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SEO and AI: What You Don’t Know Can Hurt You

Jul 20, 2016
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SEO and Artificial IntelligenceThe SEO world is changing. For those who have been in the industry for anything length of time, this is nothing new. Except this time, we have been thrown a curve ball. Instead of a massive update to the algorithm, Google verified in October of 2015 that it is now using artificial intelligence (AI) to help deliver more accurate and contextualized results. RankBrain, as the AI technology has been named, is a machine learning software that can make a guess as to what words or phrases might have a similar meaning and filter the results accordingly, making it more effective at handling never-before-seen search queries. Clearly this move is to help ensure the users get the best results in fewer searches. But what does this all mean for SEO and businesses who rely heavily on search? 
According to Google, RankBrain is know the 3rd most important ranking factor. Google handles more than 3.5 billion searches per a day. What’s even more impressive is that 15% of those searches are queries that have never been searched before. Being the world's largest information gateway, Google has and feels the responsibility to deliver the most relevant results. They have earned their place as "King of Search" for this very reason. To better handle the 6,000 unique search queries a second, the team at Google has harnessed the power of machine learning. So before we get into the SEO implications, let’s dive a little bit deeper into RankBrain and AI. 

Breaking Down AI

According to an article by TechCrunch, there are typically 3 classifications of artificial intelligence.
  • Artificial Narrow Intelligence (ANI): This is like AI for one particular thing (e.g. beating the world champion in chess).
  • Artificial General Intelligence (AGI): This is when the AI can perform all things. Once an AI can perform like a human, we consider it AGI.
  • Artificial Superintelligence (ASI): AI on a much higher level for all things (e.g. beyond the capabilities of a single human).
RankBrain falls under the ANI category of artificial intelligence. ANI has actually been around for quite some time. This is the same technology used in email spam filters, IBM’s Watson, and Amazon's “recommended for you” feature. RankBrain’s strategy to deliver the most relevant results uses what experts in the AI community refer to as “back propagation technique.” This term has been rebranded into what we now call, “Deep Learning."

So What is “Deep Learning"

Terms like AI, Deep Learning and RankBrain can really mess with your head, if you let them. But the better you understand what Google is trying to do and the technology they are using, the less scary all of this really is. "Deep Learning” is a supervised learning method whereby a machine is given information where it can then learn to associate the “input” with the desired “output.”  An example would be a simple classification task, where the input is an image of an animal, and the correct output would be the name of the animal. The key to all of this is that the process is supervised by humans. While RankBrain will do the hard work of classification and association, there are still humans involved in the process to make sure everything is running as smoothly as possible. So down worry, there will be no Terminator take over here. 

How Will this Impact SEO

The great news is we know the top 3 ranking factors. Back in March of 2016 during  Q&A with Google, Andrey Lipattsev, a Search Quality Senior Strategist at Google, disclosed all 3:
  1. Links
  2. Content
  3. RankBrain
So what does this actually mean? Well for one, the basics of SEO are still in place. Create good content that generates links and you have a better shot at out ranking someone who does neither. And second, Google is not just handing over the most important aspect of their business to robots. Whenever news like this breaks people panic. “Experts” rush to create content and exploit the panic to gain traffic and revenue. The truth is, as RankBrain rolls out, we will just have to wait and see what the impact truly is. My guess, over time more and more of the search results will be run through RankBrain, but that's just a guess. Instead of speculation of what could happen, why not focus on what you can do now.

Next Steps

In all reality the Google search algorithm is always changing. Estimates are that the algorithm changes 500-600 times per a year. What's more important to grasp is that each term and industry are subject to different ranking rules and search quality guidelines. So as SEOs we need to be proactive in our approach and strategy, instead of reactive to changes Google makes, many of which we are completely unaware. 
Here is what I recommend. If you are going to obsess over something, obsess over creating good content that earn shares and links. Obsess over creating connections with others in your niche or related niches and do some cross-marketing. Obsess about how to be more human in your link-building process. All of these things have one important thing in common, you have control over them. Whereas, you don't have control over algorithm updates, RankBrain and whatever else Google puts out. 
I’ll leave you with this last thought. 
“You can't always control circumstances. However, you can always control your attitude, approach, and response. Your options are to complain or to look ahead and figure out how to make the situation better.”
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Ryan Shelley, CPBI

By Ryan Shelley, CPBI

Ryan is passionate about helping companies make a more personal connection online with their customers and prospects. He is a regular contributor to Search Engine Land, the largest and most popular SEO news site on the web. His works have also been featured on the HubSpot Blog, Business2Community and by LinkedIn Marketing Solutions.

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