Google’s RankBrain algorithm is forcing content marketers to get better at delivering “amazing content” or risk getting lost in all the noise.
There is no shortage of Google updates, whether confirmed (Penguin, Panda, and Hummingbird) or unconfirmed (such as this year’s “Fred”). With each update, marketers quickly adjust their strategies to ensure their content remains relevant, gets found, and ranks well. The stakes are high, most searchers never scroll past the first page of search results
RankBrain is a type of artificial intelligence used by Google to ensure searchers find the content that is most relevant to their intent. The technology accurately predicts user meaning and relevancy of search results.
Last year, it became known that RankBrain holds greater weight with Google than most thought. During a Q&A session, Google’s Andrey Lipattsev explained that RankBrain is Google’s third-most-important rank factor.[
The importance of this update is clearly high, but what do marketers need to know in order to best optimize their content?
Optimizing for RankBrain — Is it possible?
At first, some worried optimizing for RankBrain wouldn’t be possible because the update is not traditional, such as in the cases of Panda or Penguin. Instead, the update leverages artificial intelligence (AI) to sort through high-quality content and gets smarter over time through machine learning. Even though the technology is shrewder, you can still optimize content — but the strategies you use will be much different than those you used in the past.
Previously, you had a specific set of factors to work with, but today you must instead focus on one main goal: creating amazing content. Not sure what is considered “amazing content” by Google RankBrain standards? Here are a few tips to guide your strategy and optimization.
Use natural language
Stop and listen closely and you’ll hear something interesting — it’s the sound of people using voice recognition technology to text, ask for directions, or find an answer to a question in the moment of relevance. According to Google, 20 percent of mobile queries are voice searches. What’s more, 60 percent of those surveyed say they only started using voice searches in the past 12 months. The popularity of this type of search is clearly growing, which is why it’s critical to content creation in the eyes of the RankBrain update.
Searchers who use voice search capabilities create different queries than those using traditional keywords to conduct searches. For example, somebody using voice search may say: “I need better reviews of my business,” when previously they may have typed: “How to get good business reviews.” This may seem like a subtle change, but it impacts how you create content marketing materials.
For best results under RankBrain, use natural language — the actual words that a customer would speak when searching for content. Use phrases instead of simple keywords, and identify long-tail queries that mimic the words mobile users speak to search. Google AdWords Keyword Planner is a useful tool for locating these key phrases to use in your content.
Key takeaway: Securing an advantage with Google RankBrain requires you to use the natural language your customers use when they search something, rather than a simple list of keyword terms. Finding these natural phrases will help ensure your content is relevant in the eyes of RankBrain.
Stop guessing, and go forward with absolute certainty
Using the right keywords and language is only half the battle when optimizing content for Google RankBrain. You must also create content that readers love. Accomplishing this task requires choosing an amazing topic, one that is tried-and-true. There are plenty of effective strategies to help find a good subject, such as using common questions that customers ask, figuring out burning customer pain points, and leveraging content that previously performed well. However, there is another strategy that helps produce content that finds favor with RankBrain: Put your ear to the ground and start listening.
For example, Quora is a great source for finding out what your customers want to know about. It’s a Q&A site where questions are asked and answers are edited by a community of users. The site provides insights into what your customers are struggling with most, so you can create more relevant content to address these problems. For example, you may post a question to the site, such as “What is your biggest content marketing challenge?” One user did just this and got 21 different answers.
After reading through the answers, you may find patterns in the replies. For example, for this inquiry it’s clear content distribution is a challenge, so based on this trend you may decide to create great content on that subject.
You can also use a tool such as BuzzSumo to identify trending topics. For example, if I type “content marketing” and narrow the search to the past 24 hours, I can see that “5 Best Practices That Will Help You Rank on Page One of Google” is the most shared article, with that keyword phrase getting 396 Twitter shares, 66 LinkedIn shares, and 65 Facebook shares.
Key takeaway: Google RankBrain favors content that readers love, so topic selection is critical. Find out which topics are trending, review what content already exists, and create something your customers will enjoy.
Create specific content for a specific audience
One of the best strategies for creating a foolproof content marketing strategy for Google RankBrain is to get more specific with your content marketing. For example, several years ago you may have created content that was titled “7 Strategies to Create Amazing Marketing.” But you’ll find that with the changes to Google RankBrain, content like this is simply too general. Here are a couple tips for getting started.
When looking at the content that’s trending the highest in the past 24 hours for the keyword “content marketing,” one thing becomes clear: Content that performs best is specific. Take a look at some of the blog titles that went viral.
“5 Best Practices That Will Help You Rank on Page One of Google”
“How to Market Your Brand Using Interactive Native Content”
“How to Get Your Content to Rank for Seasonal Keywords”
Create content for a specific audience that answers problems people are struggling with, and you’ll be in better shape with RankBrain.
Key takeaway: Google RankBrain loves content that is specific rather than general because it better meets the long-tail, narrow phrases people are searching. Before moving forward with that next piece of content, ask yourself, “Is this specific and detailed enough to give my audience exactly what they need?” If the answer is maybe, or even no, then keep searching for a new topic.
Leverage the power of long-form content
You’ve heard it before: “Readers have an attention span that is shorter than that of a goldfish” or “People don’t have time to read long content online.” But the truth is not only will readers consume long content (as much as 3,000 words!), they love it. BuzzSumo’s analysis of 100 million articles revealed that in-depth articles get shared the most. In addition, Quick Sprout reports that blog posts longer than 1,500 words get 68 percent more tweets and 22 percent more likes than shorter ones do. However, the majority of blog posts published are 500 words or shorter, which provides a prime opportunity for your brand to stand out.
Plus, it’s important to know the number of long-tail searches performed increases daily. When typing in a phrase, the content the user is searching for is more specific than ever. If the readers find a match between your content and their needs, and the content is excellent, they’ll read everything that you write.
It’s also interesting to note that Steve Baldwin of Didit.com explained that RankBrain uses “co-occurrence” for delivering more relevant content to users. This means the more frequently specific terms or a related group of words appear within the material, the better they rank. Writing long-form content naturally enables relevant terms to appear more frequently and creates this co-occurrence without being redundant (note: this is not keyword stuffing!).
Key takeaway: Long-form content is good for Google RankBrain so long as the content is useful, relevant, and includes details your readers can “plug in and play” immediately.
Moving forward with greater impact
Benjamin Franklin said, “When you’re finished changing, you’re finished.” Marketers who remain fluid, changing with updates such as Google RankBrain, will not only achieve better search engine results, they’ll also delight customers with amazing content. But first you must change the way you think about SEO.
New strategies should move away from thinking of SEO as a game to master and instead think of it as a goal focused on “overdelivering” amazing value to the reader. Optimization is no longer a laundry list of to-do items ― it’s a new way to think about content.
Have you created successful content that does well with the RankBrain update? Is so, please share your best strategies and results.