How to Optimize for RankBrain and Semantic Search in 2017

Optimize Website for RankBrain and Semantic Search

Search engines are currently undergoing a significant evolution in the area of artificial intelligence. Keywords are no longer relevant for SEO. Okay, that isn’t entirely true, but if your strategy still centers on identifying a handful of target keywords and stuffing those keywords into as many places as you can on your site, chances are your website will not get high search engine ranking. That’s because keyword-centric optimization has been on the decline ever since the Hummingbird update of 2013 changed the game and made Semantic Search the reigning factor in Google Ranking Algorithm.

From 2015, Google started using a machine-learning artificial intelligence system called “RankBrain” to help sort through its search results. RankBrain helps Google to process search results and provide more relevant search results for users query.

So, To be Successful in SEO, You need to Optimize your Website for RankBrain and Semantic Search in 2017.

RankBrain and Semantic Search has sparked a lot of buzz in the SEO Community. We've heard about Entity SEO, Conversational Content, Optimizing for Topics (as opposed to keywords optimization), and even completely ditching old-school SEO Tactics, like link building and Keyword Targeting, in favor of creating the most relevant and useful piece of content there is, and letting Google do the rest.

But is Google really giving up on keywords, and should SEOs do the same? What exactly does "Optimizing for Relevance" mean, how do you do it, and can you rely on it alone? How, after all, does RankBrain and Semantic Search work, and where do you get started? This article is an attempt to answer these questions.

What's RankBrain?

RankBrain is a form of Artificial Intelligence used by Google to help filter and process a large portion of search queries, so the results displayed are relevant to, and reflective of, the search intent. RankBrain uses machine learning and AI, with the ability to predict meaning, and therefore relevancy, to display the best matching results, even for previously unknown, and new search requests.

RankBrain has a core function of effectively answering new search queries and understanding what results should appear for topics with limited, if any, historical data to base relevancy and therefore ranking on.

RankBrain is the the third most important ranking factor for Google Search Ranking.

How RankBrain Work?

RankBrain's ranking component analyzes the pages in Google's index and looks for specific features (e.g., usage of certain related terms) that make those pages a good fit for the query. Such "features" are determined by analyzing the best-performing search results (according to Google's user satisfaction metrics, such as SERP click-through rate, pogo-sticking, time on page, etc.) and looking for similarities between these pages.

As a result, the pages that are deemed to be good responses to the query may not even contain the exact words from the query, but are nonetheless relevant. Google's recently said that RankBrain is "involved in every query", and affects the actual rankings "probably not in every query but in a lot of queries".

What's Semantic Search?

Semantic Search Aims to improve search accuracy by understanding searcher intent, contextual meaning of terms, and relationships between words to provide more relevant search results.
We should stop at two important concepts: intent and context.

Intent, which comes from the user, explicitly states what he or she is looking for. And context could be understood as everything that surrounds a search and makes this go in either direction, i.e., what gives it meaning. Thus, by understanding and connecting intention and context, search engines are able to understand the different queries, both what motivates and what is expected of them.

It all started with Google's Hummingbird update back in 2013. Hummingbird uses context and searcher intent (as opposed to individual keywords in a query) to ensure that "pages matching the meaning do better, rather than pages matching just a few words".

There are many aspects to pay attention to if you're looking to embrace RankBrain and Semantic Search, from choosing what to focus your pages on to researching keywords and topics, improving site relevance and markup. Let's Start.

8 Ways Optimize Your Website for RankBrain and Semantic Search in 2017

1. Create Attractive Search Snippets

Larry Kim, founder and CTO of WordStream, recommends improving organic click-through rates to increase your probability of success, because he suspects that RankBrain’s “Relevance Score” is the same as AdWords’ “Quality Score.”

If your click-through rates are less than impressive, focus on improving your SERP snippets. Make sure page titles and meta descriptions echo the user’s need, stand out on the search results page and entice the user to click for more. Simplify URLs so they reinforce value to Google and to users. And — when possible — craft content that targets featured snippet positions in search results. Make your snippet irresistible.

2. Rethink how content uses keywords (seriously, stop procrastinating)

Keywords have been changing for years, so this is not new SEO advice — and RankBrain might be the last nail in the coffin of the old way of thinking about SEO keywords. If you haven’t done it yet, it’s seriously time.

Stop creating pages or content tailored to only one keyword or keyword phrase. For maximum effect, try composing your semantic kernel of both your targeted keywords, as well as their variations and related keywords, and additional words that most commonly appear in the same context as your targeted keywords.

Tip: Gather keywords, group keywords into clusters, and generate exemplars — Another way to think of this process is that we’re grouping keywords into concepts, and then converting each concept back into a representative keyword/phrase: Keyword –> Concept –> Keyword. The result is a specific search phrase to target, but that phrase represents potentially dozens or hundreds of similar keywords.

3. Write Conversationally

While keywords are still something you need to take into account when optimizing your website, Becaise you should optimize for your website visitor, not RankBrain.

Google’s own Gary Illyes agrees that the single most important factor in optimization when it comes to RankBrain is to create content that sounds human:

Try to write content that sounds human. If you try to write like a machine then RankBrain will just get confused and probably just pushes [sic] you back.

