What is Google RankBrain and How You Can Beat it.


I am a mirror image of a human brain. Moreover, in reality, I’m all metal on the inside. And my neurones are tiny processors, and my synapses are tiny wires.

I am sure you’ll agree with me:

Google ‘s ranking algorithm is insane.

Not only that, but it’s getting more complex as new layers of technology are added to it regularly.
It’s gotten to the point that even the folks at Google don’t quite understand what is going on.

What are we as marketers to do?

Well, first we should name the beast, and I recommend the word- Googlex- If it cathes on, remeber whence it came from. 🙂

Their newest major algo addition is RankBrain

  • What it is?
  • What it does?
  • What you need to do about it?

These are all the questions covered in this articles.

And I also have a strong finish with some awesome actionable tips for you; no doubt you’ll be able to turn RankBrain into your greatest ranking weapon

Let’s Go!

What is RankBrain Exactly?

It’s an artificial intelligence program patented by Google. It works in conjunction with the main algorithm(Hummingbird) to deliver better results.

How does it work exactly?

I am neither an engineer, nor a technical kind of guy, but I can tell you this:

RankBrain is a nickname. I’m sure it has its scientific name but it’s nicknamed “the brain” because it does what every brain excels at. It learns.

Yes, machine learning is now a thing. And has been from 2015 when it was first unleashed on the SERPS.

This is how it works:

Let’s say I search for “what is the best coffee to drink while vacationing in Ethiopia”. This is a long-string query normal algorithm isn’t adept at.

It will try to find an exact match and its closest approximates. But in most cases, it will fail.

So, I click on the first result, nope. Not good.

Second? Also not good.

Third? No!

Fourth?! Yes, this one is decent, not perfect, though.

So I tried several results and barely found the one I wanted.

Not good Google. you can do better.

And so it does. That’s what RankBrain is all about.

It observes and records my behaviour as a searcher for this particular keyword. Then, next time RankBrain is updated, the newly gathered intelligence is added to the main algorithm (for that one keyword).

This entails that next time someone searches for “what is the best coffee to drink while vacationing in Ethiopia” the results will be different.

How different? And how much?

I don’t know. No one does.

My guess is that those first three results (which were not that good) will be pushed down, while the fourth will come out on top.

And before you say anything, yes I know that “gather intelligence” is spy lingo perhaps not suitable for the post about SEO. 😉

But then I also know that RankBrain is everwhere. Everything you type in Google search box today is observed and influenced by it.

Think about it.

Rankbrain Misconceptions

We are nearing to the crux of the article- How to get on the good side of RankBrain.

But before that, I think it’s worth your time to briefly read up on some common RankBrain misconceptions(I’m sure you suffer from several).

These are the ones I picked up while lurking on the forums.

a) RankBrain is Real Time

Just by hearing about the concept of the machine that learns and updates itself you’d think this is a given. But it’s not.

RankBrain, at the time of me writing this is still manually updated by Google’s engineers.

However, the prediction is:

Over time, RankBrain will become autonomous.

Or as it is called it the robotics lingo- a deep learning machine system.

This means that it will be able to learn on the fly and implement in real time.

As for the SERPS?

They’ll be in constant flux. Kind of scary don’t you think?

But it’s nothing new. The same thing happened with Google Penguin.

In the beginning, it was updated quite often, then it slowed down. Now its real time which means that it is always working behind the scenes, always hunting for bad links.

b) It’s a New Algorithm

No, it is not. It is only the latest addition to the main algorithm(Hummingbird). The same as any other new ranking factor (SSL for example).

The difference here is that RankBrain has become crucial to the search results.

So crucial that someone at Google said: “Turning of RankBrain would be like deindexing half of Wikipedia“.

c) Advertising is Affected by RankBrain

That is not true.

PPC is exempt from RankBrains influence, and from all other ranking factors too. Think about it. You are paying Google for the place above the peak. They can’t gamble with your money.

Ads are not affected by RankBrain

Bottom line– Ads are untouchable.

Also, I’ve read somewhere a funky theory that if you’re heavily into PPC, Google will somehow favour you with better rankings for all keywords and that RankBrain is designed to reward you for it.

There isn’t a grain of truth to this and you have nothing to fear if you aren’t spending a fortune on ads.

