How Is Machine Learning Affecting SEO?


There are claims that SEO isn’t about keywords and links anymore. Then what is it about?

Back in 2008, Google engineers had a search engine algorithm, a manually crafted one, and which site would rank where on what keyword was easily predictable. But with the onset of Hummingbird, it has got too confusing for the SEOs to figure out what makes a site rank better because it isn’t just keywords and it isn’t just the links.

The most powerful search engine, Google, refrained from using a technology called ‘machine learning’ but by 2012, Google was using machine learning to predict ad CTRs and in image recognition. And now, Googe openly accepts that RankBrain (a machine learning program) is the third most important SEO ranking factor.

After Hummingbird, the driving factors towards good rankings rely heavily on machine learning. So, what is machine learning?

What exactly is machine learning in SEO context?

There are ‘adaptable machines’ that learn on their own by their careful evaluation of human behavior. They learn from the patterns and build on themselves. There’s no explicit programming involved during the process, and ultimately, we have a machine that knows a lot about particular human behavior but what it knows and how it knows is all packed up in an impenetrable black box.

The concept is now being used everywhere. Self-driving cars are an outcome of this technology. Facebook uses machine learning. Its algorithm notices every single click and interaction of a user on the platform and shows the updates according to that behavior.

RankBrain – Google’s biggest bet at using machine learning for SEO?

RankBrain by Google is also based on machine learning. But what behavior does it notice? Is it the rankings and keywords? Not at all.

SEO has always been about the searchers. We must not forget that Google is also a company that’s running the marathon of generating profits. To exist as a profitable business, Google has to fulfill the requirements of searchers and ensure that the searchers are fully satisfied with what they find.

Hence, it doesn’t come as a shock that RankBrain is all about noticing search behavior and catering to the searches in the best possible manner. The technology adapts and optimizes the search engine results.

But what’s still unbelievable for SEOs around the globe is that it develops every day. Unlike previous algorithms updates that used to get rolled out on specific dates and showed their effects then onwards, RankBrain changes every day to improve search. It’s all real-time now.

Why is it that the effect of this significant shift isn’t profound at present? It’s because it will take time for this artificial Intelligence to build and gather more data on user behavior. With every chunk of information it learns, things change. The only static thing in the world of search engines will remain how searches are done. Everything else is about to change or is changing already.

How is machine learning affecting SEO?

Let’s rephrase this now – how is RankBrain affecting SEO? The learning system is rapidly growing and taking over all other search engine algorithms. It was rolled out in early 2015, and at that time, it hardly affected search engine rankings but gradually, emerged into the 3rd top most ranking signal. The effects will get more profound and here’s how it is changing the SEO world.

1. Getting to the first page doesn’t matter anymore

Remember the famous saying that if you want to bury a dead body, you should do it 'on the 2nd page of search results'? It’s going to change, for even all the results on page 1 will not be relevant. Only the first three organic results will matter in future.

The onset of this is obvious for with the betterment of search results, the objective of search will be accomplished within first three links only. The searcher wouldn’t need to click on the fourth link and hence, you will find the dead bodies buried even on page 1.

2. Much tougher competition

The predictions are from early 2015, but the SEOs have started realizing this just now. If you want to outrank your content from the competitor, you have to make it ten times better than it. A lot of SEOs that resorted to tell-tales think it’s about the length. Being ten times better doesn’t mean being ten times longer. Even though longer and in-depth content is being prioritized, this is a different thing.

The content has to be ten times better in its structure, usability, and problem solving ability. Searches are all about problem-solving, and if your content solves the problem for the searcher who searches with a particular keyword, then it’s good. Else, you need to improve.

3. No spam forever

There have been tons of articles about the demise of black-hat SEO, but smart people always find a way to outsmart the machine algorithms. But artificial intelligence is different for it maybe a computer, but it will possess the human understanding. It will know what a searcher wants and prefers and it will serve exactly that. So, whatever tactic you have will fail as the RankBrain gets better day by day. Only the pages that will truly possess the quality and problem-solving ability will rank higher.

4. You can still manipulate RankBrain

A lot of people call the growth of this AI as the death of SEOs. But then they always say it during the launch of every Google’s algorithm. Even with all this uncertainty of trying to understand the black box, you can affect how RankBrain perceives you. You need ways to tell it you’re an authority figure, and good SEOs always have plenty of ways to say that to any algorithm – be it a manually coded one or a machine learning one.

Finally, what do you need to do now? Begin by improving your content and making it ten times better. Then start working on how to become a real authority figure that can connect with the relevant audience.