RankBrain, Voice Search and The New Era of User Intent

By: Krista LaRiviere on February 17, 2017 Categories: Mintent, SEO

If you’ve been in digital marketing for any length of time, you know the digital landscape quickly and constantly changes to meet the needs its audience. This constant evolution shapes the way we interact and engage with content found online.

Over the last two years, we’ve seen a significant shift towards the demand for mobile-friendly content, starting with Mobilegeddon which began early in 2015. Since then, we’ve seen other changes, such as Google RankBrain, which signalled the necessity to move from using single keywords to long-tail keywords and looking at user intent as a way of optimizing content.

These changes, though they may not seem to directly correlate with one another, are in fact, leading up Google’s next phase of user experience and search. This is where Google will leave its domain as part of the Interweb and become an even bigger part of your day-to-day routine, acting as your personal assistant. Soon, if you want something, you will simply have to ask for it.

I know what you’re thinking; voice search isn’t new. It has been around for a while (just think of Siri), but the stats don’t lie; voice search is becoming more popular and with the accuracy of results getting better and better every year, we predict this is the year of voice search.

Check the stats for yourself. According to Comscore, 40% of adults now use voice search at least once per day. That’s 35x more queries in 2016 than there were in 2008 (Search Engine Watch). What’s even more impressive is according to MindMeld, 60% of people using voice search have started to do so in the last year. Of those people, 41% only started using it in the last six months.

Here are two other stats to consider:

  • “25% of 16-24s use voice search on mobile” via Global Web Index
  • “50% of all searches will be voice searches by 2020” according to Comscore

This means, according to the numbers, voice search isn’t just on the rise, it’s becoming a predominant trend for 2017.

Picture this. You’re walking downtown late at night when out of nowhere your stomach starts growling. Great! Now what? This is where voice search saves you! Using your phone, you’re able to locate a pizza place around the next corner with nothing but a few spoken words.

Ok, but how does Google’s algorithm decipher what the user is looking for and deliver results? Let’s break it down further.


RankBrain is a machine-learning, artificial intelligence system Google uses to help process some of its search results. Launched early in 2015, RankBrain is used globally and its primary purpose is to help refine complex queries processed by the search giant to find the most relevant pages for particular searches. So, depending on what you’re searching for, if the algorithm can’t find the exact phrase, it uses its artificial intelligence system to figure it out and give you the best search results.

When it comes to ranking pages, RankBrian does help, but this isn’t the only factor behind Google’s overall search algorithm. Having said this, it is the third most important rank factor in the Hummingbird algorithm and is only going to increase its influence as time goes on.

How to rank for Google RankBrain and Voice Search?

Now that you know how it works, what does this mean for digital marketers? It means we need to adapt to a new way of looking at our online content and how to optimize each piece.

RankBrain looks for new and unknown content queries to find the best results for the end-user. The following are the main ways to help optimize your content to be found through voice search:

Make sure it’s clear what your content is about: Make it easy for search engines to quickly identify the focus of your content.

Make sure your content is useful and relevant: Be sure to cover the entire topic you’re talking about and to keep your audience in mind. Make sure what you’re writing is of high quality and answers a specific pain point or question your audience has.

Focus on user intent and long-tail keywords: Try to stay away from using very specific keywords. Focus more on natural long-tail keywords and the range of unique phrases/questions your audience will use to find your content.

Embrace The Search Machine

Try to keep the following idea in mind; machine learning is our friend, not our competition. Remember, RankBrain uses data and search queries to learn the best search results for the end-user. The more we focus on the intent of our audience and data-driven insights, the easier it will be for us to co-exist and develop content tailored to machine learning.

Next Steps

You should always be refining and improving the content placed on your website. You should constantly be looking at how your content is performing and how people are engaging with it. Analyze why the content was successful or why it wasn’t. Look at how people are finding your content and start optimizing it for those phrases.

When you start to look at the data and analyze your content from a human perspective, you will begin to identify the natural phrases someone will use to search through voice commands, which will in turn enable you to start optimizing and maximizing your chances of being found through RankBrain.

Voice search is still relatively new and, while growing, many haven’t taken the opportunity to consistently use this search feature. This leads to more complex interpretations for search engines. By focusing your content and optimization on your end user and how they would naturally find your content, you shouldn’t have any trouble ranking in the new world of voice search and machine learning.

Learn more about Voice Search and Paid Marketing on our upcoming joint webinar with Acquisio. 

gShift and Acquisio Webinar


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