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Is RankBrain A Ranking Factor?

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Is RankBrain A Ranking Factor?


Without knowing what “RankBrain” means, people new to SEO may assume it refers to a technology Google uses to rank search results.

That assumption isn’t far off, but not every component of Google’s search algorithm is a ranking factor in and of itself.

In this article, we’ll investigate the claims around RankBrain as a ranking factor and provide clarity on what RankBrain is and how it’s used in search results.

The Claim: RankBrain Is A Ranking Factor

RankBrain is a technology that’s said to impact how Google returns search results.

Due to its association with search, RankBrain is commonly referred to as a ranking factor.

If you’re new to SEO, you may hear that and start to think RankBrain is one more signal you have to optimize for.

But that’s exactly not how it works.

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The next section goes over what RankBrain is designed to do, and when it’s called upon by Google to assist with answering queries.

The Evidence: Is RankBrain A Ranking Factor?

RankBrain is an artificial intelligence (AI) system introduced in 2015 to help Google with returning results for queries that have never been searched before.

That changed somewhere between the spring of 2015 and 2016 when an unannounced update was made to RankBrain which integrated the AI into all queries.

This information was revealed in a Wired article, which notes Google isn’t clear on how RankBrain improves all queries but it does affect rankings.

From Wired:

“Google is characteristically fuzzy on exactly how it improves search (something to do with the long tail? Better interpretation of ambiguous requests?) but [Google engineer Jeff Dean] says that RankBrain is “involved in every query,” and affects the actual rankings “probably not in every query but in a lot of queries.”

What differentiates RankBrain from other Google algorithms is its ability to learn how to answer more ambiguous queries.

As Google’s Gary Illyes explains, this is accomplished through making educated guesses at what a user would likely click on for a never-before-seen query.

“RankBrain is a PR-sexy machine learning ranking component that uses historical search data to predict what would a user most likely click on for a previously unseen query.”

RankBrain allows Google to solve problems it used to run into with traditional algorithms.

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Contrary to popular theories about how RankBrain works, it does not use data gathered from users’ interactions with a web page.

RankBrain relies more on data gathered from users’ interactions with search results.

Illyes provides further clarity:

“It is a really cool piece of engineering that saved our butts countless times whenever traditional algos were like, e.g. “oh look a “not” in the query string! let’s ignore the hell out of it!”, but it’s generally just relying on (sometimes) months old data about what happened on the results page itself, not on the landing page.”

In short – RankBrain is a machine learning system that allows Google’s search algorithm to deliver more relevant results.

This is thought to be accomplished through an improved understanding of ambiguous queries and long-tail keywords.

RankBrain uses data gathered from users’ interactions with search results to predict which pages will likely get clicked on for a brand new search query.

RankBrain As A Ranking Factor: Our Verdict

Google has confirmed that RankBrain is used to rank search results and it is involved in all queries.

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In 2016, Andrey Lipattsev, a Google Search Quality Senior Strategist at Google, said RankBrain was one of the three most important ranking signals (along with content and links).

RankBrain continues to play an important role in search results today.

RankBrain differs from traditional ranking factors in that there’s not an obvious way to actively optimize for it.

How do you optimize for ambiguous keywords or queries that no one’s ever entered into Google before?

The only option is to provide Google with as much information about a page as possible, which is something site owners should be doing anyway if they’re creating holistic content for users.

Illyes was asked this question once and replied with a similar sentiment:

“you optimize your content for users and thus for RankBrain. That hasn’t changed.”

Search Engine Journal VIP Contributor Dave Davies provides more advanced tips for communicating information to Google regarding different entities on a page in A Complete Guide to the Google RankBrain Algorithm.


Featured Image: Robin Biong/Search Engine Journal

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SEO

Fact Checking: Get Your Facts Right

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Fact Checking: Get Your Facts Right

In the last decade or so, the concept of “fake news” has become a major thorn in the side of consumers and content writers alike.

Digital marketing experts who write SEO content at the enterprise level might not consider themselves journalists or news reporters – but there’s a greater overlap between the roles than many people realize.

Like journos, enterprise SEO content writers need to earn the trust of their audience by demonstrating authority, relevance, and experience.

And while you might think that, as a content marketing specialist, the only person you’re serving is your client or employer, the truth is that good SEO content provides just as much service to consumers.

You’re not just advertising to people; you’re helping them find answers, information, and solutions to their problems.

