Categories
Google Algorithm

Google RankBrain: How It Works and What You Can Do

Have you heard of Google RankBrain? 

It’s the third most important ranking signal. 

Google scientist Greg Corrado said this in a Bloomberg news story in October 2015. That was the first time RankBrain’s existence was confirmed. 

Greg Corrado, Google scientist talking about RankBrain on Bloomberg in 2015.

However, Google RankBrain isn’t really a “ranking signal” in the traditional sense. Once you understand it, you can approach your content the right way. 

Here’s what you need to know.  

What Is Google RankBrain?

Google RankBrain is a system that uses machine learning to find the most relevant pages for a search query. It has been cited as part of Google’s Hummingbird — a major algorithm change in 2013. 

Here’s how RankBrain works, in a nutshell:

1. It takes an unknown query.

2. Figures out the intent and topic behind that query.

3. It brings back the best possible results for that query.

Then, RankBrain looks at how users interact with those search results. 

Do people click? Or do they try other queries to find a result that satisfies their query? 

Data from users helps RankBrain improve and optimize search results over time. 

As you can see, it is in a constant learning process. With over 40,000 search queries happening every second, there’s a lot to learn from. 

This is especially true as voice search queries continue to increase. Voice queries tend to be different than written ones, which leaves a lot of room for interpretation. 

Also, RankBrain doesn’t only affect queries in the English language, as tweeted by Gary Illyes: 

Source: Twitter
💡Bottom line: RankBrain makes Google a better search engine by giving users what they want. 

Now that you have an idea of how RankBrain works, let’s consider the scenario below. 

RankBrain In Action

Imagine that you entered this search query into Google:

“Where should I eat?”

Me, looking for a restaurant.

RankBrain takes that query and figures out what you mean with that query. 

Do you need suggestions on the best restaurants worldwide? Within your country/state/city? Or are you simply looking for restaurants nearby? 

RankBrain obtains data from Google, analyzes it, and recommends pages based on various signals like past search queries, location, device, and content freshness. 

Let’s say that you weren’t satisfied with the results that Google provided. 

Instead of getting suggestions for nearby restaurants (which you expected), Google showed you roundup articles of the best restaurants worldwide. And some trivia quizzes too, which were irrelevant. 

So you changed your original search query into:

“Where should I eat near me?”  

Me, looking for a restaurant in a slightly clear way!

Boom. This time, you got the results you wanted. That small tweak in your query made the difference. 

RankBrain takes your behavior into account. Since you ignored the results during your initial search, it now understands that it has to do a better job at serving more relevant content in the future for your first query. 

You see, patterns in searchers’ behaviors help Google refine search results to satisfy users. If you entered the same query a few months from now, you might see different results! 

Here, we appreciate the machine learning aspect of RankBrain — the ability of an algorithm to teach itself from experience without being programmed. 

By using machine learning, Google can show users results from a query even when that query was never searched for before. Over time, results improve as RankBrain continues to learn from users. 

💡Interesting fact: In 2015, RankBrain was analyzed only on less than 15% of queries. The following year, it was already used in all queries. 

Pre-RankBrain Era

Back in the day, website owners could “manipulate” search results by stuffing a piece of content with keywords. This bad practice is called keyword stuffing. See this example: 

Example of keyword stuffing.

So if you typed a keyword into Google’s search bar back then, Google would simply show you pages that contained that exact keyword without trying to understand your real intent. This often led to irrelevant results. 

Now, RankBrain can show you pages that do not necessarily contain your keywords  — thanks to its ability to figure out your purpose behind a query.  

Here’s what Google said on Twitter:

Source: Twitter

One way RankBrain operates is by using word vectors. Here’s how it works, as described by Greg Corrado: 

“RankBrain uses artificial intelligence to embed vast amounts of written language into mathematical entities — called vectors — that the computer can understand. If RankBrain sees a word or phrase it isn’t familiar with, the machine can make a guess as to what words or phrases might have a similar meaning and filter the result accordingly, making it more effective at handling never-before-seen search queries.”

For example, if you searched in Google “how to eat a date,” there would be a ton of pages about dates. A date could mean different things meeting socially, the number on a calendar, or a fruit. 

What RankBrain does is that it looks at other words on a page to see if they’re connected to your search query. So if it finds pages with words like fruit, raisin, fresh, dried, or dessert, RankBrain will most likely show those pages to you. 

How to Optimize for RankBrain

As a business owner, marketer, or SEO specialist, how can you create content that’s optimized for RankBrain? Here are some actionable steps to take: 

1. Ditch the one keyword, one page practice. 

Once upon a time, SEOs tried to rank different pages for similar keywords. 

Take, for example, a blog post that targeted the keyword “guitars” and another blog post that targeted “guitar music instrument.” Since these keywords have the same intent, they should be condensed into one article. 

