Google Ranking Factors – What is “RankBrain”?

Google has used a machine-learning artificial intelligence system called “RankBrain” since early 2015 to help rank search results. RankBrain uses AI (Artifical Intelligence) to accumulate information relevant to search rankings. AI uses Machine Learning, which is the process where a computer teaches itself how to do something, rather than being taught by programming or human beings. All indications are that AI and Machine Learning, for the purposes of Google RankBrain, mean the same thing.

RankBrain and Hummingbird

RankBrain is part of Google’s overall search algorithm, a computer program that sorts through the billions of possible pages and find the ones deemed most relevant for particular queries. The name of the new algorithm is Hummingbird. Hummingbird is the overall search algorithm, and RankBrain is one of the newest parts of the algorithm.


Hummingbird also contains other parts with names familiar to those in the SEO space, such as Panda, Penguin and Payday designed to fight spam, Pigeon designed to improve local results, Top Heavy designed to demote ad-heavy pages, Mobile Friendly designed to reward mobile-friendly pages and Pirate designed to fight copyright infringement.

By all accounts, RankBrain is third in priority of ranking factors behind content and links, or links and content, since Google will not specify which factors are most important in determining rankings.

What Does RankBrain Really Do?

Aside from the technical explanation, what does RankBrain really do? The popular view is that RankBrain is mainly used as a way to interpret the searches that people submit to find pages that might not have the exact words that were searched for, but are nevertheless relevant for that search. Therefore, deep content for long tailed keywords and the technique of SEO Siloing, which is creating relevant and deep content for keyword streams will become more and more important as time goes on.

Nothing here changes the over arching strategy of making sure that your website has a good UX and unique and valuable content. RankBrain, in the end, will help to find more sites that have these factors.

Eric Van Cleave is a Partner in Zenergy Works and TIV Branding, located in Santa Rosa, California.

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