Wednesday, October 28, 2015

RankBrain and the Future of SEO

Last week when Google's parent company, Alphabet, reported a better-than-projected quarterly revenue of $15.1 billion, the company's stock price soared to a new high. As the financial world scrambled to buy, buy, buy, however, the tech world was intrigued by the excitable talk of "machine learning."

On the earnings call, Google’s Chief Executive Officer, Sundar Pichai, seemed downright giddy about the possibilities of the new technology.

“Machine learning is a core transformative way by which we are rethinking everything we are doing," he said.

Perhaps it should have been no surprise, then, when Google announced Monday that the company has been using machine learning for several months.

The new system, nicknamed RankBrain, uses artificial intelligence to sort search queries, including, as Bloomberg reported,"the 15 percent of queries a day it gets which its systems have never seen before."

RankBrain will take these often ambiguous queries and "learn" from them by making connections between the search itself and the websites they lead to--in other words, where the browser finally clicks.

Traditionally, these connections have been coded by humans. Each and every search result, in fact, has been defined and ranked by the most talented coders in the world. As we've written before, this human component can--or, by nature, must--be biased:

"We end to think about algorithms as neutral, but really, although engineers base algorithms on mathematical principles, most of the judgments about those principles are exactly that--judgments, made by biased humans."

Please Read: "On Algorithm Bias and the Important Work of Organic SEO"

RankBrain will seemingly replace the human element, taking the "bias" out of human coding and algorithms.

An A.I. robot from the Will Smith movie, I Robot. Artificial Intelligence is no longer the stuff of science fiction. 

Search Engine Land has written a comprehensive FAQ for RankBrain, including a helpful distinction (or lack of one) between "machine learning" and "artificial intelligence":

"How’s AI different from machine learning? In terms of RankBrain, it seems to us they’re fairly synonymous. You may hear them both used interchangeably, or you may hear machine learning used to describe the type of artificial intelligence approach being employed."

So what does this all mean for your SEO efforts? After all, Bloomberg reported, quite surprisingly, that a Google representative, distinguished RankBrain as the "third-most important signal contributing to the result of a search query."

What are the first two most important signals? We don't know. Google has never before offered this sort of information before. As Search Engine Land notes in its FAQ:

"It’s annoying and arguably a bit misleading that Google won’t explain the top two. The Bloomberg article was no accident. Google wants some PR about what it considers to be its machine-learning breakthrough. But to really assess that breakthrough, it’s helpful to know the other most important factors that Google uses now, as well as was was knocked behind by RankBrain. That’s why Google should explain these."

However you might feel about Google's secretiveness, we embrace the lesson implicit in this latest PR move: artificial intelligence is the future of search.

Amidst the talk of the future, however, what should comfort the everyday website owner is the tried-and-true: as search engines become better at delivering laser-specific results, the most informative, relevant websites will continue to rise to the top. As before, a thoughtful SEO campaign is the key to success.

Remember,  Google and your SEO specialist share the same goal: to connect users with the most relevant information. If you believe your product or service is relevant, then you deserve SEO.

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