If you're involved with SEO, you know that Google (and the other search engines) uses a complex algorithm to determine how a page ranks in the search engine results pages (SERPs). No one but Google knows exactly what's in the algorithm’s “secret sauce” (it's rumored that there are more than 200 factors it considers), but SEO experts have inklings about what makes a page rank higher than others.
In the good ol' days (like back in 1998 when I got started in digital marketing), ranking high on the search engines was as easy as putting a bunch of keywords towards the top of your page and you'd suddenly find yourself in the #1 spot on the search engines for a highly competitive keyword. (If only it were that easy today!)
Now it's much more complicated when it comes to ranking on the first page of Google, and there are literally hundreds of variables and factors that affect how a page ranks on the search engines. Search engines look for "signals" on a web page to determine the worth and value of the page and determines how it should rank – looking at things like page speed, keywords, mobile-friendliness, words that are in bold, the number of backlinks, internal anchor text links, etc.
How Can You Rank Higher in Google?
Based on trial and error (and with some confirmation from Google every now and then) there are a few things that SEO professionals know can help pages rank higher. In no particular order, one of those ranking signals is quality content. Content that contains answers to and information about what people are searching for is one of the best ways to rank higher in the search engines.
Google also likes long-form content (around 1,000-1,500 words per page.) This means putting a quickie blog post up usually won’t help your rankings. Put some thought and research behind every word you put on a web page. Find out what people are searching for and provide content that delivers those answers, and that will go a long way towards ranking higher for keywords you’re targeting.
Another thing that can help you rank higher in Google's search results are backlinks. We're not talking about shady paid-for backlinks or directories whose sole purpose is to put up a bunch of random links to websites that offer no real value in and of itself (these things will only hurt you), but quality links from highly authoritative sites that link back to your website.
It takes work to get these quality backlinks, but it can be done and it's totally worth it. Link building MUST be part of your SEO strategy if you want to remain competitive. So if you don’t have a solid content strategy in place, get to it!
Enter Google RankBrain
Now we come to one of Google's latest ranking factors: RankBrain. Google's new machine learning system is now a big component on how a site ranks. Machine learning may sound like something you'd see in a "Star Trek" episode, but machine learning is very real. Machine learning is when a computer teaches itself how to do something – and it basically gets smarter and smarter as it "learns." RankBrain is Google's artificial intelligence system that is now being used to process and compile search results.
RankBrain is a relatively new factor in Google's search engine algorithm. Google began rolling out this smart system slowly in late 2015, but Google has recently stated that RankBrain is now fully rolled out – a "living and breathing" factor in ranking higher on Google.
Google says that its new RankBrain machine learning system is now the third most important factor to ranking high on Google, and that RankBrain processes every search query. Think of this technology as a search query refinement tool – something that is learning the intent of what individuals are searching for so the results Google displays are the best ones based on the keywords used by each searcher.
Here's an example about how RankBrain might affect rankings: If RankBrain sees someone searching for “best pizza restaurant in chicago,” it might determine that "best pizza in chicago" is more frequently searched for, so it may show those search results instead. What RankBrain "learns" about how people search can influence what results appear and in what order.
I won’t kid you. RankBrain is still mysterious – but it’s real. Only Google knows the full details and my guess is that even Google doesn’t have it all figured out just yet.
Should SEO Professionals Be Concerned About the Power of RankBrain?
SEO has always been an evolving strategy for ranking high in the search engines. One day posting articles on article syndication sites can help rank you higher. The next day you could lose rankings because of that article. Go figure.
My guess is that SEO will always evolve making it even more important that we pay attention to what ranking signals the search engines are looking for, provide those signals in an ethical way and, most importantly, give a site visitor the information and content they're looking for. After all, content and information is what the Internet’s all about; right?
There's no magic pill when it comes to SEO. The industry is morphing and always will. What we can do is continue to focus on putting the best content on our website and promoting that content through a variety of sources -- be it through paid advertising, backlinks, social media, newsletters and more.
My guess is that RankBrain will just make searches better for the end user, which has always been Google's #1 goal.
What do you think about RankBrain? Please leave your opinion in the comments.