Your content is what will get you noticed by the Brain. Content and nothing else.

d) Social Shares influence RankBrain

Folks at Google are clear- social share count doesn’t factor-in in the algorithm. Not at all. This is for two reasons:

  • They can be easily gamed
  • Google doesn’t have full access to the data(think: Google Analytics).

So no matter how many likes and shares your site or page gets it won’t influence the brain one bit.

e) RankBrain is Engilsh Only

Google in other languages operates the same as in English.

So, all ranking factors are shared between them, including RankBrain. If you’ve hoped to avoid it by making your blog in your native language, instead of English, tough luck friend.

But then again. there’s no reason to fear RankBrain. I will soon show you the way to turn it into your friend.

How Does RankBrain affect My SEO?

I bet you’ve been waiting for this. You the marketer must know how it works so that you can adapt so that you can thrive, score big, win the game.

Speaking of SEO game, Rank Brain changed it big time.

It shook things to the core by strongly reinforcing what Google as a company is all about:

Delivering quality content to the right people.

You might be wondering “am I not writing quality stuff already, how can I do any more than this”?

My guess is that you are doing your best, but with sloppy execution. Don’t blame yourself…

Earlier, every successful SEO put out decent content , did superb SEO, and ranked. And ranked well.

But with RankBrain, standard SEO is no longer enough and decent content is less than enough.

But there is a way around it.

Want to know how? I assure you it isn’t hard and you CAN do it with success.

Here is what you must do:

Keyword Research

Not all keywords are made equal.

When deciding on the one to pursue, and after you’ve checked for competition and traffic numbers, try and gauge the user intent behind the keyword. This is really important.

Will you be able to answer it?

In most case, yes. But be prepared to do a thorough topic research.

The novelty that comes with RankBrain is that you now must think topics, not keywords.

Your job as a marketer is to find the topic you want to talk about, find related topics and use them to enrich your article and make it more useful.

I recommend you use the system I call “Head and Subhead”. Your head is your main topic/keyword, your subheads areHead and subhead system your additional topics/keywords.

But you can’t just sprinkle keywords around in hopes of ranking for exact matches.

RankBrain demands content that answers the question.

This means the each keyword you use should be expanded upon.


You don’t need to go wild with it.

Two or three short paragraphs is more than enough. That is topic coverage at an optimal level.

Just make sure when writing that every subhead ties in nicely with the main topic/keyword.

Think of your article as a human body.

Can a body function without a head? No.

Can it function with just a head. No, but in SEO it used to be so until recently(until 2015 when Google updated its anathomy knowldege- hint- it’s RankBrain learning).

Now your articles need to have a head(main topic), two arms two legs, abdomen, heart liver…

as for the soul you can’t create one but you can pour your soul into your writing. Make it so your piece diffuses passion.

I’m at a Loss. What Should I Write About Now?

If you decide to pursue this content strategy undoubtedly at some point you’ll wonder what topic to include.

When it happens- think about the user.


“How will he benefit if I include this paragraph about x”?

“If I exclude it, will he be left with incomplete knowledge”?

“Will he have to go elsewhere to get the info”?

Adopt this way of thinking and your content will be a SERP killer. That I promise.

For example:

Let’s say someone searches for “how can I start running to improve my health”.

Now I ask you the marketer (who is about to jump on it)

Does this person only want to know the tips for running (keep your head up, wear comfy snickers, carry a water bottle …) or maybe something more?

In my mind this person is also interested in:

  • How to start running if you’ve led a sedentary lifestyle?
  • How much is safe to run every day?
  • At what time is best to run?
  • Should they run with a friend or not?
  • Should the water they drink be mineral, or enriched?(I’ve read about chia water that gives you extra strength for running)

And there is probably so much more.

You don’t have to cover everything to offer a good article

Just make sure you know the likely questions in your reader’s head, then give thorough answers to them.

Leave no stone unturned and your reader will thank you for it.

So, in this example your head topic was “hot to start running” and those bullet points from the above were your subheadings.

Now this kind of an article Google will want to rank. And it will hunt you down for it:)

Another example is this very article you’re on.

The keyword is “what is RankBrain”.

It isn’t a rich keyword. I could’ve said what it is, when it was invented, what it does and ended it with a general recommendation- write better content.

And no old-fashioned marketer would’ve blamed me for it. Hey, it works, why change? Except that nowadays it isn’t enough.

