Google’s artificial intelligence system RankBrain was introduced into the search algorithm in 2015 to help refine search results. Google has revealed that RankBrain is its third most significant ranking factor, so if you want to improve your page rank, you need to know what the AI is looking for.
Though even Google insiders have reportedly said they don’t know the full extent of what RankBrain is doing, we do know a few things.
While traditional keywords are still important for SEO, RankBrain searches all areas of a page for other contextual words and phrases related to the keywords. Their presence helps the AI to decide how useful the page is for users.
When RankBrain encounters unfamiliar words, it makes educated guesses about what keywords on the page may be related so the page can be ranked accordingly.
While most associated terms and phrases should come up naturally when you’re writing content, you can research the most valuable long-tail keyword ideas using free tools such as LSIGraph and Google’s Keyword Planner.
This emphasis on contextual words has seen a shift in focus for SEO, away from trying to dominate results for a specific set of keywords towards being more authoritative on topics. This is one reason why longer pages are performing well, as a long page naturally offers more chances to include a variety of semantically-related words than a short page does.
However, that doesn’t mean you have to make every page excessively long for the sake of it. This could even harm your page if it makes it harder for readers to find the information they’re looking for.
While some topics benefit from providing all the information in a single convenient place, others may be better suited to being divided into a series of shorter pages that still provide the same level of depth and keyword opportunities taken together.
As well as analysing page content, RankBrain also takes note of how users interact with search results, analysing metrics such as how much time was spent on the website (dwell time) and how many pages people viewed while they were there.
If users keep leaving a website within a few seconds (high bounce rate), the site is judged to be unhelpful and less relevant and gets moved down the search results. If a site lower down proves more popular, it’s promoted up the ranks.
With dwell time and bounce rate being confirmed as ranking factors, it’s important to make sure that your website offers a good user experience. Some areas to look at are:
- Writing engaging headlines and copy
- Using white space to break up the text on a page
- Using images that look professional and relevant
- Optimising image sizes to improve page loading times
- Making navigation clear to encourage click-throughs
With RankBrain thinking like a search engine user, the days are long gone when writing for search engines and writing for humans were separate skills.