The Changing SEO World: Google RankBrain and the Artificial Intelligence Revolution

The SEO world is witnessing the launch of its next era: Artificial Intelligence. Thanks to Google’s RankBrain, machine-learning search engines are upon us, and those in the industry that hoped for a learning curve will be sorely disappointed. While RankBrain remains one of hundreds of signals governing Google’s search algorithm, it has rapidly become the third most important signal contributing to the company’s search results, and the system was only confirmed last October. In less than a year, the prevalent strategies SEO companies utilize—backlinks, keywords, and regression analysis—are quickly evolving or becoming obsolete entirely. The SEO industry is being swept by this revolution, and it will not be a slow march into the future.

So What is RankBrain Anyway?

Before we go any further exploring the impacts RankBrain and artificial intelligence will have on the SEO industry, we should get a grasp on exactly what it is we mean by artificial intelligence. After all, what exactly is RankBrain?

Let’s begin with the first question: What is artificial intelligence? Don’t worry, we’re not talking about the cyborgs bent on human extinction found in science fiction. No, we’re talking about the much more banal forms responsible for our online language translators, self-driving cars, and product recommendations on Amazon. Artificial intelligence (AI) is separated into three distinct categories: Artificial Narrow Intelligence (ANI), Artificial General Intelligence (AGI), and Artificial Superintelligence (ASI). The last two are forms of AI that approach widespread human capabilities on par with our own abilities or at a much higher level. The former, ANI, is the form that includes our previous examples, and it also includes RankBrain. Basically, RankBrain is a form of AI that is adept at one, narrowly-defined function. It cannot act as a search engine modifier and drive your car. It’s limited to the one purpose.

And what exactly is RankBrain’s purpose? Well, when it was first introduced, the system was said to be assisting with unique and complicated search queries. But, we now know it is doing much more to revolutionize Google’s search algorithm. To summarize it succinctly: RankBrain is a machine-learning algorithm that lets users decide search results. The system’s ability to learn about the world is allowing it to learn a lot more about the kind of search results its users want and expect, and it is learning a lot more about the websites its users prefer to visit. As RankBrain continues to learn and adapt to the search marketplace, it will be capable of distinguishing between a vast array of different websites, leading users to those that fit a certain profile, while disregarding those that do not. RankBrain’s ability to learn over time is what will continue to revolutionize and reshape the SEO world.

SEO’s Changing Fortunes: What We’re Losing and What We Need To Do To Stay Ahead

RankBrain is going to, and in fact has already begun to, have profound impacts on the SEO industry. The previous strategies that were common place in the industry will become more ineffective as AI systems like RankBrain continue to learn users’ preferences. So we need to get a handle on the past strategies that are losing their value and what we’re able to do to stay ahead of the curve.

1) Regression analysis may no longer be a viable tool to evaluate how Google’s search algorithm is operating. We used to have an effective system for determining why a website’s rank shifted higher or lower. We could examine the ranking data prior to the shift and attempt to pinpoint which of Google’s search parameters were modified, and that information could provide a solution to our problem. Unfortunately, regression analysis is rendered nearly obsolete with RankBrain because the system no longer uses Google’s complete algorithm for each search; instead, it selects the most suitable parameters for each individual search in order to optimize user-desired results. Using regression analysis on a wide-scale basis would not be possible in this ever-shifting environment. An analysis would have to be performed on each possible search, calling into question its viability.

2) SEO companies will have to avoid over-generalized keywords and websites. A powerful toolinherent in RankBrain’s learning behavior is its ability to distinguish between what “good” and “bad” websites look like, elevating good sites and disregarding bad sites. RankBrain does this by learning how the reputable websites in a certain field are structured. For instance, if you manage an online book seller and your website doesn’t look like Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or Abe Books, you are less likely to receive the online traffic you need to stay competitive, because you will not be ranked with those “good” websites. On the other hand, if your website looks too much like a website that frequently contains spam, RankBrain will judge it as one of the “bad” sites, and your traffic will similarly suffer. It’s important in this atmosphere that companies are modifying their websites and keywords to match industry leaders. They need to find and perfect their niche to maintain viability.

3) Backlinks will also need to be similarly modified to represent a niche market. If the backlinks on websites do not match their nearest competitors, RankBrain may disregard the site as irrelevant spam. It is no longer the case that a greater number of backlinks will give you the greatest visibility. Instead, they could do serious damage to your company’s online traffic.

So we have seen how RankBrain is changing the rules for SEO companies, and they are truly revolutionary changes, but that does not mean that they cannot adapt to the new world of AI that RankBrain represents. SEO companies certainly have their work cut out for them, but if they remain vigilant about the way AI is changing search results, they should be able to stay ahead of the curve in this changing world.

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