Google RankBrain

What Google RankBrain means for Link Buildinggoogle rankbrain

For many years, link building has been a core part of search engine optimization. It may have been eclipsed in the recent past by content marketing, but it's still a fundamental part of smart optimization. A few months ago, Google unveiled RankBrain, the machine learning system it's been using to help answer natural language search queries. Does this mean that building links is no longer an important part of improving your site's search engine performance? Absolutely not!


RankBrain Defined

RankBrain is an artificial intelligence program that's used to assess relevance when Google users enter search queries that the engine hasn't encountered before. It's powered by an immense machine learning system that's been working hard at analyzing the semantic context of individual web pages and cataloging links between different terms that frequently show up together. This allows it to "connect the dots" when presented with an unfamiliar query and link a user to content that he or she will find relevant.

You should be aware that although certain marketers and journalists refer to RankBrain as an algorithm (and it qualifies as one in the most technical sense), Rankbrain is just one part of Google's very complex ranking algorithm. While it's led to improved search results for many of the hardest search queries, it hasn't supplanted Google's other methods for judging page relevance. This means that tried-and-true SEO strategies like building good links still have a role to play.


RankBrain's Current Role Vs. The Future

As noted above, right now RankBrain is just one part of Google's large algorithm (currently named "Hummingbird"). Marketers who are looking to the future are worried that that might change; they see a day when Google names RankBrain as the primary - then possibly the only - signal used when judging a page's relevance to a search query. This is a frightening prospect because information about the inner workings of RankBrain is still extremely scanty.

Fortunately, it's unlikely that RankBrain is going to demolish search engine optimization as we know it. It seems most likely that in the future RankBrain will become a machine filter that accumulates and balances the signals used to assess relevance. Although it's difficult to say exactly how that balance will be achieved, it's much easier to predict that the signals themselves - including links - aren't going to change that much.


Why Links Still Matter

As a learning program, RankBrain requires tremendous amounts of content to pick out the semantic links it uses to understand subtle relationships between different terms. This means that it's looking at hundreds if not thousands of pages when it assembles an idea of what information will be most helpful to a Google User. The wider a net you cast, the better your chances of being picked up in this broad semantic search.

In fact, link building may well be more important in light of what's been revealed about RankBrain so far. Because RankBrain prefers to draw logical conclusions about a given term's relevance based on pages that are already known to be relevant, it pays big dividends to establish quality links on pages that deliver useful information themselves.


Cultivating The Unique

"Quality over quantity" has been the mantra of effective and ethical link building for many years now. With Google's RankBrain entering the picture, this becomes truer than ever before. If you want to increase your relevance and improve your page's search engine performance, links to and from other pages that perform well are positively vital.

How do you develop these kinds of top quality links? The answer lies in providing content that is not just useful but also unique. If you answer a question or perform a service and do it better than anyone else, the odds are much better that relevant peers in your niche will sit up and take notice. That translates into plenty of link attention and higher rankings on the results pages.


Auditing Backlinks

As online marketers adjust to living in the world of RankBrain, a renewed spate of interest in link building seems extremely likely. This is why you need a linking strategy that's defensive as well as active. Take the time to check the links coming into your site and look for those coming from disreputable sources. While it's not possible to make this process entirely comprehensive, the worst offenders are relatively easy to spot and purge.

This is more of a sound strategy for link building in general rather than a specific response to RankBrain, but it's definitely a necessity if you want to maximize your site's search engine performance. Even if Google chooses to de-emphasize the importance of links as relevance signals in the future, you still want to avoid guilt by association whenever possible.


Hunting Down Quality Links

Basically, the announcement of RankBrain should prompt most marketers to reevaluate and reenergize their link building efforts, not replace them completely. The same increased interest in quality and relevance that has swept through content creation in the past few years should be applied to link building. The best way to cultivate valuable links is to offer up content that's worth linking to.

This doesn't mean that you should simply throw your pages out into the web and pray for attention from influential tastemakers, though! Active solicitation of links remains a viable (if not vital) part of the link building game. Today it's a more involved process than ever, though. You'll need to prepare for thorough investigation if you want the sort of premium links you crave. It's not enough to provide one useful, relevant, and unique item; you need to make sure that the rest of your site is as worthy as the page you're soliciting links for. 

The advent of Google's RankBrain is an evolutionary change in the way search works rather than a revolutionary one. It doesn't mean that you need an all-new SEO strategy; it just serves as a wake-up call to remind you to keep your current efforts up-to-date. Regardless of the tools they use, the search engines are getting better and better at judging relevance. That means that you want to strive to be truly relevant if you want to get the attention you deserve.