A Quick Overview of Google RankBrain

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Jennifer Slegg
Jennifer Slegg
A Quick Overview of Google RankBrain

Editor’s Note: This is a section of our completely redone SEO Guide. Enjoy!

Ever since RankBrain was introduced by Google as the latest part of their search algorithm, there has been a lot of misunderstanding about precisely what it is and how it works. Wondering if Rankbrain will affect SEO? Read on for everything SEOs need to know about RankBrain, as confirmed by Google.

What SEOs Need to Know About RankBrain | Search Engine Journal

How RankBrain Works

RankBrain is Google’s machine learning algorithm that they launched in 2015. Its goal is to better help Google understand certain types of search queries, particularly the ones that Google hasn’t seen before. This means RankBrain has a more significant impact on the 15 % of search queries daily that Google has never seen previously. But it can also affect popular queries, too.

RankBrain helps Google with the ability to serve search results when specific types of keywords that are usually omitted when ranking search results are instead given more emphasis in that query. This includes keywords like the word without. One example that Gary Illyes from Google often gives is “How to beat Super Mario Brothers without cheats.”

Traditionally, Google would omit the word without and end up serving search results for beating the game with cheats. But with RankBrain, Google can better serve results that match what the searchers are looking for – results “without cheats”.

In other words, RankBrain wasn’t meant to replace ranking. Instead it was to help better understand queries to deliver the best search results, particularly for negative oriented queries,  such as queries using words like “without” or “not”.

RankBrain Learning

RankBrain does learn, but it does not learn on-the-fly. The data gets periodically refreshed, although Google has not confirmed how frequently this happens, other than to say it updates as needed and as they “test new models that do a better job than the existing one.”

Influence on Search Results

Direct Impact

Surprisingly, the way RankBrain impacts the actual search results isn’t as significant as many believe. Yes, Google did state that it is the third most important part of the Google search algo, but Gary Illyes revealed that while RankBrain is “touching” all the search results, it doesn’t necessarily change the order or how those results appear for many searches.


RankBrain impacts queries in all languages and all countries. The way RankBrain works means that it can be applied regardless of languages.

RankBrain Misconceptions

There are also plenty of misconceptions about RankBrain, along with much speculation by many SEOs in the industry. Here are the most common misconceptions debunked by Google.


Advertising spend does not influence RankBrain. Just like with the regular organic search results, it does not make a difference whether a website spends $1 million a month on AdWords advertising or $0. The role of AdWords has no impact on RankBrain (or organic search results) at all.

Gary Illyes also confirmed that advertising on social media, such as through Facebook or Twitter ads, does not impact RankBrain.

Social Sharing

Social sharing is also another thing mentioned by some SEOs. But Google has also confirmed that no matter how many times a website has been shared or favorited, it does not have any influence over RankBrain at all.

Both Gary Illyes and John Mueller from Google have previously said that social signals are too noisy to be used in search rankings, and they have no control over future access to social data. For this reason, social sharing is not used for either the regular search algorithm or RankBrain.

Market Areas

RankBrain does not play a more significant role in more competitive market areas. It can potentially influence a highly competitive search query just as much as one that rarely anyone searches.

Optimizing for RankBrain

From an SEO perspective, RankBrain is not something that can be specifically optimized for in the way that other aspects of Google’s ranking algorithm can be. For example, with other parts of Google’s core ranking algorithm, you can optimize for it through things like title tags, keywords, and page speed. But RankBrain is a little bit different for optimization.

Earlier this year, Gary Illyes from Google revealed that there is one way that site owners can optimize for RankBrain. Surprisingly, that is by simply optimizing for natural language.

Writing in natural language is writing your content in a way that sounds human. When assessing quality content, one of the checks many do is reading content out loud. When you read content aloud, things that make your content sound unnatural, such as excessive use of keywords, become very apparent. So if your content sounds perfectly natural when read aloud, then your content is naturally optimized for RankBrain.

To learn all about RankBrain, please see our revised and expanded article: A Complete Guide to the Google RankBrain Algorithm.

Image Credits

Featured Image: prykhodov/
In-post Photo: jemastock/

Jennifer Slegg

Jennifer Slegg

Founder & Editor at The SEM Post

Jennifer Slegg is the founder and editor of The SEM Post and author of the Understanding Google Panda Algo Guide.