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Left Brain, Right Brain, RankBrain

Every day some 15-20% of search requests made on Google are not recognized by the search engine. Google For Work president Amit Singh, who has long professed that search could be more intelligent, last week did something to prove it. Machine intelligence in the form of an upgrade called RankBrain was added to the Hummingbird search algorithm, and search experts say the improvement has the potential to help marketers spread their wings and fly.

“Because search is imperfect, we as marketers have to do some work to point people to what we want them to see. Say you’re a credit card company and you have a great Web page on managing accounts. If someone inputs ‘plastic money’ into their search, they’re not going to end up on your site unless you put those words in your content,” says Sastry Rachakonda, CEO of digital agency iQuanti. “But if RankBrain can figure out that ‘plastic money’ equates to credit cards, you don’t have to account for that and marketers can be as creative and original as they want to be with their content.”

Jamey Barlow, SEO team director at Merkle/RKG, agrees that RankBrain could prove a liberating factor for marketers exploring new, more imaginative areas of content. “It’s definitely going to make it easier for a search engine to return the right results,” he says. “It takes us a step further away from the old guard method of probing keyword density. We’re still going to do keyword research about what people are looking for, but we’ll be creating content for users and not for search engines.”

At the same time, RankBrain could serve to hold lesser players and fraudsters at bay. “It’ll make it harder for the black hats to gum up the system,” Barlow says.

Hummingbird improved on Google’s semantic search system that recognizes a word, assumes context, and begins auto-completing possibilities for searchers. “RankBrain now comes in with machine learning that looks at those 15 to 20 percent of new searches at a more sophisticated level and makes more intelligent decisions about their context,” says Rachakonda. “Every day the Google search engine is 15 to 20 percent smarter than it was the day before.”

That should increase competition for astute marketers, however, since Hummingbird will now be able to recognize other companies in their categories that aren’t as sharp at search engine optimization. “So now they won’t just be competing with other good SEO companies,” observes Rachakonda, “and what they’ll be forced to do is what they should have been doing in the first place: create really good content.”

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