Google has begun promoting a new name for their advanced search technology, which they claim is far superior to prior manually-tuned algorithmic approaches to search. They want you to refer to their Artificial Intelligence engine as “RankBrain“. They claim RankBrain has been controlling much of what you experience at Google.com since early in 2015.
We SEO practitioners have clearly noticed the changes, but not everyone agrees that the new RankBrain is better. In fact, most of the people I know have been complaining about a decline in search quality for specific searches since around the same time Google claims to have deployed RankBrain.
What has not changed is the ongoing battle between RankBrain and SEOBrain. That will only heat up now.
SEO is Dead. Long Live SEOBrain
Let’s call the collective innovation efforts of SEOs “SEOBrain“. SEOBrain has been challenging Google since Google incorporated.
Back when Google finally went public on the stock market, the leadership listed SEOBrain as a primary threat to Google’s success as a public offering. That’s right… one of the biggest risks to investing in Google stock was SEOBrain – the practice of strategically publishing in order to rank highly in search engines. SEOBrain was not Artificial Intelligence. SEOBrain was human intelligence, executed by thousands of human brains hell-bent on reaching audiences.
Now that Google has handed TheAlgorithm off to an artificial intelligence engine, we can visualize the battle between SEOBrain and Google’s RankBrain as Man vs. Machine. Can you predict how that will go?
Google Always Loses Against Clever Human SEOs
Throughout search history, Google has lost the battle against human SEO. Google even acknowledged this, when it hired thousands of humans to work on its own anti-SEO team, battling SEO efforts directly mano-a-mano.
Manual intervention, as distasteful as it was to Google’s leadership, was the only way Google could maintain its canned search results in the face of the world’s overwhelming desire for fresher, smarter, more helpful results.
You’ll Get Brand Results, and You’ll Like it!
Google wanted us to accept stale, sanitized, Big Brand results for our search queries, when in reality we all wanted fresh, smart, interesting, and helpful results. Stale corporate pages led to advertising revenue for Google, while innovative and more interesting results were untamed and unpredictable.
As most humans shifted their publishing off of individual websites and onto 3rd party platforms like Facebook and Twitter, Google didn’t know what to do. Those were controlled by competitors.
If Google was to manage risk, and ensure a predictable corporate revenue stream, innovation had to be stopped. Guidelines were written to stifle innovation. An almost mercurial penalty system was developed to constrain innovators, under threat of lost rankings. Blogs were assigned special management, and older, established sites given renewed power to help stabilize volatile SERPs.
Google needed stability, but didn’t know how to get it out of a rapidly-growing and super dynamic web it didn’t own. Enter humans.
Google is an Algorithm… except… Quality Raters! WebSpam Team!
When TheGuidelines and TheAlgorithm couldn’t stop innovation, humans were hired to do it. The WebSpam and QualityRater teams grew thousands strong. Google invested heavily into technology that could be used by humans to judge and penalize web content, to prevent it from ranking. Google decided to sacrifice search quality as needed to protect its advertising-supported business model.
Backed by a coordinated PR effort, these “quality raters” and “spam fighters” diligently clicked through Google’s tasking orders, collectively generating the signals TheAlgorithm needed to slap down web pages that were risky for Google. Even as Google claimed in public that only TheAlgorithm could determine search results, it knew it needed humans to battle the humans behind SEOBrain.
And there are reasons for this. Basically I will sum it up as this : until Google’s search customers are as dumb as machines, human SEOs will always outsmart Google’s AI and win at search. This is because SEOs follow and influence the intent of searchers in the marketplace, while Google’s algorithm (and AI) merely monetizes it.
Go back to business school of you need a refresher on why a sales team has to wait for product R&D to be completed, or why Marketing needs to wait until market shaping is well underway.
My Bet is on SEOBrain
I’ll put my chips on SEOBrain for the win, especially as RankBrain is given more and more influence over the Google SERPs. My team is already being forced to Page 2 of Google SERPs for most of our commercial research queries. Google is not delivering reasonable results sets on Page 1. And one thing we know for sure… the market influencers.. the people who search and then influence consumers with their publications or talks or leadership, will search when they don’t find what they want or need, even if it means clicking to Page 2 (or using another tool).
You can fool the masses for a while, to get your ad dollars, but you can’t suppress the power behind the markets. Cashing in on brands will get Google rich, but it will kill those brands much more quickly than they can be built or restored.
Fools Watch the Rising Tides while Leaders Predict the Floods
The currents of insider knowledge, empowered by specialty product development and increasingly valuable personal experience with those products, are noticeable now and growing fast. SEOBrain will dominate RankBrain for as long as Google search is considered essential by the valuable users.