So if you find two or more articles on the same topic on your website, it’s best to combine them into one solid in-depth content. By doing this, you’ll be able to target keyword variations and avoid keyword cannibalization. 

2. Before using a keyword, try to understand its intent. 

RankBrain’s role is to serve content to the right audience. So while you’re researching a keyword, ask: Does the intent behind this keyword meet my audience’s needs? 

Try to put yourself in your audience’s mind. For example, if they wanted to know about the best mirrorless cameras before deciding to buy, wouldn’t they type “best mirrorless camera” into Google’s search bar?

As you can see, organic search results showed product review roundup articles because RankBrain understands that you’re not looking to buy anything specific yet based on your query, making it almost impossible to rank a transactional (product) page for this keyword.  

3. Write content that sounds human.

Gary Illyes said this:

“Optimizing for RankBrain is actually super easy, and it is something we’ve probably been saying for fifteen 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.”

Bottom line? Write in a conversational tone. Like you talk. Keep in mind that most voice search queries use natural language. 

Gary gives practical advice on reading your articles out loud and asking people if they sound conversational: 

“….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”.

💡My 2 cents for you: Don’t worry if your article sounds silly at first. You can fix it later on during the editing process.Write for your target audience, not for Search Engines.

4. Know that different queries demand different signals. 

Depending on the user’s query, RankBrain is going to consider certain signals to provide the best content. 

For example, someone searching for the “best movies in 2020” will likely see articles that have been written in the same year. Here, we can see that content freshness plays a big role. Meanwhile, someone searching for “diabetic ketoacidosis” will likely be shown in-depth guides. For this, content comprehensiveness matters. 

That having said, consider the signals that could matter for the search queries you’re trying to rank your content for. 

Final Thoughts 

It’s no secret that most people use Google. We do that because we expect to get the most relevant answers to our queries and RankBrain has made this possible. Knowing how RankBrain works will enable you to take your content creation efforts more seriously. Is your content useful for your audience? Is it relevant? Conversational? 


References used for this article:

1. Bloomberg news story –  https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-10-26/google-turning-its-lucrative-web-search-over-to-ai-machines

2. Google RankBrain as part of Hummingbird – https://searchengineland.com/faq-all-about-the-new-google-rankbrain-algorithm-234440

3. Google search statistics – https://www.internetlivestats.com/google-search-statistics/

4. Gary Illyes’ tweet – https://twitter.com/methode/status/879988330074689536

5. Machine learning definition – https://martechtoday.com/how-machine-learning-works-150366

6. Keyword stuffing definition – https://support.google.com/webmasters/answer/66358?hl=en

7. Google SearchLiaison’s tweet – https://twitter.com/searchliaison/status/1108776357880725505

8. Gary Illyes’ RankBrain quote – http://www.thesempost.com/google-how-to-optimize-for-googles-rankbrain/

Categories
E-A-T

A Guide to Understanding E-A-T (And Why It Matters for SEO)

Does E-A-T ring a bell? (And no, it’s not what you think. 🍰) If you’ve been playing the SEO game, you’ll agree that E-A-T has become quite a buzzword. 

In this guide, I’m going to cover what you should know about E-A-T. Leveraging it can help your website dominate Google. 

But before anything else, we need to emphasize a couple of things:

#1 – Google aims to provide the best possible experience for users.

#2 – For some websites, E-A-T is more important than for others, making the effort needed to increase it also higher. 

#3 – E-A-T isn’t built overnight. It’s all about playing the long game.

Let’s get started.

What Is E-A-T? 

E-A-T stands for Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness. Google wants certain topics to be built on high E-A-T — content that impacts an individual’s happiness, health, safety, and finances. Such topics are called YMYL or Your Money or Your Life. 

Here’s E-A-T in a nutshell (I’ll explain more about this later):

🧑‍💼Expertise – A piece of content has been created by someone with the right credentials, qualifications, or educational background. 

🗣️Authoritativeness – A website has a high reputation based on its users’ experiences and the outside opinions of experts. 

🔎Trustworthiness –  This describes information that is accurate or a page that is safe (for example, a checkout page with a secure connection). 

As you can tell, a website about health and medicine requires more E-A-T than a hobby website. 

For a health website, publishing poor advice can result in a life-threatening situation. As for a hobby website, topics are often subjective and would not cause real harm to an audience. You get the idea. 

Here are more topics that fall under YMYL, according to Google:

  • News on important topics and current events (excluding sports and everyday lifestyle topics.) 
  • Civics, government, and law
  • Finance
  • Shopping
  • Health and safety
  • Groups of people
  • Other topics that involve big life decisions (such as housing, parenting, job hunting, and fitness.)

So where does E-A-T come from? 

It isn’t a random acronym created by some random SEO guru. No. 

