The world of Google search has become a winner-take-all environment. With countless algorithms having an impact on traffic, SERPs and click-through rates, we introduce you to another, less-known cousin of these devices- Google RankBrain.
A fairly unknown element of Google Search, RankBrain is said to be a much more subtle addition to the arsenal of Google’s processes. While impactful and important, it is not an obvious aspect that will see your traffic rise and fall with every change. In simple terms, RankBrain helps Google select and prioritise signals it used for ranking. As one of the most important signals that Google takes into account, user engagement is a main focus of this system. These machine learning elements within the core algorithm have been and are currently rewarding pages for high user engagement- looking for a unicorn page, meaning those pages that have magical levels of engagement rates that elevate them above the other donkey pages Google could choose to show during searches. Judging by click-through rate, as an example, Google will see your page as a unicorn if all other results have 1% click-through and yours is sitting on 5%, making yours a more attractive and user preferred page over all.
As Google’s mission is to provide the best possible content and insight through search results, to its consumers, engagement data is an all-important indicator as to what the user is looking for. If a multitude of users are clicking on a particular link, and engaging further with the page, this stands as a clear sign to Google that this page is of large interest and therefore should be seen as a unicorn page.
An entirely complex algorithm thanks to machine learning, Google maintains that you cannot optimize specifically for RankBrain in the usual sense, however when monitored carefully there is always evidence of a digital fingerprint of sorts- proof of impact. Seen by Google as the third most important ranking factor, engagement and click-through rates tell a lot more about the content or page than many initially thought.
Taking data from an insightful Moz.com blog post, we can see that when comparing organic search click-through rates to the average organic search position for three 30-day periods, there is an interesting occurrence. Changing monthly, tracking by keywords specifically, the click-through rate for the top ranked link was around 22% for the first 30-day period. By the second time frame, the average click-through rate rose to 24% and again to 27% for the third 30-day period. This tells us that the top positions are getting more and more click-throughs, arguably more than ever before. This shows the “eat or be eaten” approach that SEO specialists have to take to marketing in this way, showing the nature of organic SERPs to be more preferable to the top three positions, increasing the click-through rates noticeably. On the other side of the scale, this also has the adverse effect on those ranking in positions four to ten- click-through rates to these links are slowly dwindling, balancing the impact felt by the top positions. Results that are more likely to attract engagement are now pushed further up the rankings while those that cannot command engagement are pushed down- this is what most believe is the main action of the RankBrain system.
In a sense, what this achieves is the focus on the top ranking items, moving away from serving up ten links and eliminating the need for lower positions- instead using top results to provide the actual correct answers to the users, rather than a selection of possible answers. As far as content and titles go, this element of Google means writers must do away with tired and traditional SEO titles in exchange for interesting and intriguing ones that will encourage interaction. Due to the ranking process it is even possible to increase interaction through simple optimization of the SEO title, before looking to the content and other deeper aspects of the page.
An upwards spiral so to speak, what RankBrain dictates is that if your click-through rate increases, you will see a boost in traffic, which in turn will increase your click-through rate once again and urge another boost in traffic. A system that insists on optimization of pages for effective click-through rates. If RankBrain or a machine learning algorithm impacts your site because of engagement (positive or negative), the shift is a lot more subtle and slow-paced. All your best pages do better while your donkey pages- as they call a less optimized or interest generating page- will do slightly worse. Ultimately, the two forces balance each other out with the increases and decreases in rank staying within similar margins.
An important part of the ever changing world of search, RankBrain gives us insight into the power of SEO and the process behind engaging content. With this knowledge, it is easier to gauge the value of content as well as the intrinsic worth of the keywords- as it is a little known topic, this is where you can edge ahead of competitors and their own SEO devices.