“The future’s not set. There’s no fate but what we make for ourselves.”
– John Connor. Terminator 2.
Monday the 26th of October: Judgement day.
It was a Monday like any other… That was until the Google equivalent of Skynet took over… Okay, Okay, I’m being overly dramatic here, working in online marketing, I have to be when there are new updates affecting search. But you may have heard that Google unleashed a new “machine learning” algorithm on Monday and you may have some concerns. Let me tell you what we know.
What is the RankBrain Algorithm?
It’s Google’s name for its “machine-learning” artificial intelligence system thats now being used to help process search results.
So, what is ‘machine learning’?
… When a computer teaches itself how to do something as opposed to being programmed by humans. It’s not quite the same is AI which (for now) is still more at home in a good sci-fi film.
The difference between AI and machine learning is a subtle one that describes the way in which a machine learns, AI requires the ability to learn and make connections in the same way as humans do, machine learning is not quite so advanced. So don’t brace yourself for the apocalypse just yet.
Does RankBrain Decide Search Results?
Erm… Nope. It’s just a part of Google’s algorithm which is used to crawl and index the billions of pages on the internet and decide which are most relevant.
Google’s actual algorithm for Google search is Hummingbird. Which is delightful. Hummingbird basically is the name that encompasses the various components of its algorithm such as:
Panda / Penguin / Payday – The spam fighters
Pigeon – The local results algorithm
Pirate – The copyright infringement detector. Yarr.
Page Rank – Who gives credit to a page based on how other pages link to them. (The oldest of them all.)
Top Heavy – The demoter of massive ad pages
Mobile Friendly – Guess what this one does!
… And our new friend, RankBrain. Who is not just about rankings. Or brains.
What Does RankBrain Actually Do?
It appears to interpret the searches people type in and work out which pages contain those terms and are most relevant. Google was already doing this and associating searches with synonyms but apparently RankBrain will do it better. So it could decide that the context of the query you may be looking for could be “Blackberry” the berry or “Blackberry” the manufacturer of electrical communication devices and return results that were extremely relevant to what you were searching for.
RankBrain can, somehow, better understand what a page is about and decide it’s relevancy to the search query.
…Is the theory. Google have not totally confirmed this as yet.
How Does That Help My Search Queries?
Previously, all query answers were based on humans at Google manufacturing the links between things so synonyms for example would be generated from a list on a database saying “these words can mean these other words” etc. Ultimately humans had made the connections and uploaded the rules.
When you are handling over 3 billion searches a day and about 15% of those are brand new searches that have NEVER BEEN SEARCHED FOR BEFORE, you need dependable methods to ensure that the results are as relevant as possible for the person searching. Eventually, even with the biggest teams in the world creating massive databases of rules for association, you will need to automate the process… So RankBrain has come to do some of the heavy lifting.
Rank Brain’s Job Is To Figure Out the Long Tail Queries?
Essentially, yes: The “long tail queries” are searches that contain 3 or more words. For example: “What does new Google RankBrain actually do to improve search results?” – Though we’ve not seen specifics on how it judges the searches, RankBrain is there to makes the connections between the queries and the results, deciding what a particular term could mean and trying to ensure that the best possible answer is found.
Yes, Google was already doing this and doing it well but this clever little algorithm should in theory improve the relevance of the results.
When Was RankBrain Released and Will It Have a Big Effect?
Actually, Google started the roll out in early 2015 and it’s been fully live for the past few months. No official figures have been released on the numbers of searches affected by RankBrain but Google did say it was a “very large fraction”… Which with 3 billion daily searches will indeed be a big number.
Should I Move Into a Fallout Shelter?
Not just yet.
This RankBrain “AI” is there to help not hinder and rather than ending the world, it should bring back better search results in a very subservient and well behaved manner. It’s not the robot uprising or the end of days, it’s just Google’s latest and smartest way of getting you the best result possible every time you search. That can only be a good thing, right?