Instead, I covered:

  • What RankBrain is
  • RankBrain misconceptions
  • RankBrain best practices
  • Topic research vs keyword research (it’s comming)

This article extends over 2000 words without me having to try. It is like that because I chose to include several subtopics that could have easily been short articles on their own.

This is the new approach to content marketing- write less-cover more.

Do My Articles Always Have to be so Long? Will Shorter Never Rank?

Your articles have to cover the topic well but it doesn’t mean they have to be very long.

It depends on the subject.

Some topics don’t deserve the 2000 word treatment and you should never extend your piece just for the sake of it.

The article CAN be short and still rank well.

For example:

I recently wrote an article: “how to get a dofollow link from youtube”.

A short 500-word piece would have been sufficient to explain it well. But I chose to include additional information like:

  • What are nofollow and dofollow links.
  • How to check which link is nofollow
  • How to add a nofollow tag to link(both with a plugin and manually)

That is a very comprehensive article and I’m expecting it to soon enter the battle for number one spot in Google.

And it’s only 1400 words.

Bottom line. Shorter articles can rank well in the right circumstances.

How to Know Which Topics to Cover in an Article?

You could use common sense. But you could also ask Google itself. And I recommend it.

This is how to do it:

We’ll use the Moz keyword explorer(hint: use images I’ve provided)Moz keyword explorer

Go to: https://moz.com/explorer

For demonstration, well use “begin running overweight”.

Using Google Suggest I discovered people type in this keyword quite often.

Ofcourse we’ll change it a bit to have it make human sense. 🙂

Once you’ve typed your keyword you’ll be taken to another page.

There you’ll need to set some parameters.

On the far left you have

  • Overview
  • Keyword suggestion
  • SERP Analysis

Choose the second option

Now you have a list of keywords. You can filter them further by choosing “based on broadly related topics and synonyms” and “yes with low lexical similarity”

Set parameters for keyword research

Now you have a list of the keyword but each list has a list of its own.

The main one is your blog topic/keyword you should target. The second list are the topics you should cover in the article to make it a living body.

Here is what I mean:

Main and side topics

Our keyword “begin running overweight” has given us four subtopics to work with.

Four keywords= four short blog posts.

Or if you want to please RankBrain- for subheads.

Here is how I would do it:

  • So you’re overweight and want to start running to improve your health? Good for you because it is a healthy habit to have and a way to both lose excess weight and improve your health…
  • How to begin running for weight loss– When you have a bit of extra weight lying around doing nothing you’ll want to remove it. But it is essential to start slow. Trust me you don’t want to overexert yourself and have a medical emergency. I’ve seen that happen to a young guy who though he was fit(a story makes any article more palpatable). Start slow and you will go far and lose weight in the process…
  • How to do open runing if overweight? To be or not to be that is NOT the question. The real one is: open running or on a treadmill. On the one hand it is pleasant to go outside, breathe fresh air, catch some sun. But on the other, running on the treadmill is safer. you can’t fall and hurt yourself, especially if in gym surrounded by people who can keep an eye on you and motivate you…
  • Running programs for beginners(this is when you recommend they take an official course and earn an as an affiliate). Runing alone is loads of fun, but sometimes it is not as effective. It’s not your fault as there’re techniques to runing effeciently that only a licensed instructor can teach you. Yeah, like with everything else, life is complicated even at the running part…
  • Article conclusion- Running is extremly healthy and you should defintely try it. If you aren’ sure how, consider joining an official course. You’ll have to pay  for it but it will be so worth it. I recommend this one(affiliate link)

There you go.

This article would be thorough, and it’d cover many topics Google considers relevant.

And you’d have a chance to earn affiliate commissions from it for a very long time, if it ranks of course.

But it will rank.

Built like I just showed you, it would be picked up by RankBrain’s radar and would quickly become the new favourite for that keyword.


Google RankBrain is here to stay.

And it’s only going to get better at its job.

You can close your eyes and pretend it’s not there. Or you can do something about it.

I suggest the latter.
It all boils down to better content and I’ve just shown you the right path to take.

Yes, it will be harder but do it this way and the results will come and they’ll be nothing short of extraordinary.

Thank you for reading. 😀

Please share if you liked it.

And leave a comment. Did you already know this stuff? Has RankBrain affected you in a negative or a positive way?

Tell me because I’m curious to know.

You’re awesome and I

Nikola, am signing out

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