Google has been quietly, for the past few months, interpreting about 15% of its search results a day through its new machine-learning artificial intelligence ranking factors.  Nicknamed “RankBrain”, this part of the algorithm from Google interprets what the user’s intent is when making a search query based on not only the keyword, but a set of relationships that they keyword is a part of, as humans do in natural conversation.

RankBrain is the next evolution of what Google was/is accomplishing with the Hummingbird release.  According to Google Research scientist Greg Corrado, RankBrain has already become the third-most important signal contributing to the result of a query.  It also seems that Google has invested a lot of time and effort in rolling this out.  They have run tests of the AI versus humans, and the AI would correctly guess the “meaning” of a query 80% of the time versus humans who got the meaning correct only 70% of the time.

So as a small business owner, what does RankBrain actually mean for you? It could mean that the days of trying to get the best “PageRank” (which hasn’t been updated publicly for years) and trying to rank for specific keywords and phrases might be over. Through RankBrain, you could see a page about Bill Clinton show up for a search query such as “Hillary’s husband” without having the keyword Hillary anywhere on the page. A high-functioning and well put together website that conveys what the page is about (Bill Clinton) can now be ranked for key phrases that do not appear on the page at all. And this is what Google has envisioned doing since its conception. Google wants to give  users what they want, regardless of keywords, through an artificial neural network of semantically related terms. They want to provide the best, quickest, easiest way of responding to the searcher’s intent.

What this means for SEO

SEO is going to be much more sophisticated than putting keywords on a page and getting backlinks to it, if your page doesn’t ultimately serve its purpose of providing a user what they want. This means content has to be on point and makes sense. The way you weave this content together is also much more important. Good site architecture, understandable site logic, and speed are going to be paramount once RankBrain really gets going.

This could also mean that, as a small business, you might need help from other sites to get visibility. Relying on other sites for relevant content such as reviews, pictures, directions and citations might be the new norm to get traffic from the more difficult or general search terms. And having a solid basis for your digital presence will also be important for these future ranking signals.

As Google and other search engines get more and more advanced with their ranking signals, small business owners will have to rethink and reinvest in their online digital strategies. RankBrain is probably one of the biggest news stories out of Google since their Hummingbird update and it will only get more and more “intelligent”. Getting a good head start on creating a viable and easily understood website is the top priority for business owners who want to continue to attract customers and business online.