions clear with search engines. If you keep these things in mind as you charge into the new year, you will be sure to see the results needed to take your online presence to the next level.

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