That’s why, for SEO content writers, getting the facts right is crucial.

“Fake news” has eroded a lot of people’s trust in media. Online content, in particular, is always fighting an uphill battle due to the oversaturation of the digital space – and the sheer amount of misinformation that finds its way into blogs and social media sites with little quality control.

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Today, fact-checking is arguably more important than ever before.

One little mistake is all it takes to lose a consumer’s trust forever.

But what does it mean to get your facts right? Is it just ensuring every name is spelled correctly, and every claim has an attributed source?

Both of these things are an important part of SEO fact-checking, but they’re only a small piece of a large puzzle.

Enterprise SEO Fact Checking Best Practices

Fun fact: Even when consumers don’t know you’re lying, Google does.

Web pages with deceptive, inaccurate, or poorly vetted content are penalized and less likely to appear in search results.

Want to avoid the wrath of the almighty algorithm? Here’s what you need to do:

Get The Basics Right

A few paragraphs back, I mentioned that fact-checking isn’t limited to correctly writing people’s names, ages, positions, and pronouns.

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Nevertheless, getting the basics right is still important. If you can’t do at least that much, then you won’t be prepared to do more in-depth fact-checking.

It’s especially important to get this information right when you’re quoting multiple people.

Not only do you need to attribute quotes and ideas to the proper sources, but you also have to make sure the information they shared with you is accurately reproduced.

Double Check Everything

If you get a quote from someone that says the sky is blue, go outside and look up, just to be sure.

Okay, that might be an exaggerated example – but you get the point.

Double and triple-check everything.

If you find a useful quote or statistic online, track down the original source. See if you can find other reliable web pages with the same information.

Don’t be afraid to do a little research yourself. Crunch the numbers and try to find corroborating evidence.

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Never take anything at face value.

Go To The Source

Speaking of tracking down the sources of stats and quotes: That’s a cornerstone of fact-checking so important, it merits expanding on now.

Have you ever had a teacher or professor tell you, in no uncertain terms, never to use Wikipedia as a source?

Well, that’s just as true when writing enterprise-level SEO content. Wikipedia might be useful in pointing you toward helpful sources, but it shouldn’t be your primary text.

Nor should any second-hand source. If another web page states something as a fact, confirm where it got that fact.

If it’s a disreputable source and you parrot it, then you become a disreputable source, too.

Understand The Information

Content writing – especially at the enterprise level and especially in an agency (rather than in-house PR team) context – often requires authors to cover many different areas of expertise in many different industries.

It can be tempting to regurgitate and plagiarize information that already exists, but if you do that, you won’t be able to offer any meaningful insights.

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You have to understand the information you’re relaying.

That will help you spot contradictions and factual errors and demonstrate genuine authority.

Is AI Automation The Future Of Fact Checking?

Enterprise-level content fact-checking requires a lot of time and effort, but cutting corners is a recipe for disaster.

Fortunately, just as it has with many other aspects of SEO, AI automation may soon be able to simplify the process.

U.K.-based independent fact-checking organization, Full Fact, has been leading the charge in recent years to develop scalable, automated fact-checking tools.

Full Fact’s efforts have already garnered the attention of the biggest names in search engine technology.

In 2019, the non-profit organization was one of the winners of the 2019 Google AI Impact Challenge, which provides funding for potentially revolutionary automation research projects.

Full Fact’s stated goal is to develop AI software capable of breaking down long content pieces into individual sentences, then identifying the types of claims those sentences represent, before finally cross-referencing those claims in real-time with the most up-to-date factual news data.

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Though Full Fact is still years away from achieving its goal, the benefits of such a breakthrough for SEO content writing are self-evident.

That said, you don’t have to wait for the future to use AI automation and other software tools to help you fact-check.

For example, the Grammarly Plagiarism Checker not only identifies duplicate content taken from another source but also highlights portions of text requiring attribution.

Commonly used enterprise SEO tools like Semrush, Ahrefs, and Moz, meanwhile, can be used to investigate a domain’s authority, helping you decide which sources are considered reputable.

Fact-checking in today’s oversaturated news and information marketplace can be intimidating at first glance. But the number of resources available to content writers is growing by leaps and bounds every day.

Making full use of these resources better enables you to win consumer trust in an age when that kind of trust is a very delicate, precious, and valuable commodity.

More resources:


Featured Image: redgreystock/Shutterstock

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