E-A-T is mentioned in Google’s Search Quality Rater Guidelines (QRG). It’s a 168-page document that helps its human raters assess the quality (E-A-T) of articles, authors, websites, and webpages. Google employs these people to review and evaluate the quality of search results. 

💡Interesting fact: E-A-T is specified 135 times in the QRG. That’s how important it is.

Take note that since Google always works to improve search experience, it updates its QRG document frequently. 

When was E-A-T first introduced? 

In 2014. Which means, E-A-T isn’t a new concept. 

It has been in the QRG for years now, but it got massive attention in August 2018. Thanks to a core algorithm update called the Medic Update. This update impacted mostly medical and health websites, and other sites categorized as YMYL. 

Since August 1, 2018 and counting it, Google rolled out 9 confirmed or unconfirmed updates that are heavy on E-A-T.

How does the QRG document benefit you? 

Whether you are an SEO specialist or an online business owner who’s serious about creating quality web content, the QRG offers a ton of insights on how to improve E-A-T. 

Does E-A-T apply to all websites or pages?

No. Here’s what you need to understand: 

When raters do their PQ (page quality) rating, the first step is to check whether a page or website has a beneficial purpose.  Meaning, that piece of content benefits a user in one way or another — entertain them, teach them something, or share opinions. 

See page 19 of the Search Quality Rater Guidelines:

After determining that a page has a beneficial purpose, the quality rater then decides whether it has a high or low level of E-A-T. If it’s a YMYL topic, it is held to a higher standard. 

💡Important: E-A-T doesn’t count for pages that cause harm or spread hate. Quality raters give them the lowest rating since they lack a beneficial purpose.  

Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness In More Detail

In this section, we’re going to dive into each element of E-A-T and what they actually mean. 

Expertise

The Cambridge Dictionary defines the word expertise as having “a high level of knowledge or skill.” 

But just because you are knowledgeable or skillful in something, doesn’t immediately qualify you as an expert in the eyes of Google. 

So, what does Google look for? 

YMYL Topics 

For most YMYL topics, formal expertise is required. A medical article on liver disease, for instance, should be written by a licensed physician who sub-specializes in gastroenterology. 

According to the QRG, “Formal expertise is important for YMYL topics such as medical, financial, or legal advice.”

However, it’s also possible for some YMYL topics to be written by people with everyday expertise. See the example below from a discussion board on cancerresearchuk.org. It shows a user sharing about her loss: 

As you can see, people whose loved ones have cancer don’t need to have the credentials to write about their experience. 

But when it comes to medical advice, it should always be provided by a medical professional. 

The QRG states, “It’s even possible to have everyday expertise in YMYL topics. For example, there are forums and support pages for people with specific diseases. Sharing personal experience is a form of everyday expertise.”

Non-YMYL Topics

Everyday expertise or your life experience is sufficient to qualify non-YMYL content. Google considers your experience valuable and will not, therefore, penalize you.  

Let’s say that you’re a “food nerd” who blogs about your food adventures🍲. In that case, Google acknowledges that formal expertise is not necessary for your content. 

Authoritativeness

In word-of-mouth marketing, you become influential when others recommend you because they see you as a good source of content. Well, it kind of works that way for authoritativeness. 

Think: Reputation.  

Google looks at the following places to check your reputation. These should be independent (outside your website), credible, and written by a real person or organization:

  • Wikipedia articles
  • News articles
  • Blog posts 
  • Magazine articles
  • Forum discussions
  • Ratings and reviews

Reviews can be quite tricky though —  Because Google knows that people can write multiple fake reviews. That is why it asks its quality raters to check not just the number, but also the content itself. 

“It is also important to read the reviews because the content of the reviews matter, not just the number. Credible, convincing reports of fraud and financial wrongdoing is evidence of extremely negative reputation.”

Trustworthiness

For trustworthiness, Google considers: 

  • Main content – Is it clear, accessible, transparent, and accurate?
  • Content creator – Are you an expert or experienced on a topic? 
  • Website – Does it have a secure connection?  

A highly trustworthy YMYL website helps users feel comfortable doing business. 

Let’s say, for example, an ecommerce website. Consumers often seek information from customer service, return policies, FAQs, and more. 

Non-YMYL websites, on the other hand, won’t need to display as much information as their counterparts. A food blog, for example, is less likely to cause inconvenience by showing only an email address as contact information. 

Is E-A-T a Ranking Factor? 

Will nailing your E-A-T guarantee that your website will rank in the top positions of Google’s search results? 

Tricky question, though answerable with a NOT REALLY.

But stick around. 

You see, Google has 200+ ranking factors which include website speed, mobile-friendliness, and backlinks. Basically, things that are measurable. 

