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RankBrain and Future of SEO: How to Win in the Age of Machine Learning


What is RankBrain?

Simply put, RankBrain is a machine learning artificial intelligence system.

It provides a modern way for Google to understand search queries and search intent.

RankBrain’s goal is to evaluate what people are searching for and identify the best content on the web.

Google’s goal is to return results thats perfectly relevant to a given search query.

Ultimately, the search engine’s goal wants to give searchers what they were looking for.

Thats why Google needs to understand what you actually mean when you’re searching for something – search intent.

In this post, you’ll learn how RankBrain affects SEO and 4 simple yet effective ways to optimise your content for RankBrain.

How RankBrain affects SEO

In the past, a query for notebook may not have returned content referencing its plural version, notebooks.

Let’s say we’ve got a blog article about the best bread in Sydney.

The old method of SEO would look at keywords with the highest search volume. Keywords which were most frequently used.

Do we target “best bread in Sydney” or “best buns in Sydney”?

We’d then fiddle our content to make sure we use “bread” versus “bun”, and included necessary modifiers such as “where” or “what” etc.

But if you think about it, “bread” and “bun” are the same thing.

A search for the “best bread in sydney” vs “top 10 buns in sydney” are really asking the same question.

Today, RankBrain actually tries to figure out what you mean, just like a human would.

RankBrain connects the dots and knows that regardless of the difference in word pairing and ordering of the search query, the same content will work.

In other words, RankBrain is reducing the importance of exact-match, single keywords and prioritising the importance of matching content to fit a user’s query.

4 Ways to Optimise Content for RankBrain

  1. Move away from exact-match single keyword targeting
  2. Use LSI keywords to add context
  3. Begin mapping content to concepts
  4. Match content to user intent

First, move away from single keyword targeting

SEO is no longer about matching single keywords to single pages.

Gone are the days when you have to create one page for best bread, and another page for best buns.

Instead, optimise your content by condensing it into keyword groups.

Create a keyword group by gathering synonyms and closely related ideas that best match your main topic.

Second, use LSI keywords to add context

LSI keywords stand for Latent Semantic Index keywords.

They are words and phrases related to your content’s main topic.

This is the secret ingredient that helps RankBrain understand a page’s context.

For example, let’s say you’re writing a guide about content optimisation.

Your LSI keywords will be:

  • title tag
  • meta description
  • headings
  • anchor text
  • internal linking

When RankBrain sees your content includes these related terms, they’ll know your page is about content optimisation.

And you’re more likely to rank for keywords related to that topic.

Now for every blog post you have, just sprinkle LSI keywords into your content.

This shows RankBrain that your content is comprehensive and have contextual relevance.

Third, begin mapping content to concepts and themes

Earlier, we talked about moving away from single keywords and instead focus on keyword groups.

Let’s take this a step further.

When you map keywords to concepts, you’re essentially creating a theme.

You can create a keyword theme by finding keywords that are conceptually related.

This helps you maximize the traffic potential of every article you publish.

Think about it, if you only optimise for a single keyword, you’re losing out on majority of potential traffic of many other related keywords under the same topic.

There are a few ways to define keyword concepts.

Google Related Searches

At the bottom of Google’s search results is the section ‘searches related to…’

This is a friggin’ goldmine of conceptually related topics.


Click on a few of those related searches and repeat that process of examining the bottom results, you’ll find dozens of long-tail keyword opportunities.

This method usually generates more keyword ideas than Google Keyword Planner itself. Highly recommend it!

Google Trends

Look to the bottom of your search report, for ‘related topics’ and ‘related queries’.

This section is also great to find conceptually related keyword queries.

Fourth, match content with search intent

Intent is probably the future of SEO in many ways.

I find the best way to begin understanding search intent is by empathising with the user.

Immerse yourself in the searches and find what people are telling you.

Because there’s a lot of patterns that take place in keywords and thats where you can find the intent of the searcher.

When you start thinking about user intent, you’re actually thinking about how to best meet the needs of a potential user.

You can do this by grouping your target keywords into 3 intent categories:

  • informational
  • navigational
  • transactional

Informational intent queries

People searching for informational-intent queries are looking for more information.

They’re probably looking for queries that look like:

  • “how to…”
  • “compare X to Y”
  • “why…”

They are researching into their needs and potential solutions, but are not yet ready to buy.

As a content creator, you might want to serve up informational content describing broad topics. This could be an article describing common problems your target audience might face.

For example, if you’re a business selling makeup and skincare products.

Your target audience’s queries (informational-intent) are likely to be:

  • how to get rid of acne scars
  • how to maintain dewy skin
  • what are causes for acne prone skin

These types of queries are problem focused, and the searcher intent is looking to understand his/her own situation better.

Your content can satisfy this need by providing more clarity into the problem.

Content types for informational queries:

  • blog posts
  • checklists
  • infographics
  • videos
  • images

Navigational intent queries

These queries are branded queries.

Meaning, people are looking for specific products or services from a particular brand.

For example, “Nike shoes”, “Estee Lauder mascara”.

They are likely further down the sales funnel than people searching for broad informational content.

At this point, your audience might be comparing different brands are in the solution evaluation stage.

Content types for navigational intent queries:

  • Surveys / Quizes
  • Webinars
  • Free downloads

Navigational intent queries tell you that these users are potential leads.

Transactional intent queries

Transactional or commercial intent queries have buying intent.

Users have made up their minds to purchase, and probably have a credit card ready in hand.

They’re looking for offers that can best meet their expectations.

Most commonly used commercial keywords:

  • “best”
  • “top”
  • “affordable”
  • “cheap”
  • “review”
  • “discount”

Transactional intent keywords can be the most valuable keywords for a business.

Simply because they have the highest chance to convert visitors into paying customers.

Content types for commercial intent queries:

  • Webinars/Events
  • Testimonials
  • Customer story
  • Sales ‘squeeze page’
  • Promotional / discount offers

As you can see, there are different content types for different search intent.

Serving a promotional sales page that targets informational-intent keywords will likely not do well.

How did these strategies work for you? Leave your comments below!


Author: Leanne Wong

Leanne Wong helps bloggers and entrepreneurs grow an audience and make more money online with organic, inbound marketing.

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