Google RankBrain: 5 Strategies to Optimize for Better Search Traffic

In 2015, Google launched RankBrain, one of its most impactful changes ever. By 2016, it was being used in all of Google’s search queries1. Fast forward to 2018 and many people are still unsure of what it is and the revolutionary impact it is having.

Rooted in machine learning, Google RankBrain uses Artificial Intelligence (AI) to understand advanced language semantics to actively learn how searches are conducted.

So why is this important? And how does it impact my business?

For business owners this means the quality of your content and links are more important than ever before in driving traffic to your site. Google now learns by itself whether your website adds value or turns people away.  

Our complete guide will take you through how RankBrain works, why it’s important your business understands it and how you can optimize your website in five simple steps.

What Is RankBrain?

RankBrain is smart, it uses AI to process and make changes to Google’s search algorithm and website rankings… Automatically.

Based on search queries and user interactions with search results, RankBrain learns from our use of language, determines the quality of results returned and then changes the search rankings as it deems necessary.

It is Google’s quest to deliver the ultimate user experience…

RankBrain plays a pivotal role in understanding ambiguous search terms users are prone to using. For example a search term such as “that sweet baked dessert found at birthday parties”, RankBrain understands is a search for cake.

RankBrain has also adapted to learn and understand the finer nuances of language semantics. For example stop words2 (the, an, and, etc), are commonly used words which search engines had been programmed to ignore. RankBrain knows they can have a significant impact on the search query and results.

You may be wondering if this really has a big impact?

Just see below how Google search results differ greatly between ‘The Office’, ‘Office’ and ‘An Office’.

Search for ‘The Office’

Google search results for 'The Office'

Search for ‘Office’

Office Search Results

Search for ‘An Office’

An Office Search Results

As you can see, there is a clear contrast between the three results. ‘The Office’ gives us results for the hit TV show, ‘Office’ provided us with information about the Microsoft software suite, while ‘An Office’ generated results about a professional workspace… This is Google RankBrain in action.

How RankBrain Works

RankBrain has two main objectives:

  • Understand your search queries and keywords
  • Observe and measure how you interact with the search results and assess the overall user experience.

Keywords have been one of Google’s top ranking signals since the inception of SEO, however how keywords impact your search result rankings has changed dramatically over time.

In the beginning it was all about stuffing as many keywords into you content as possible. At this time Google was unable to decipher the quality of the content and search results would reflect this.

This would be a real issue with search terms Google had never seen before, which is around 450 million every day3. Google could only provide results based on the quantity of keyword matches pages had, not necessarily delivering results that answered the intended search query.

RankBrain now matches keywords it hasn’t seen before with relevant terms it recognizes and then analyzes the performance of the results delivered, actively learning what works and what doesn’t.  

Rankbrain will also work to understand long and complex searches, which may not always make sense. For example a search for “how does facing reality into fears work” is a grammatical mess, yet Google still produces strong and relevant results.


The results are surprisingly strong given the nature of the search query. Google has produced results about seeking advice on how to face your fears in life.

RankBrain has used its understanding of language semantics and vast library of terms to breakdown the complex search query and analyze what is being asked.

So How Does Google Know if the Results Are Any Good?

Every time Google provides a set of results, RankBrain will constantly analyze the results and automatically make adjustments, through a combination of machine learning, AI and UX signals.

UX signals? What are they?

How users interact with search results are recorded by various UX signals such as; organic clicks, shares, interaction and dwell time. If you get these right RankBrain figures you have delivered high-value and pushes your page up the rankings.

On the other hand, if your page has a high bounce rate, constant pogo-sticking or low dwell time, RankBrain sees the lack of value the page is offering users and drops the ranking.

RankBrain is a Ranking Signal

RankBrain has actually become Google’s third most important ranking factor, behind keywords and backlinks. Since RankBrain was only launched in 2015 and there are 200 ranking factors4 that Google uses, RankBrain’s importance is clearly evident.   

So what makes RankBrain different to the other 199 ranking factors out there?

Machine technology and AI, RankBrain independently learns from every Google search query to provide high-quality results.

Each one of Google’s algorithm changes used to be 100% hand coded and tested by human engineers. This was a much longer process, which relied heavily on keyword quantity. Now RankBrain makes changes based on page quality.


5 Ways to Optimize for RankBrain

Now you know the importance of Google Rankbrain, don’t put your organic rankings and traffic growth at risk. We have five ways you can optimize your site for success.