E-A-T does not fall on that list. Google and its quality raters do not assign a score for E-A-T either. Here’s what Marie Haynes tweeted:

So, what role does E-A-T play in ranking your content? 

We can be sure of this: 

That Google wants the highest possible quality of search results that satisfy and help its target users, and not mislead them. By making sure that we produce content that meets Google’s expectations through E-A-T, our efforts can make an indirect impact on rankings. 

Check out Google’s statement on What webmasters should know about Google’s core updates:

Lily Ray of Path Interactive did an interesting E-A-T study. Some of the findings were:

  • “Winning sites are 258% more likely to use real experts on their content than losing websites.” (Expertise)
  • “Winning health sites are 34% more likely to use medical reviewers on their content than losing websites.” (Expertise)
  • “Winning companies are 21% more likely than losing sites to have a company Wikipedia page.” (Authoritativeness)
  • “Winning companies are 24% more likely to link to external citations within their content.” (Trustworthiness)
  • “Winning sites have an average Trustpilot score that is 1.9 points higher than that of losing websites.” (Trustworthiness)
  • Winning sites are 45% more likely to have a clearly stated editorial policy present on their websites than losing sites. (Authoritativeness)

Now you’re probably thinking of all possible ways to improve your website E-A-T, especially if it has YMYL topics. 

How to Improve E-A-T 

Whether you’ve been hit by the medic update or want to future proof your YMYL website, here’s what you can do now: 

How to Improve SEO E-A-T

1. Hire professional experts to author your content.

To demonstrate high expertise: Hire someone with the right education and credentials to write your editorial content. And at the same time, edit pages with low E-A-T. 

But what if the expert you hire isn’t a skilled writer? Solution: Have a professional content writer proofread and revise parts that need improvement. 

💡Tip: Display the expert’s author bio in every blog post they write. Linking to their online profiles where their awards/certifications are found will also help increase their expert status. 

For non YMYL topics, again, they don’t need to be written by formal experts. Pick someone with enough experience who can write the topic well.

2. Optimize your About page or Team page. 

Your About Us or Team page should communicate what your company does. Make sure to explain why you are an authority and expert in your field. The same applies to your authors.  

Some people don’t like to display their awards, places they’ve been featured, and more. But now is not the time to be shy about them. Remember that Google looks at these as signs of good reputation. 

3. Build a positive reputation in your industry.

Keep this in mind because this is very important: 

Between your website claims and feedback from independent sources, Google trusts independent sources. Be careful about your reputation. 

Here are a few strategies you can implement:

  • Create products and services that your audience will find valuable . 
  • Keep track of the channels where your customers leave reviews. 
  • Provide stellar customer service regardless of the channel.
  • Get more positive online reviews and deal with negative reviews.
💡Tip: Don’t focus on one review website. The Better Business Bureau, for example. Include other places such as Yelp, Amazon, Google Shopping, and other non-Google services. 

4. Fact-check your claims. 

Unless your topic indicates that alternative viewpoints are welcome, make sure to check the written facts. If you don’t have it yet, consider implementing a review process where every claim is checked for facts or bias. 

Here’s what the QRG says: 

“High E-A-T news articles should be produced with journalistic professionalism — they should contain factually accurate content presented in a way that helps users achieve a better understanding of events.”

Cite external resources wherever applicable, and make sure that they’re credible. And if possible, include citations from industry experts or influencers. 

Below is a screenshot taken from an example in the QRG:

This news article on FoxNews.com discussed STEM in the US. As you can see from the screenshot, the article includes expert citations — which Google considers helpful. 

5. Get your own Wikipedia page 

Or get mentioned or referenced, at least. 

Having a Wikipedia page can bolster your authoritativeness, as stated in the QRG: 

“Wikipedia can be a good source of information about companies, organizations, and content creators.”

You have to be aware, though: Creating a Wikipedia page is not easy. Keep in mind that Wikipedia is an encyclopedia and every piece of information you provide has to be verified. 

Hubspot wrote a guide on creating a Wikipedia page for your company. 

6. Provide sufficient information.

This is especially true for YMYL pages. You can build more trust with your users by making sure that they can access the following information:

  • Means of contact (email address, phone number, physical address, web contact form, names of contact persons, and more)
  • Customer service information (policies on payment, returns, exchanges, etc.)
  • Information about who owns the site or the authors

What We Can Take Away 

Google’s core algorithm update got us thinking about expertise, authority, trust — and how we ought to put more emphasis on content quality. 

A lot of websites are medical, financial, and legal in nature. This puts them in a challenging situation to step up their game in SEO. 

If you have a YMYL site or pages that are YMYL, ask yourself: ”Is my content worth recommending by Google to users?”

Google E-A-T may impact your rankings indirectly, nevertheless — it’s always good practice to put out stuff that’s high quality. 

That way, we’re in a much better position to dominate search results.