7 ways to write for RankBrain (and why you should freak out a bit)

RankBrain is Google’s new AI tool that’s already shaking things up in SEO land. In this article, you’ll learn how it works, and the seven things you should be doing to write for Rankbrain so you stay top of the rankings. 

More humany, less roboty

Clever ol’ RankBrain. Slotted into the Hummingbird algorithm, it’s rocketed to number three in the “How much does this affect your rankings?” stakes. The only things that impact on your ranking more are your links and your content. That’s huge.

If you’ve spent the last decade trying to game Google into moving your web pages up the rankings, you’re in for a bit of a rough ride. To write for RankBrain, you’ll probably need to revisit a lot of what you’ve been doing, tweak headlines and rework content. Good news? It’s going to make your life a bit easier from here on. Maybe. Probably. Either way, here’s the low down.


 RankBrain sorts search resultsRankBrain AI smarts for SEO

But wait, isn’t that what Google has always done? Sure, but RankBrain does it in a more humany way. It can figure out what you actually mean by your search, rather than just matching up keywords.

For example, if you search for Ivanka Trump husband, old Google would probably deliver you a bunch of pages where the words ‘Ivanka’, ‘Trump’ and ‘husband’ appeared close together – maybe buried in news reports about appearances they made together, or in Trump’s bio.

RankBrain can work out that you’re actually looking for information on Jared Kushner, even though neither of those words appeared in your search.

That’s because RankBrain watches what other users have been doing on similar searches. It sees that people who search ‘Mila Kunis Husband’ end up on pages about Ashton Kutcher, for example, and applies that to your Ivanka Trump search.

Better at dealing with weird searches

15% of things typed into Google are totally new – they’re unusual collections of words that old Google doesn’t really know what to do with. It’d just give it a good crack by matching your search to words it finds on a page. RankBrain does better – it can work out what you mean conceptually, so it doesn’t have to just match search terms to keywords in a webpage.

Improves algorithms by creeping on humans 

RankBrain can also tweak things to improve the algorithms, by looking at how people interact with a search result. It’ll tweak up and down how important things like backlinks are, and how long or fresh your content is, and then decide if that made things better. If it did, the tweak stays for the next searcher. How does it decide if a search result is improved? Again, by snooping – if a bunch of people click on a page, and then spend lots of time there, that page moves up. But if people open a page and then go straight back out, that page gets a drop next time.

This is all actually a good thing. It means those ‘rules’ SEO guys keep telling you about can now be (mostly) safely ignored. Because the better Google gets, the more you can just refocus on delivering value to your audience. That’s what will get you the long-term SEO juice – gaming the algorithms might give you a little boost at first, but one tweak to the way Google works, and your content could take a dive in the future.


SEO for RankBrain How To

Stop gaming the system and start delivering value

Yes, ignore the SEO hacks that are trying to game the system, but SEO best-practice is actually an amazing guide for how best to serve your reader. The clever clogs at Google have worked out what makes websites, web pages and content really useful and interesting to readers. So, understanding what RankBrain (and Google) is looking for is a good guide to that. Here are some of the things to do:

1. Useful keywords in useful placesWrite for RankBrain

This is SEO 101 of course, but I put it in here because I want you to think about keywords differently. Keywords aren’t just an SEO thing – they’re a human thing. We use keywords every day. For example, if you’re looking for information on puppy training, your brain will be unconsciously more alert to words like ‘puppy training’, ‘puppy school’ or ‘doggy obedience classes’. That makes sense. Google has handily shown us where we can put these keywords to best show our readers that they’re in the right place.

These are:

  • Page headline, aka the H1 tag. 
  • Body copy
  • Bolded in subheads or a key sentence
  • Alt attributes of images
  • URL and permalinks/slugs
  • Meta description and page title
  • Links to your page

2. No more long-tail keywords

There’s no point in building hundreds of pages optimised for slightly different keywords, eg. ‘Best digital copywriter in Auckland Central’ and ‘Best CBD Auckland digital copywriter’. RankBrain is smart. It knows what you’re playing at. Focus on your reader – one, really awesome, entertaining and/or useful page is way more helpful than a hundred mediocre pages that are almost identical.

3. Make people feel something

Your headline must be descriptive, but it should also hit your readers right in the feels. Get into the heads of your audience and you’ll get more clicks – and more shares, too. That’s basic marketing 101 stuff and when you write for RankBrain, it’s gold.
Here’s what I mean:

SEO Marketing – 2018 Guide

This does a good job of describing the content, but it’s kind of blah. Boost the emotion by thinking about what really matters to your audience. 
Here are some ways you could do that (remember you still need keywords in there so your audience knows they’re in the right place).

Why Your SEO Marketing Guy is Terrified (and Why It’s Good News)

5 Things Your Competitors Still Aren’t Doing (SEO Marketing Guide)

But which one is the best? That all depends on your target readers and the things that motivate them.

4. Give them hard facts

Having numbers in your posts is a good thing – people like numbers and will click on posts with numbery headlines. Plenty of studies back that up, but it’s something marketers have known forever. Numbers imply there are hard facts in your article, and that you’re offering credible information. How do you get numbers in there? Well, the best is if you have real data to share, like:

Want 30% more clicks? Put a number in your headline.

But honestly, we humans are easy to sway. ANY number will do really (especially the number 10, apparently) which is why I squeezed a number into the headline of this article.

5. Make it clear that you have what the reader wants

One big indicator to RankBrain is how people behave after they’ve clicked onto your site. Do they click straight off? That’s a massive downer, literally. Even if your content is awesome, you need to convince people of that fast. They’re not going to bother working it out for themselves. So here are a couple of ways to do that:

  • Keep your best content right up top – don’t make people scroll past massive banner images.
  • Start with a little blurb – sell people on the article in a couple of sentences.

6. Keep people reading

RankBrain lurves a page that readers lurve spending time on. How do you do that? Simple, really:

  • Write things worth reading.
  • Make it in-depth stuff so people don’t go looking for more elsewhere.

That means you should stop trying to create cute, snippety articles, and go for longer, meatier pieces that really deliver on what people need and want.

7. Chunk your content up

People don’t like reading walls of text, so breaking things up will make your text easier to read. The bonus is that you’ll also naturally create more hotspots, where your keywords will mean more to Google (that’s not a coincidence). On a basic level, that means lots of good subheads and bullet points. But if you’re really fancy, get going with infographics, images and call-out boxes – all winners with your reader, and therefore a winner when writing for RankBrain.

Write for RankBrain by writing for readers

So stop thinking about how to write for RankBrain and focus more on your reader. This is good news – your life’s getting easier. Google’s getting better (with the help of RankBrain) so you can care less about what it’s doing. You’re both on the same team – so, create content that’s emotionally compelling and comprehensive, and fulfils a need, and then break it up with stuff people want to look at.

Essentially, now’s the time to start playing the game the right way – thinking more about our readers than we do about Google.


Wouldn’t you just rather get someone else to create text that speaks to readers (and Google, too, obviously)? That’s us! Call us now on 09 379 6127  or flick us an email here. 

Helen Steemson

The lead copy writer and creative director at Words for Breakfast. She spends much of her time working with the copy writing team across a variety of projects.