How to boost SEO with RankBrain in mind

The internet went on fire when Google announced that RankBrain was the third most important ranking factor for the Hummingbird algorithm — right behind content and links.

What does it mean for brands and marketers? RankBrain helps SEO, because its primary purpose is to provide relevant search results for every query by recognizing the intent behind the keywords. Which means that brands that use quality content to capture and retain the public’s attention are still going to rank high.

It’s all in the way RankBrain works. The tool uses machine learning to identify patterns and interpret the questions that people submit. Also, it considers a series of factors when ranking pages, mostly based on how users interact with websites. In this way, Google can now show results that are relevant to its users, even if the pages don’t include the exact words used for the search.

Unabridged, you should put together an exhaustive content strategy that makes your website appealing for Google’s crawlers and human readers at the same time. Pretty much what you’ve already been doing, but with more attention placed on specific factors. That said, there are five major elements to consider when rethinking your content strategy:

  • Relevant search-ranking factors
  • User experience
  • Topic clusters
  • High-organic CTRs
  • Your online reputation

Before we look at each of these elements, we should mention that you can’t optimize your content for RankBrain. Instead, it’s about implementing SEO techniques with RankBrain in mind, so your focus should remain on providing value through excellent content.

What factors are relevant to your niche?

HubSpot classifies the main ranking factors as “Crucial,” “Very important” or “Important”:

  • Crucial: inbound links and keyword intent
  • Very important: domain security and topic authority
  • Important: website architecture, content structure, meta tags and page speed

That said, at HubSpot they don’t differentiate ranking factors by industry. Searchmetrics, on the other hand, considers that content-related elements (such as visuals, video and word count) are crucial for e-commerce websites and less relevant for the credit and finance niches, while domain security should be a top priority for technical sites.

So, which of the 200 ranking factors are important to your niche? Google can tell you indirectly! Identify the websites that already rank high for the keywords that you target, and analyze them:

  • look at where they use keywords (in headlines, first paragraph, meta descriptions);
  • see what type of content they use — video, infographics, ebooks;
  • count the number of internal and external links they include in their articles and blog
    posts;
  • see whether the top results are landing pages, short articles or long-form content
    also downloadable as a PDF;
  • check whether they use tables or lists;
  • look at the publishing date to understand how often you should update your articles; and
  • test their page speed.

The more time you dedicate to your research, the higher your chances of having a complete list of relevant ranking factors. It’s the first step toward an effective guide to search-engine optimization with RankBrain in mind.

Improve user experience

RankBrain learns from previous experiences. Every time you perform a query on Google, the program uses information gathered from similar requests coming from past users to identify the most relevant results.

A high bounce rate, for example, is a clear signal for Google that a search result isn’t relevant for its users, so it will automatically remove it from page one. Other indicators that RankBrain considers when ranking websites are the time-on-page and the pages-per-session metrics. Both are significant clues to whether a site can satisfy the needs of internet users or not.

What do these three metrics have in common? They’re all engagement factors and reflect the user experience. So, as part of your SEO strategy, you need to focus on providing your website visitors with the best user experience.

How can you achieve this goal?

1. Excellent content — search engines can only put you in front of a possible audience. Keeping people on your website is equally important, which means you have to publish killer content to hook visitors and get engagement.

2. Appealing headings — they have a double function for your SEO strategy. Keywords in titles tell search engines what your content is about and guide your users through the page, underlining the essential information.

3. Relevant visuals — images may not be a ranking factor in some industries, but they make a difference for the human eye. Gone are the times of stock photos and generic visuals. You need to come up with personalized visual content that supports your articles and landing pages.

4. White space — it can increase comprehension by 20 percent, according to studies. Minimal design can help you find the balance between the text and images on every page of your website.

5. Mobile-friendly — with more than half of the queries coming from mobile devices, Google ranks mobile-friendly websites higher.

Make your website easy to access and guide your visitors through various pages by using links to additional information and relevant calls to action. This way, people who arrive to your website won’t hit the Back button but stay on the page instead.

Topic Clusters

As said before, RankBrain looks for the intent behind each query and doesn’t rely exclusively on keywords for delivering relevant results. It doesn’t mean keywords are dead (as we read on several websites), but the fact that Google starts learning the meaning behind words.

Marketers need a new approach that integrates keywords into a complex structure, to create a positive user experience.
Topic clusters are collections of articles, grouped around a central pillar page, that discuss a single main topic. It’s a way of structuring the information to provide all the answers in small chunks, in a logic order.

When you create topic clusters, you deconstruct your content and make information accessible and easy to follow through a web of interlinks. This strategy increases visibility into your website for both crawlers and human visitors.

It sounds complicated, but once you understand the concept behind it, it’s easy to come up with such a structure. All you have to do is audit your existing content and identify those topics that can become the pillar pages around which you can build robust topic clusters.

The internal links have the potential to keep your website visitors engaged with your con-
tent and create a conversion path that your leads can follow once on your site. Moreover, if you repurpose the pillar page as a downloa-
dable offer, you can also improve user experience and increase the usability of your content.

Click-through rates

Improving SEO by optimizing your click-through rates isn’t new. However, with RankBrain being responsible for more queries than ever before, your CTRS can have a significant contribution to your position in search results.

Your click-through rate is a calculated metric that tells you the number of people who saw your search result and how many of them clicked through to the page. If people see your page but don’t click on it, the search engine assumes your content isn’t relevant for the query, so it will stop promoting it.

According to some marketers, CTRs are crucial for RankBrain and its criteria for ranking pages higher or lower in search results. That’s why improving your click-through rate is essential when you’re looking to improve your SEO.

Luckily, plenty of tricks can help you convince people to visit your website, and some of them are easy to implement. Here are the most popular:

  • Writing captivating meta descriptions that include a sharp call to action.
  • Implementing long-tail keywords that attract a targeted audience with a real interest in your topic.
  • Using appealing title formats that include numbers and strong trigger words.
  • Putting the main keyword in the URL, as well as in the title and meta description.
  • Engaging your public at an emotional level with humor, a promise for help or by leveraging
    the fear of missing out.

There’s no universal recipe for improving your CTR. Every audience answers to specific incentives. The better you know your audience, the more effective your efforts at increasing your click-through rate.

Online reputation

To sum up, you should build a solid foundation for your SEO strategy and continuously improve your techniques in line with the latest trends. Being number one in Google’s search results is temporary and lasts only as long as you keep investing resources in digital marketing. Without fresh content, you can’t stay relevant, and RankBrain will penalize you by removing you from the privileged spot.

To sum up, you should build a solid foundation for your SEO strategy and continuously improve your techniques in line with the latest trends. Being number one in Google’s search results is temporary and lasts only as long as you keep investing resources in digital marketing. Without fresh content,

you can’t stay relevant, and RankBrain will penalize you by removing you from the privileged spot.

By improving all the elements above, you get to grow a solid online reputation for your brand — which, in time, builds trust with both search engines and website visitors. You can benefit from an excellent reputation in multiple ways, from ranking high for industry-related keywords to becoming an authority in your niche.
Every brand aims for this ultimate goal. And RankBrain can help you achieve excellent results because it supports high-quality content and consistency above any tips or tricks that are meant to improve SEO overnight.