In October 2015, Google announced they used some AI called Rankbrain to help in the search algorithm.
From the Bloomberg article.
RankBrain is one of the “hundreds” of signals that go into an algorithm that determines what results appear on a Google search page and where they are ranked, Corrado said. In the few months it has been deployed, RankBrain has become the third-most important signal contributing to the result of a search query, he said.
There you go, thats the number 3 ranking signal. So what are 1 & 2? Experienced SEOs probably could have a good guess at 1 and 2, being links and content. In March 2016 a Google Engineer confirmed that links and content are 1 & 2 but can’t be ranked.
That’s because its query dependent. If there are lots of results for a query, links will be most important, whereas for queries with few results, it will be the content that will be most important. So queries like “online casino” will certainly be dependent on links whereas a review of a newly opened restaurant will be dependent on the content.
Here’s the recording of it where the guy from Google says the top ranking factors are links and content. Its at about 2 minutes in.
He says that Rankbrain being number 3 is actually quite contentious too. You are best of watching the entire clip to get an idea of how complex the problem is.
The best I can do to summerise is that, Rankbrain is an AI version of Hummingbird which interprets queries. So it doesn’t change the ranking factors, it changes the types of results which Google will show for a query but interpreting the meaning rather than pattern matching. Trying to come up with examples is tricky as Google don’t provide much information. From the video though, the guys talk about a query that is regular but when Rankbrain interprets it, it may deem it to be a QDF (Query Deserves Freshness) query so uses different signals to say a money or your life query.
Why do I write this? Its very handy to know when looking at hiring an SEO. Its easy to work out who keeps up with things and who doesn’t. I asked several people about Rankbrain at a recent search conference I went to, including several speakers. Only one gave me a satisfactory answer. The only guy that knew was an affiliate that was ranking for some pretty good terms. Not the type of person you can hire.
Recently Google released a video about hiring an SEO.
I’d just ask two questions
- What is Rankbrain, can you give me an example of it in real life?
- Have you read the Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines?
Thats pretty much it. I reckon I could work out who knows what they are doing and who doesn’t from that.