All about the new Google RankBrain algorithm

on Tuesday 28 June 2016
Recently, news emerged that Google was using a machine-learning artificial intelligence system called “RankBrain” to help sort through its search results. Wondering how that works and fits in with Google’s overall ranking system? Here’s what we know about RankBrain.

The information covered below comes from three original sources and has been updated over time, with notes where updates have happened. Here are those sources:

First is the Bloomberg story that broke the news about RankBrain yesterday (See also our write-up of it). Second, additional information that Google has now provided directly to Search Engine Land. Third, our own knowledge and best assumptions in places where Google isn’t providing answers. We’ll make clear where these sources are used, when deemed necessary, apart from general background information.

What is RankBrain?

RankBrain is a machine learning artificial intelligence system, the use of which by Google was confirmed on 26 October 2015. It helps Google to process search results and provide more relevant search results for users.

What is machine learning?

Machine learning is where a computer teaches itself how to do something, rather than being taught by humans or following detailed programming.

What is artificial intelligence?

True artificial intelligence, or AI for short, is where a computer can be as smart as a human being, at least in the sense of acquiring knowledge both from being taught and from building on what it knows and making new connections.

True AI exists only in science fiction novels, of course. In practice, AI is used to refer to computer systems that are designed to learn and make connections.

How’s AI different from machine learning? In terms of RankBrain, it seems to us they’re fairly synonymous. You may hear them both used interchangeably, or you may hear machine learning used to describe the type of artificial intelligence approach being employed.

So RankBrain is the new way Google ranks search results?

No. RankBrain is part of Google’s overall search “algorithm,” a computer program that’s used to sort through the billions of pages it knows about and find the ones deemed most relevant for particular queries.

So RankBrain is part of Google’s Hummingbird search algorithm?

That’s our understanding. Hummingbird is the overall search algorithm, just like a car has an overall engine in it. The engine itself may be made up of various parts, such as an oil filter, a fuel pump, a radiator and so on. In the same way, Hummingbird encompasses various parts, with RankBrain being one of the newest.

In particular, we know RankBrain is part of the overall Hummingbird algorithm because the Bloomberg article makes clear that RankBrain doesn’t handle all searches, as only the overall algorithm would.

Hummingbird also contains other parts with names familiar to those in the SEO space, such as Panda, Penguin and Payday designed to fight spam, Pigeon designed to improve local results, Top Heavy designed to demote ad-heavy pages, Mobile Friendly designed to reward mobile-friendly pages and Pirate designed to fight copyright infringement.

RankBrain is the third-most important signal?

That’s right. From out of nowhere, this new system has become what Google says is the third-most important factor for ranking webpages. From the Bloomberg article:RankBrain is one of the “hundreds” of signals that go into an algorithm that determines what results appear on a Google search page and where they are ranked, Corrado said. In the few months it has been deployed, RankBrain has become the third-most important signal contributing to the result of a search query, he said.

What exactly does RankBrain do?

Used as a way to interpret the searches that people submit to find pages that might not have the exact words that were searched for.

Didn’t Google already have ways to find pages beyond the exact query entered?

Yes, Google has found pages beyond the exact terms someone enters for a very long time. For example, years and years ago, if you’d entered something like “shoe,” Google might not have found pages that said “shoes,” because those are technically two different words. But “stemming” allowed Google to get smarter, to understand that shoes is a variation of shoe, just like “running” is a variation of “run.”

Google also got synonym smarts, so that if you searched for “sneakers,” it might understand that you also meant “running shoes.” It even gained some conceptual smarts, to understand that there are pages about “Apple” the technology company versus “apple” the fruit.

How’s RankBrain helping refine queries?

The methods Google already uses to refine queries generally all flow back to some human being somewhere doing work, either having created stemming lists or synonym lists or making database connections between things. Sure, there’s some automation involved. But largely, it depends on human work.

The problem is that Google processes three billion searches per day. In 2007, Google said that 20 percent to 25 percent of those queries had never been seen before. In 2013, it brought that number down to 15 percent, which was used again in yesterday’s Bloomberg article and which Google reconfirmed to us. But 15 percent of three billion is still a huge number of queries never entered by any human searcher - 450 million per day.

