RankBrain Google algorithm

RankBrain: A Big Deal … Last Spring

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Google revealed today that for a number of months they have been running a system called “RankBrain” and that it has become the third most important signal in their overall algorithm.  For those who don’t understand the full impact of this, there are literally hundreds if not thousands of signals, each with a number of factors resulting in tens of thousands of permutations.  Of all of those, this until-now-unknown signal is the third most important.

Apart from being the third most important signal (a surprise to even Google) what’s most important to understand is that RankBrain is AI.  Essentially, while the majority of Google’s current algorithm is man-made and each signal based on a human understanding of the universe, RankBrain is purely computer-based.

For clarification, the job of RankBrain is to handle the 15% of daily searches that Google has not seen before.  While 15% might not seem like a lot to most of us that’s in the range of 10 to 15 billion queries per month – almost as much as the all of Yahoo! search.  What’s also important to note is that it’s job is not to rank sites so much as it is to understand the context of the query and formulate assumptions around it.  To borrow an example from Search Engine Land‘s Danny Sullivan:

A search for “Barack” might bring back pages and information that also matches “US President,” “Barack Obama,” or even “Michelle Obama’s husband.”

Essentially what Google is doing is taking Pinocchio and turning him into a real boy however that boy has zero world experience but a number of smart teachers.  Google has just let that boy out and he’s learning and thus far is doing very well.  In a test run by Google they had query results provided to RankBrain and to their human engineers.  The engineers accurately guessed what people would want to see 70% of the time.  RankBrain was correct 80%.

Many will dispute the problems with having an algorithm adjust rankings however one can’t argue that there will be less of a bias.  It’s a computer after all and if we consider what is more likely to provide us with the result that matches our intent – a computer or human consider bias and if your search results were orchestrated by one with a moral or political belief opposite to yours?

While this was old news before we even knew it was news at all in that’s it’s been running for a while now, it’s big news and brings forth a new order of Google based on data and user behavior and less on human bias.

For for information here’s a video from Bloomberg:


  1. thank you so much Great info did not know about Rank Brain. thank you Dave Davies

  2. Dave Davies says:

    Absolutely my pleasure and glad you found it informative.

    And thanks for stopping by and for the comment. 🙂

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