[I]f you have a content site, try to read out some of your articles or whatever you wrote, and ask people whether it sounds natural. If it sounds conversational, if it sounds like natural language that we would use in your day to day life [sic], then sure, you are optimized for RankBrain. If it doesn’t, then you are “un-optimized.”

4. Your pages' focus: keywords vs. topics

The very first question you should be asking yourself when you optimizing website for Semantic Search is this: How do I build my content? Should I (a) create pages around individual keywords, or (b) focus on broad topics and cover them in-depth? From the SEO perspective, these are the two (rather marginal) approaches to creating content today: (a) is the old-school way that you're probably used to, and (b) is the new-school approach that's becoming increasingly popular with the rise of semantic search.

If you took the old-school approach, you'd come up with tens of similar pages: a separate page (even if it's just a few sentences long) for each of the queries above. The problem with this is that in 2017, this kind of content will hardly ever be considered comprehensive, or even remotely useful, particularly in competitive niches. More likely than not, you'll be outranked by competitors who offer more comprehensive answers.

The new-school, topic-based approach implies creating a single page that covers all these topics, aka "The ultimate guide to buying vinyl". The basic idea behind the new-school approach is that you shouldn't be worrying about keywords at all — instead, you should build a comprehensive, original, high-quality resource, and Google will figure out the rest. Alas, for the time being, it's unlikely that it will.

You see, your "ultimate guide" may rank for the more generic terms like "how to buy vinyl". This is the kind of a broad term where the searcher isn't researching a specific aspect of the process, but rather researching the entire process and looking for the steps. Even if you include paragraphs on "where to buy rare records", Google won't always be able to figure out that that's something you should also rank for — simply because you're focusing on too many things with one page, and eventually each concept's prominence (or each keyword's term frequency, if you will) is diminished due to the length of your content and the number of micro-topics you're trying to cover.

5. Relevance

Now that we've figured out you need keywords to understand searcher intent and create content that matches it, it's time to move on to the role of keyword research and targeting in semantic SEO.

The first thing Google does when it receives a query is go through its index to find the pages that match it, likely using the TF-IDF algorithm. The process isn't always straightforward: the query may have to go through several refinements before Google retrieves possible search results from the index, and these results may be then further filtered according to various relevance and quality signals… And while it's true that in 2017, you can rank in Google for a keyword that's not even mentioned on your page, it only makes sense if you like to have things the unreasonably hard way.

Using keywords in your content helps inform search engines that your page is related to that term; in other words, it significantly boosts your chances of becoming one of the search results that will be considered for being ranked for the query.

In the age of semantic search, keyword research may have gotten less straightforward, but no less important. The two underutilized sources of keyword ideas that I feel give the best suggestions, particularly in the context of semantic search, are Google Autocomplete and Google Related Searches.

6. Meta-Relevance, Latent Semantic Indexing, and RankBrain

By now, Google's got a bunch of pages that it initially selected as potential matches to the query (with relevance 1.0). But how does it determine which results better fit the searcher's need and are more relevant to the intent behind the keywords? That's where semantics comes in.

LSI, or Latent Semantic Indexing, is a technology Google uses to understand the relationships between words, concepts, and web pages. By analyzing billions of web pages and the terms used in them, Google learns which terms are related, which ones are synonyms, and which commonly appear in the same context. This, in turn, lets the search engine build expectations as to the terms that are likely to appear in a given context.

So in a sense, both RankBrain and LSI are geared towards figuring out whether a page covers the topic thoroughly. But does thoroughness translate into rankings? Backlinko did a massive study to measure this. In it, they used MarketMuse to examine 1 million (!) Google results and the correlation of their topical authority (i.e. thoroughness and depth of expertise) and rankings.

7. Became a Knowledge Graph Entity.

Google's semantic search is powered by the Knowledge Graph in numerous ways. The Knowledge Graph is a collection of entities - specific objects that Google knows a few things about, such as persons, places, and things. The Knowledge Graph's impact on search results stretches far beyond the branded panels that are sometimes displayed to the right of organic listings.

Knowledge Graph data is used in organic rankings, rich answers, and various query-specific types of search results. One such type that seems to be gaining momentum is the "carousel" displayed for queries that name a certain category that a bunch of entities belong to:

If you do find an entity but aren't completely happy with what you see, go to Wikidata and use the search bar to find the listing about your company. Here, you'll be able to edit the details about your business, such as its description, official website, etc.

8. Improve User Experience

The role of user signals in SEO is controversial, and this article isn't the place to debate it. In the context of semantic search though, it's crucial to understand that the fairest measure of the effectiveness of any new component in Google's ranking algo (be it RankBrain, Hummingbird, LSI, or anything else) is user satisfaction. Satisfaction may be measured with metrics like SERP click rate, time on page, and bounce rates.

There are two ways Google obtains these metrics: through Search Quality Rating and real-life experiments in Google search. The scale of the latter is surprisingly vast; Google's Paul Haahr mentioned that whenever you run a Google search, you're in at least one experiment.


Above are some of the useful ways to optimize your website content for RankBrain and Semantic Search. Hopefully, you find this post useful and consider these methods while optimizing your site. All of these ways are some of the genuine ways used by the experts from SEO industry. You can use these means to Improve Your Website Search Engine Ranking.