It has come to the attention of digital marketers that Google have ventured even further into the world of tomorrow with their latest updates to how search engine optimisation works. Utilising artificial intelligence and machine learning, the new system is called RankBrain and might be about to change SEO completely.

I interviewed Owen Radford, Online Marketing Manager here at Elementary Digital to get the lowdown.

JH: So what exactly is RankBrain? Give us a primer.

OR: RankBrain is the name for the artificial intelligence system that Google are using to process search engine results. It works using machine learning, where a computer teaches itself as opposed to being programmed to do so by humans. RankBrain helps to interpret the queries that people use when looking for something to ensure that the results match the intention, using all the different search queries that people put in, to understand patterns and continuously deliver better results.

Don’t worry too much though – we’re not about to enter a dystopian future just yet. A true Turing test passing AI is still the stuff of sci-fi films and literature. Skynet has not been turned on.

JH: Is RankBrain in charge of all the search engine results pages then?

OR: SEO isn’t quite under the remit of the robots just yet. RankBrain is included as part of the overall algorithm that controls where websites and pages appear in the search results. This algorithm is called Hummingbird and if you talk to SEO experts, this is because it’s quick, flighty and excellent at spearing fish, if fish were the best results.

If Hummingbird is the overall name, there are lots of parts to it. You’ve no doubt read articles about Pigeon, Panda, Penguin and Pirate. These are all different components of the algorithm designed to work on different aspects of the search engine results, such as making sure that there’s no spam included, helping to ensure that people receive local results based on their location and whether they are on mobile or not, or dealing with the blast amounts of copyright infringement going on online.

JH: What’s PageRank then? I’m confused…

OR: PageRank was the name of the points system that gave pages ratings based on the number of pages that link to them. I can see why you’d be confused because PageRank was the first part of Google’s algorithm that had a moniker, but it’s not the name of the algorithm itself.

JH: So how many different parts are there to the algorithm? It sounds like there’s a lot.

OR: There really is. In fact, it’s over 200 major signals and then up to 10,000 sub signals. It’s very very complicated. Search Engine Land have an ace Periodic Table Of SEO Success Factors if you want to know more.

JH: So where does RankBrain sit on this list?

OR: According to Google, RankBrain has risen to be one of the top most important signals Google uses to work out where pages should appear. The other two most important are links and content.

If you want to know more, visit this blog from Marketing Land.