RankBrain is the term used internally at Google to describe the machine learning algorithm that assists its overall search engine ranking algorithm. It was first announced in October of 2015.
RankBrain is not the entirety of the “algorithm”, but is only one factor. It is, however, one of the top 3 factors, along with “Content” and “Link”, as confirmed by Andre Lipattsev recently.
How does it work?
As stated previously RankBrain is a machine learning algorithm. Machine learning is a branch of artificial intelligence in which an algorithm learns on its own, by using iteratively making predictions and comparing those predictions to the truth.
In the case of RankBrain, it works to predict which of the 200+ ranking factors are most important for a given search result, and instructs the core algorithm to weigh those factors accordingly.
In this way, it has not replaced the algorithms classic “factors” that have driven SEO and search rankings since the beginning, but it does add a layer of complexity over them.
Has SEO Changed?
Not really, despite the hubbub and anxiety around such a large scale algorithm change, the RankBrain hasn’t drawn the ire and cries from the SEO community that other updates, such as Penguin or Panda, had previously.
How Should be React?
For very tactical and technical SEOs that are concerned with every factor, it may be necessary to pay closer attention to how different niches and keywords react when it comes to ranking factors.
For those that aren’t concerned with the specifics, you can go on producing quality content and getting quality exposure and publicity for your web properties, as RankBrain has not replaced the fundamentals when it comes to SEO (at least not yet).
What does the Future Hold?
We obviously don’t know for sure, but it’s likely that this is only the beginning when it comes to artificial intelligence powering SEO (along with many other aspects of technology).
For those that are nervous, you can take comfort in the fact that online publishing hasn’t quite changed much in the past 20 years. Quality content and gets popular on the web will always have the potential of performing highly in search engines, no matter the intricacies and changes in the underlying rank factors.