The Battle for Google Ranking: Learn RankBrain and Win the SEO War of 2019
Ten Four • July 20, 2019
Google uses a speculated 200 factors to determine your website’s ranking. I’m not going to cover all 200, but I am going to discuss the most important one: RankBrain. Once you learn what RankBrain looks for, you can work with the AI program to boost your SEO and improve your online visibility with a few simple steps. Let’s get started…
WHAT IS RANKBRAIN?
RankBrain is an artificial intelligence program that Google uses with their search engine algorithms. The AI program actually learns, updates itself, and gradually improves search engine results. Before RankBrain, 100% of Google’s algorithm was hand-coded. Human engineers still work on the algorithm, but RankBrain is working behind the scenes. RankBrain is so effective that when Google asked the company’s human engineers and the AI to identify the best page for a given search, RankBrain outperformed the humans by 10%. I don’t know whether that excites or terrifies me, but RankBrain is here to stay, so we might as well snuggle up to it.
HOW DOES RANKBRAIN WORK?
Before RankBrain, 15% of the keywords people typed into a search were never seen before by Google’s search engine. That equates to approximately 500 million keywords that stumped Google—per day! In the past, Google simply tried to match the keywords of a search with words on a page. This led to less than stellar results for keywords Google didn’t understand.
Enter RankBrain. Now RankBrain tries to figure out what your keywords actually mean—like a human would. The AI program turns keywords into concepts and then tries to find a page that covers these concepts. For instance, I typed into a Google search “thing that goes in circles with the fake horses.” Before RankBrain, Google would look for sites that contain these specific keywords. But RankBrain, with its understanding of language semantics, figures out what my search means by comparing similar sentences and/or words. It then uses this understanding to filter relevant results. The first site that popped up in my example search was a Wikipedia page on carousels (we call them merry-go-rounds where I’m from). Well-played, RankBrain.
CREATE RANKBRAIN-WORTHY CONTENT
RankBrain also measures how people interact with search results. But here’s the thing: many of the factors RankBrain is said to pay attention to are speculative. After all, Google can’t reveal their exact formula. That would be like KFC revealing their proprietary blend of herbs and spices every time you order a bucket of “finger lickin’ good” chicken. Not going to happen.
Obviously, you want users to have access to your content, click on it, and read it. The level of engagement and the time spent engaging are important factors. So let’s focus on methods that improve your SEO, please RankBrain, and get your content in front of the right eyes ?:
#1 – THE LONG-TAIL KEYWORD
Back in the day, you used to have to create different pages for different search words. So “how to lose weight fast” and “quickly lose weight” could bring up different pages in the search. This happened because Google was matching keywords in the content. But RankBrain understands that “how to lose weight fast” and “quickly lose weight” are the same thing, so it will show you nearly identical results.
These searches would be considered long-tail keywords because they are phrases containing 3 or more words. Long-tail keywords are not a bad thing, quite the opposite. Long-tail keywords can drive traffic to your site thanks to their specificity. But you no longer need to create different pages, because RankBrain knows better. Use long-tail keywords when you can. Even better—type in your long-tail keyword and look at the “searches related to” and “people also ask” and then sprinkle those phrases through-out your content (but make sure it’s reads organically).
#2 – MEDIUM-TAIL KEYWORDS
In most marketers’ opinion, the medium-tail keyword is the best. When you optimize your page around a medium-tail keyword, RankBrain will rank you for that word(s) and thousands of similar keywords. The reason medium-tail keywords are considered the best SEO option is that they aren’t as competitive as short-tail keywords (one-word searches), nor as specific as long-tail keywords. And you’ll notice when you type in a medium-tail keyword, Google will automatically try to match it with a long-tail keyword. Medium-tail keywords really are the best of both worlds.
#3 – OPTIMIZE TITLES FOR CLICK-THROUGH RATES (CTR)
The first thing a user sees is the title or description tag on your content. There are a few measures you can take to optimize your titles and description tags to get more users to click on them:
- Use emotion– people naturally respond better to emotional titles. Which emotion you choose is up to you (and dependent upon your content), but emotional titles and description tags get more clicks. For example, which sounds more enticing: “How to Plan a Wedding on a Budget” or “Plan a Divine Wedding Without Breaking the Bank.”
- Use brackets– according to a study done by Hubspot, titles with brackets outperform titles without by 33%. Obviously, brackets aren’t always appropriate, but when they can work, use them.
- Use numbers– whenever possible, use numbers in your title. People are more likely to click on “15 Tips to Improve Productivity” rather than “Tips to Improve Productivity.” Numbers add specificity and quantifies your content…both, as Martha Stewart would say, is a good thing.
- Optimize your description tags– description tags no longer help with SEO, but they will boost your CTR. The description tag is the copy you see under the search result that tells the reader what content (s)he can expect to find when you click on the result. Make it emotional. You need to sell the “why click on this result.” If you’re unsure, check out the copy that paid ads use for a good example. And include your target keyword(s). Google will make those keywords bold so they stand out.
#4 – OPTIMIZE YOUR CONTENT FOR DWELL TIME
Dwell time is just what is sounds like: how long people dwell on your content. Whether or not dwell time is a factor RankBrain uses to determine ranking is still out for debate. Regardless, the longer someone spends on your site, the better (for the click throughs and conversion rates, not the boost to your ego). Here are a few tips to increase dwell time:
- Immediately answer question(s) – with so much content out there, you want to let your readers know right away that you have the answer they’re looking for. Tell them up front what they will get from your content if they keep reading. How you do this is up to you—style, syntax, voice—but think of your opening paragraph as an abstract (the one-paragraph synopsis found at the beginning of impossibly-long research papers). In other words, hook ‘em fast.
- Keep the introduction short – your introduction shouldn’t be lengthy. This opening paragraph(s) is where 90% of readers decide to stay or go, so try to keep it to 5-10 sentences. The length of your intro goes hand-in-hand with the content found in it: answer the question right away, tell them what more they get if they keep reading, and keep it concise.
- Publish in-depth content – although your introduction should be short and concise, the following content should be lengthy. The longer it takes to read the content, the longer the dwell time. But don’t write lengthy content simply for the sake of dwell time. The content still needs to be informative and engaging. A good length is a 7-minute read, or 1600-2000 words. This gives you plenty of space to fully answer your searcher’s question(s).
- Break content up – 2000 words is much easier to read and digest when it is broken up into manageable chunks. Use sub-headings when possible (and put your key words in the sub-headings, if you can). Also, make your sub-headings emotional just like your titles. You should ideally have 200-300 words for every sub-heading, but ultimately, don’t force it if it’s not appropriate for your content.
#5 – LET RANKBRAIN KNOW YOU’RE AN EXPERT
In 2015, Google was nice enough to let its disciples know about E-A-T. According to Google, every high-quality page should have a high level of Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness. You can read about E-A-T in more detail with the link I provided, but the basics are:
- Make sure your references are credible and provide external links to your sources (pick good sources, of course).
- Your content needs to be thorough. This is not just about your blog, but the content across your website, especially the “About Page.”
- Every site needs an easy to locate contact page. There’s nothing I hate more than struggling to find a contact page…except famine—I hate famine more than a hidden contact page.
Again, there are over 200 speculated factors that Google uses for ranking. But to get started, it’s crucial to know what RankBrain is, how it works, and how you can format your content appropriately to get RankBrain’s attention. No one likes playing by the rules less than I, but we all gotta pay the bills. Color in the lines when you have to, and when you don’t, be edgy and be creative… or let Ten Four Media Group (tenfourmediagroup.com) do it for you!