Among those can be complex, multi-word queries, also called “long-tail” queries. RankBrain is designed to help better interpret those queries and effectively translate them, behind the scenes in a way, to find the best pages for the searcher.

As Google told us, it can see patterns between seemingly unconnected complex searches to understand how they’re actually similar to each other. This learning, in turn, allows it to better understand future complex searches and whether they’re related to particular topics. Most important, from what Google told us, it can then associate these groups of searches with results that it thinks searchers will like the most.

Google didn’t provide examples of groups of searches or give details on how RankBrain guesses at what are the best pages. But the latter is probably because if it can translate an ambiguous search into something more specific, it can then bring back better answers.

Does RankBrain really help?

Despite my two examples above being less than compelling as testimony to the greatness of RankBrain, I really do believe that it probably is making a big impact, as Google is claiming. The company is fairly conservative with what goes into its ranking algorithm. It does small tests all the time. But it only launches big changes when it has a great degree of confidence.

Integrating RankBrain, to the degree that it’s supposedly the third-most important signal, is a huge change. It’s not one that I think Google would do unless it really believed it was helping.

When Did RankBrain start?

Google told us that there was a gradual rollout of RankBrain in early 2015 and that it’s been fully live and global for a few months now.

What queries are impacted?

In October 2015, Google told Bloomberg that a “very large fraction” of the 15 percent of queries it normally never sees before were processed by RankBrain. In short, 15 percent or less.
In June 2016, news emerged that RankBrain was being used for every query that Google handles.

NOTE: This story has been revised from when it was originally published in October 2015 to reflect the latest information.(Here on Blog its published for reference only)

SEO is Not Search Engine Manipulation” that Google will ban you for

on Thursday 23 June 2016

SEO not equivalent to “search engine manipulation” 

Google is currently at a legal fight against a publisher that was banned from its search results because of “search engine manipulation” which should not be misconstrued as SEO being as bad, as spam, as something you could get banned for. 

Instead Google has explicitly mentioned that “search engine manipulation” is something the company fights against, might ban anyone for and, importantly, is defined pretty much how many people might define SEO.

Google: SEO is not spam

Given that, “Is Google Trying To Kill SEO,” as the headline of the Entrepreneur article asks? Almost certainly not, as I’ll explain. But let’s start with Google’s official statement that it gave Search Engine Land on this:

While we can’t comment on ongoing litigation, in general, Google supports and encourages SEO practices that are within our guidelines and don’t consider that spam.

Got it? SEO - commonly accepted best practices - isn’t spam. And anyone encountering the newfangled term of “search engine manipulation” should view that, in my opinion, as equating with spam and not SEO.

What is the story behind the term “search engine manipulation” 

The recent legal suit is between Google and e-ventures sites. A statement by Brandon Falls, the Google search quality analyst introduces the term “search engine manipulation” for the first time.

From Falls’ declaration, the first reference to “search engine manipulation” is as follows:

 An important part of providing valuable search results to users is Google’s protection of the integrity of its search results from those who seek to manipulate them for their own gain.

As noted, efforts to subvert or game the process by which search engines rank the relevance of websites are called “webspam” in the search industry.

Such search engine manipulation harms what is most valuable to users about search: the quality (i.e. relevance) of our search results for users.

Accordingly, Google considers search engine manipulation to be extremely serious and expends substantial resources to try to identify and eliminate it. These actions are critical to retain users’ trust in Google’s search results.

The highlighted points above opens with the Google saying the it tries to protect its search results from those who “seek to manipulate them for their own gain.” Now the problem with the above statement is that Google is trying to convey that Anyone doing commonly accepted SEO is doing so in hopes of manipulating the search results for their own gain.In short, Google actively encourages and instructs publishers on how to “manipulate” its search results. While the newly emerged term that Google calls search engine manipulation” is equivalent to spam  does not include accepted SEO.

Now read the next statement by Google that  “Google’s online Webmaster Guidelines include a discussion of “Quality Guidelines.” The Quality Guidelines enumerate numerous manipulation techniques that violate Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.”

In this statement, Google is inherently acknowledging that there are many search engine manipulation techniques but only some violate its guidelines. In other words, not all manipulation is bad and an actionable offense. SEO manipulation, that which is done within its guidelines, should be OK. Outside the guidelines — that’s spam and potentially gets you in trouble.

