If you haven’t already heard, Rank Brain recently made headlines as one of the three main ranking factors that Google looks at. Of course it is worth mentioning that this claim was made by a Google senior scientist, who may have just been overzealous. Or, it may just be Google’s shiny new toy. Truthfully, we really do not know exactly how much it effects Google’s algorithm. However, we do know that there has been a good amount of fluctuations, which have been mostly positive for our clients, and therefore can decipher that it is effecting the SERPs. We won’t know how much until they get done tweaking it, but for the time being it is a major player. Now that it is out, it is important that we understand it and know how to leverage it to our benefit.

Rank Brain Overview

Before we get too far into how to leverage Rank Brain, we have to discuss the Google update. Generally, Google goes way overboard with their updates and tones them down after a big release, but here is what we have seen so far with the latest update. The biggest revelation was that it uses user behavior to determine search results. In short, if everyone searches for “black hat,” and no one clicks on websites that sell black hats or have “black hat” keywords on their pages, and instead people click on “charcoal hats” pages instead, then wouldn’t they want that page ranked higher? Wouldn’t Google want the page that is clicked on the most in the SERP and served first? It’s true – check out the example below. We searched for “women’s heels,” and received a bunch of results with “pumps” as a keyword. Google has determined through data and behavior that what the searcher really wants is “heels” or “pumps.”


Also, doesn’t it make sense that Google would only want websites that users actually interact with? So, if users are clicking away from a site, wouldn’t they want to push that page down the SERPs? In a nutshell, that is Rank Brain. This really effects long tailed phrases, as Google doesn’t have enough link data to judge results, so it uses Rank Brain to figure out what people want, based on clicks and user behavior. In our opinion, this is a good thing because it gives the user a better experience, as they get served popular results based on human behavior rather than a “system” of links and keywords.

Don’t believe us? In the example below, we Googled “Garmin watches.” There are no combinations of “Garmin watches” in any of the search results that we were served. That’s enough to make old traditional SEO people lose their minds, right? Well, don’t fret. It really isn’t as hard to optimize for Rank Brain as it might sound. You just have to know how to do it properly.


Optimize for CTR and Usability

The first thing that you want to do is look at your on page efforts. If your websites looks like it was built in 2004, then you are probably way over due for a site redesign. A good way to check to see if you need a redesign or if your usability is suffering is to check out your bounce rate over time. If your bounce rate continues to rise, then most likely it is time for a redesign, with usability in mind. For example, if it looks like this, you need to immediately find a website design/UX partner.


Secondly, go check out your meta titles and descriptions. If they are bland, boring, short, or have nothing to catch your reader’s attention, you might be doomed and you need to fix them ASAP. Focus on call to actions, like “show now,” “free shipping,” “US made,” or other modifiers that will show value in your titles and descriptions. For example:

Old SEO Meta Title – Garmin Watches for Sale by runningcompany.com

Rank Brain Meta Title – Garmin Watches get Free Shipping at runningcompany.com

I’m not a betting man, but I would wager that the second example is going to produce higher click-throughs. And even if you wouldn’t dare put your main keywords in the middle of your title, you could do “Free Shipping on Garmin Watches at runningcompany.com” The same goes for descriptions. You want good call to actions on your descriptions so that people will click on them and you will boost up in the rankings.

Using the example above, we can see that almost all of the top results for “women’s heels” have the keyword on the left hand side most. However, some do not and in the future, we should see where this tactic is less and less important.

Focus on Keywords in Links and Social Signals

I bet you haven’t seen that subject line! Let’s go back to our original example where we Googled “women’s heels.” How does Google know that people really want pumps as well? Is it an assimilated keyword? Well, the answer is that Rank Brain can use the languages and gap the keywords to understand that heels and pumps are the same thing. BUT, Google can also use social media data and links to know that a page might be about pumps, but people consider them to be heels. Wait, what? What does that mean? Let’s look at one example which ranked for “women’s heels:” http://shop.nordstrom.com/c/womens-pumps.


When you look at their meta information, which by the way is ranked #6 in Google, and their page, you can see that they don’t’ ever use the words “women’s heels.” They only say “heels” one time in their meta description. In fact, the entire web page is ALL about pumps. So, why would Google rank them that high for “women’s heels?” In looking at their backlink profile, we can see that this page individually had 10% of its anchor texts with the word “heels” in it.


When you explore even further into these links, you find they all have a single commonality. They all use the keyword heels in their main phrases like titles, anchor text, and more. They also are shared on social media. Google can crawl these links, pages, and then say the shop.nordstrom.com/c/womens-pumps is not only about “women’s pumps” but also “women’s heels.” The way that humans interact with websites links to us, and what keywords that they use in the titles, articles, and anchor text affects the way that we are showing up in the rankings.

How do you optimize for this?

When focusing on your link efforts, do not spam your anchor text, but if you have the liberty of choosing, make sure that the keywords that you want pages to be assimilated with are there, and the title of the page, and lastly, within the first paragraph of the backlink. You also want people sharing your backlinks on social media and using various keywords within their social media posts.

Having a keyword matrix of each of the pages that what keywords you want focused on helps when you are creating your link building efforts and interlinking to your different pages.