In the very early days of the internet, Google was largely limited to ranking websites for a specific search term based on the frequency of specific words in a website's content. Since this was relatively transparent, websites were able to easily spoof Google by "keyword stuffing" their website content - for example mentioning the word "trainers" far more than was necessary on a page about trainers. Now that Google is far more intelligent at detecting such strategies, websites that do this do not experience any benefit, and will in fact not rank as highly as they would otherwise.
Such has been the improvement in Google's search algorithms over the years, that Google users now expect to find what they are looking for at the first or second website they click on. And, perhaps as a result of the ever increasing use of mobile devices (which may use text-to-speech software to perform verbally-inputted searches), or perhaps because of higher user expectations, Google has noticed an increasing trend towards queries that involve "natural language" instead of specific keywords (a practice called "Semantic Search"). For example, where a user might have previously searched for "yellow trainers red dress good", they might now search for "do yellow trainers go with a red dress?". Starting with their Hummingbird and RankBrain Algorithm Updates, Google aims to interpret the intent of the search term and the context of the website it is ranking when returning search results. In this case, for example, the intent of the person performing the search is clearly not to buy yellow trainers, and the context of a good search result would be a fashion blog.
The same algorithm update was also designed to interpret more alternative meanings and synonyms in search terms, so in the example above, Google may treat searches using the term "sneakers" instead of "trainers" in the same way, but only if it's natural language algorithms interpret the words to have the same contextual meaning. In addition, this update was also designed to use a user's location in a much more useful way. For example, where a user might have previously searched for "best pizza in New York", they might now search for "pizza" and expect Google to not only detect their location when returning search results, but also return results in order of rating.
Whilst little is known about the exact way in which Google's RankBrain algorithm actually works, optimizing your website for it may actually be one of the simplest aspects of Search Engine Optimization. In June 2016 Google's Gary Illyes revealed in a conversation that all you need to do is try to write content that sounds human. "If you try to write like a machine then RankBrain will just get confused and probably just pushes you back," he said. He also added that you should try to read some of your content out loud and can conclude that your website is optimized for RankBrain if people think you sound conversational.
If your website has a section dedicated to regularly posting well-written content that is relevant to your website's general subject area, all of these changes are good news for you. If you don't yet have a blog or article section on your website, or you don't publish high quality new content regularly, these changes are likely to have some negative effect on your search engine rankings. The more high quality, relevant content that you can publish to your website, the more chance there is that a page on your website will rank highly for a specific search term by a user with a specific intent.
Last updated: 25th January, 2017