It’s a pity Google wasn’t much clearer and didn’t stay with the commonly used industry terms out there. As a result, it’s possible for anyone to fear monger or fear that doing accepted SEO might be a bannable offense.

But still I would like to convey that in reality, anyone who stays within Google’s guidelines really should have nothing further to fear, as Google’s own statement today says. In particular, it’s important to note that this declaration introducing “search engine manipulation” as a term was made back in November 2014. It was only just noticed now

This update was first appeared on SEL. 

Embrace the new king of Marketing

on Wednesday 22 June 2016
Content creators ruled and reigned over the marketing and advertising circles for years. But the growth of new media platforms is shifting the power and ad dollars away from content creators to content platform owners. After all, the real value lies in reaching the consumer through the medium and form of his choice. All hail the new king set to reign in the new digital age.

Traditional models of content monetisation such as subscriptions, ticket sales, and license fees used by media companies have been disrupted forever with consumers moving online and demanding access to free online content. While the movement of ad spend from print to online channels has subsidised content costs and helped monetise content, it is yet again threatened with content consumption moving from traditional online media to newer channels offered by internet companies. Ad dollars are following suit proving to be both the biggest disruptor and an opportunity for the industry.

Decelerating content driven growth

“Build it and they come” was the mantra of most media companies in providing good quality content as they expected customers to buy tickets to see movies, subscribe to TV shows, pay affiliate fees to show content, or advertise on the content. This model has stood the test of time and proved to be greatly beneficial to customers over the past few decades in providing quality content at lower and lower costs. As long as ad revenues continued to flow in, media companies could afford to reduce their prices by subsidising it with ad revenues. As long as “content was king”, the advertising spend would follow and continue to fill their coffers up until the new-age customer started viewing content on different media platforms – apps, social media, and peer-to-peer sharing networks. The ad dollars too began shifting to where these customers spend their time and consequently, consume content – the likes of Google, Facebook and their spin offs. The coffers are now running dry.

The numbers speak for themselves:

The ad revenues generated by Google and Facebook already exceed the entire ad spend on TV – and this is without the internet behemoths activating their entire portfolio of media channels (WhatsApp being a case in point).

So why is this happening? And what are media companies doing about it?

Well, not much! Some media companies are imposing punitive price increases on customers who are moving to internet media channels and others are introducing data limits on content consumed. But both these measures are proving to be counter-productive as they drive customers, eventually in greater numbers into the arms of more “flexible” media channels such as apps and social media.

A case in point are the Indian online retailers who realised that they had huge unpaid advertising bills from advertisers who were just not paying up for ads placed on their site. The lack of prepaid ads for smaller advertisers or software to run large ad accounts (like Amazon) led to these gaping holes in their ad revenues. It is this gap that a Google can easily bridge – by providing publishers a safe reliable ad service to receive ads, advertisers an easy-to-use platform to launch their ads, and consumers access to content at a low cost. Media companies are severely restricted by their inability to control these new-age platforms from which customers are now consuming their content. As we now know, the new-age customer spends increasingly larger amounts of time online and demands his content online as well. With 43 percent of his time online spent on search (21 percent) and social media (22 percent), it makes sense for advertisers to spend their ad dollars on Google and Facebook to capture this piece of the customer’s time.
With the above kind of consumer mind share, we foresee that internet companies will morph into advertising firms raking in the ad dollars on different online channels while media companies will struggle with selling content to these internet channel providers.

A new reign and a new strategy

The future of advertising will certainly move online and into the realm of the internet companies. While media companies will continue to be the primary creators and custodians of content, it will certainly not be the king, as most of the media firms are competing for space on the new internet channels by pitching lower quotes. All will need to bow to the new emperor on the block – the internet marketeers. And with the dethroning of content, a new strategy that factors the shift in power and its impact on bottom line will be needed. Being good at creating content is no longer enough, rather how to distribute it on the web.

Credit : This post is first appeared on Forbes Blog

7 Common Hreflang Mistakes

on Saturday 11 June 2016
The Purpose of Hreflang

Hreflang annotations are meant to cross-reference pages that are similar in content, but target different audiences. You can target different audiences with hreflang according to their language and/or their country. This ensures that the correct pages will be shown to the correct users when they search on the versions of Google search that you are targeting.