1. Optimize Your Titles for CTR

Organic CTR is a key ranking signal for RankBrain and you want people to click on your page in the results. Emotional titles get more clicks, don’t just write for Google, write for people.

A generic SEO title may sound something like:

‘Increase Your Daily Productivity With This Morning Routine.’

This clearly states what the article is about, but does it really drive people to want to click on it… Turn this into an emotional juggernaut while remaining SEO friendly and you are onto a win:

‘Crush Your To-Do List & Seize The Day (With These 10 Morning Habits).’

Did you notice the brackets in the title example above?

Studies have found that titles with brackets perform 33% better5. The title now also includes numbers, adding numbers is a sure fire way to improve your CTR. Even when the content is not list based you can add numbers into the title:

‘Proven Methods To Improve Your Organic Traffic By 200% (in only 10 Days)’

Finally on titles, include power words. They are packed with emotion and help you stand out in a search. You see ‘Crush’ and ‘Proven’ in the two title examples, they’re both powerful words to encourage those clicks.

2. Provide In Depth, Relevant Content

RankBrain’s goal is to deliver the user with content they need first time around. Your content needs to provide the user with solutions to their problem. If not you won’t rank for it.

It is quite a simple formula really: If your content isn’t relevant, you won’t get traffic.

Long-form content ranks far better in organic search6. Don’t just write for the sake of a high word count. Good long-form content is packed with actionable data, information, solutions or advice. Tutorials, walkthroughs, guides and step-by-step instructions always rank highly.  

When it comes to content, place yourself in the shoes of the person searching for your business, design it for a real user experience and watch your organic traffic grow.

3. Optimize Around Medium Tail Keywords

Whether you search for “best platform for enterprise SEO” or “best enterprise SEO platform”, Google no longer ranks for each of these respective long tail keywords. RankBrain understands they are essentially the same thing and will deliver near identical results.

When you optimize for a medium tail keyword… And create stunning content, RankBrain will automatically rank you for that, as well as similar keywords.

Optimize your content around a single medium-tail keyword, then allow RankBrain to rank your page around that and different related keywords

4. Make the Reader Dwell

The more time users spend on your site, the better. Google sees this, recognizes that you have awesome content and bumps the page up the rankings.

On the other hand, if people regularly bounce from your site quickly. Google sees this and realizes that this content doesn’t provide top quality, people are not engaging with it and drops it down the rankings.

Make your content accessible. When someone clicks on a search result, they want their answer immediately. Have the first sentence of your content answer the problem. Remove anything which pushes your content below the fold and makes the user scroll down to get to your opening sentence. This will hook your reader right away.

Use short intros to sell your content, the intro is where most readers will decide whether they are going to continue reading or leave. Ensure it mentions what your content will deliver or answers a question within the first two sentences.

Reading 2,000 words can be a chore, to get around this problem, break up your content into bite-sized nuggets. By improving readability you will increase your dwell time, and reduce your bounce rate. Subheaders are a great way to structure your content, break down your long text and feed it to your reader in digestible chunks.

5. Brand Awareness

Content and links are currently still the top two ranking factors, but RankBrain is the future and organic CTR is going to become ever more pivotal. One way to increase your CTR is by raising your brand awareness.

People who are aware of your brand are twice as likely to click on your ads…and twice as likely to convert7. Increase your brand through Facebook and Twitter Ads, more than a billion eyes are scanning social media daily. Social media ads can be a relatively inexpensive way to get your brand in front of those eyes.

Create an incredibly valuable email newsletter. If your are sending valuable content directly to peoples inbox, expect to see your brand awareness grow. When you appear on page one of their search query they are going to click on your site.

Push out high-quality content in a short period of time. Publish guest posts, go on podcasts, co-author articles. If you focus on delivering an abundance of quality content in a short time frame you will see it is MUCH more powerful that drip feeding your content over a prolonged period.


SEO is a constantly evolving animal, in fact Google changes its algorithms 500-600 times a year8, which is almost twice a day on average.

RankBrain is making Google smarter than ever before and is a pivotal factor in how Google delivers organic search results. It is intelligent, adaptable and makes changes automatically based on user experiences.

The constant evolution and changes within SEO can be extremely time consuming to stay on top of and a full time job in itself, which may not always seem like a priority. The impact your online presence has will affect your brand, leads and bottomline sales. Not prioritizing your SEO is like leaving money on the table, for your competitors to pick up.

Our team of digital marketing experts are wholly dedicated to staying ahead of the ever-changing landscape, and push our clients right up there. Contact us or chat with us for a free consultation and discover how we can help you reap the benefits of cutting edge SEO.

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