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Google’s RankBrain Update Explained and Recovery Strategies

Google’s RankBrain update, in the eyes of many, is somewhat of an enigma. There isn’t a handbook explaining exactly what it does, but the SEO world has pieced together how it works to give you an idea of how it’s changed the landscape of search. The good news is that your site probably won’t suffer as a result of this update if you’re practicing good SEO. But we want to explain how RankBrain can impact you and what you need to do to continue seeing high rankings on the largest search engine on the web.

Launch Date: October 26, 2015

As an offshoot of the Hummingbird update, RankBrain has helped provide more relevant and nuanced search results because it can understand user intent on a more human-like level. Google itself said that RankBrain was in its top three most important ranking signals, making it a huge part of the way Google sifts through its queries.

What Google RankBrain Impacted

Because RankBrain’s goal is to “think” for Google’s web crawlers, you can actually benefit if you’re “targeted” by the update:

Unknown Queries

Of all of the reasons your site might trigger the RankBrain update, this is the best-case scenario. RankBrain interprets new queries in Google’s search and sends users to your site if the crawlers think you’ll best meet their needs. In this case, unknown queries aren’t necessarily something you can control. However, if you provide content that can address those queries, RankBrain works to your advantage.

Apart from being the answer to Google’s unknown queries, the other hazards or triggers for RankBrain don’t work in your favor. As with every other update and every other step Google takes, the goal of the RankBrain update is to keep web pages out of its SERPS if they don’t provide a helpful, relevant, and excellent user experience. There are a few reasons why RankBrain will target you:

Low-Quality Content

If your site leaves your users with a bad taste in their mouth, RankBrain will drop your rankings. RankBrain is actually an offshoot from Google’s Hummingbird update, which means it works specifically to reward sites with great content that benefits users. Conversely, if you lack content that provides those solutions, you could lose rankings.

Bad User Experience

If your website design isn’t fast, beautiful, and useful, you can say goodbye to high rankings. Just like with Google’s other updates, RankBrain will determine what kind of experience you’re providing and rank your site accordingly. Except RankBrain is smarter than any updates that have come before it, making bad sites even more vulnerable to losing Google rankings and traffic.

How The RankBrain Algorithm Works

RankBrain is the only live artificial intelligence that Google uses in its search results. The core algorithm update processes query that is unknown to Google or are new queries that no one has ever searched for before. In fact, roughly 15 percent of all Google searches entered each day are brand new searches.

This might seem like a bizarre stat, but when you think of all the different ways you can ask a question—and all the different people that use the search engine—it’s not totally surprising that Google encounters so many unknown queries. It’s here that RankBrain really shines. RankBrain, in simplest terms, is a part of Google’s algorithm that gives the user the best match, even when Google isn’t quite sure what the search query means.

However, if Google certain of the query meaning and user intent, RankBrain is essentially not utilized. It’s only coming into play when Google needs help deciphering a brand-new query.

How to Fix Your Website If Google RankBrain impacted it

The best way to optimize your site for RankBrain is to simply create great and valuable content. RankBrain catches queries that no one is searching for, and even that is constantly changing. The goal is not to write so that RankBrain catches your keywords. If you’re writing to optimize for a query that no one is searching out, why? That’s like chasing the wind.

The goal with this algorithm update is not to optimize for it. Instead, create good content that includes keywords and phrases that people are searching for. A fantastic way to do this is to simply write naturally. Read your content out loud. Does it sound natural, like something your target audience would say themselves? If the answer is yes, you’ve done your job. You won’t trigger RankBrain, but that’s ok. This is one update you aren’t necessarily striving to optimize for.


RankBrain has brought a human-like perspective to Google’s search results. More so than ever before, Google can understand the nuances of its users and what they’re looking for when they type in a specific query—even if it’s a query Google has never seen before. It’s no secret that Google’s algorithm gets “smarter” day by day. RankBrain is just one way that we see Google utilizing its updates to give us the best search results experience on the planet. If you need help with your enterprise SEO or local SEO feel free to reach out.