How Does Google RankBrain Work?

Arcalea’s Insights Blog delivers thought leadership for driving business outcomes with data, technology, and creative solutions.


Traditionally, search engines use an algorithm to serve up search engine results. But as technology evolved, Google began to incorporate machine learning into its services, modern technology which involves artificial intelligence that learns and develops without additional programming. The end result was a new search ranking AI: Google RankBrain.

While Arcalea has previously written a blog post about this, we came up with a new article that includes all the updates made since then.

How Does RankBrain Work?

Whenever a user types a keyword or phrase into a search engine, a mathematical formula returns the most relevant results.

RankBrain differs in that it uses word “vectors”,  mathematical connections or relationships of words and phrases. When a user types an unknown query, RankBrain uses the word vectors to generate results most likely to match the user’s intent. RankBrain improves its learning process using a database of entities as building blocks of its algorithm. These entities consist of people, places or things. Data continuously seeds into the system to improve search relevance.

As Google users continue to interact with the search engine, RankBrain continues to learn and refine its search matches (or the search intent versus results).

How Does RankBrain Affect your SEO Strategy?

Google previously announced that RankBrain is the third most important factor in determining SERP rankings.

Previously, RankBrain covered about fifteen percent of all online searches. But as of this writing, the AI now accounts for almost all of the search queries typed in Google. This makes it one of the most important “signal” that identifies search rankings.

How Can You Optimize for RankBrain?

As RankBrain plays a more important role, users are wondering whether you can actually optimize content to better fit RankBrain. Here’s what Google’s Gary Illyes had to say:

“Optimizing for RankBrain is actually super easy, and it is something we’ve probably been saying for 15 years now, is – and the recommendation is – to write in natural language. 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 you back.

But if 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, then sure, you are optimized for RankBrain. If it doesn’t, then you are ‘un-optimized.”


This tip is nothing new, but it’s still useful for marketers to understand how RankBrain filters through content. Tactics like keyword stuffing may have lead to some success in the past, but is no longer viable in the era of AI.

Some may seek out a more technical answer, tactics like citation building or keyword research. But RankBrain is an AI – a collection of complex algorithms that constantly update. Unless you’re an engineer for Google, trying to optimize for RankBrain may prove to be time-consuming and fruitless.

The best thing for businesses and marketers? To continue writing naturally while keeping all the other factors of SEO in mind.

For more information on SEO and other articles on content marketing, please visit the Arcalea blog.

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