Here is an example of two hreflang tags that target English speakers in the USA and English speakers in Canada:

<link rel="alternate" hreflang="en-us" href="" />
<link rel="alternate" hreflang="en-ca" href="" />

Both of these tags would appear on both pages. This would ensure that Canadians searching on would find the page targeting Canadians, and Americans searching on would find the page targeting Americans.

So that’s the purpose of hreflang, but often I come across mistakes and misconceptions about how to implement hreflang. Here are some of the most common:

Common Mistakes in Implementing Hreflang

Return Tag Errors

“Return Tag Errors” are the result of hreflang annotations that don’t cross-reference each other. These can be found within Google Search Console under the International Targeting tab. If your website has hreflang annotations, either via the page tagging method or the xml sitemaps method, there will be data reported on how many hreflang tags were found, and how many hreflang errors were found. If there are errors, often times those errors are “return tag errors.” Here’s an example of a site that has 412 hreflang tags with errors – all due to “no return tags”):


Your annotations must be confirmed from the other pages. If page A links to page B, page B must link  back to page A, otherwise, your annotations may not be interpreted correctly.

Often times, the “missing link” is because the hreflang tags do not include a reference to the page itself. Your annotations should be self-referential. Page A should use rel-alternate-hreflang annotation linking to itself.

Using the Wrong Country or Language Codes

When you are adding hreflang codes to your webpages, you need to be absolutely sure that you are using the correct country and language codes. According to Google, “The value of the hreflang attribute must be in ISO 639-1 format for the language, and in ISO 3166-1 Alpha 2 format for the region. Specifying only the region is not supported.”

One of the most common mistakes is using “en-uk” to specify English speakers in the United Kingdom. However, the correct hreflang tag for the UK is actually “en-gb.”
You can use hreflang generator tools like this one to figure out which values you should be using.

Combining Hreflang Sitemaps and Page Tagging Methods

There is no need to use multiple methods for hreflang implementation. Google recommends against it, since it would be redundant. You certainly can use both methods, and there is no clear advantage of one method over the other. Here are some considerations for when you are deciding whether to use the xml sitemaps or page tagging methods:
  • Hreflang xml sitemaps can be difficult to create and update. You can use online tools or create it in Excel, but it is difficult to automate the process. If you have xml sitemaps that your CMS updates for you automatically, it would be better to continue to use those rather than create separate, static hreflang xml sitemaps.
  • Page tagging leads to code bloat, especially when you are targeting several countries/languages. That can mean an additional 10+ lines of code to each geo-targeted page.
  • Some content management systems, such as WordPress and Drupal, offer automatic hreflang page tagging solutions.
Believing That hreflang Annotations Will Consolidate Link Authority

This is another common misconception that can trip up even advanced SEO experts. There have been articles published that seem to show that, once hreflang is correctly implemented across multiple top-level domains or sub-domains, the most authoritative domain gains in link authority. This has not been verified with other international SEO experts, and I have no evidence to believe this is the case either.
The best way to build link authority and consolidate it across your geo-targeted web pages is to keep your content all on one domain. Use a generic, top-level domain such as a .com, and use the sub-folder method to create your country- or language-targeted content. Here is a snapshot of a conversation I had with Gianluca Fiorelli and Martin Kura about this subject:

Fixing Duplicate Content Issues

This is another tricky subject that deserves some nuance. Duplicate content itself is often misunderstood, and throwing hreflang into the mix makes it even more difficult to understand. Hreflang does not “fix” duplicate content issues, per se. For example, when you add hreflang tags to your site, they will appear in the International Targeting tab of Google Search Console (so Google does indeed recognize and understand them), but you will still continue to see Duplicate Title Tags and Duplicate Meta Description warnings in the HTML Improvements tab (if you have pages with duplicate titles and descriptions across your geo-targeted webpages). So if you have two pages in the same language targeting different regions, such as English in the USA and Canada, the content of those two pages may be so similar that they are considered duplicates. Adding hreflang tags will not change that. It is still possible that your American page may outrank your Canadian page, if the American page has significantly more link authority, and especially if it has links from Canadian sources.
However, hreflang tags will help to alleviate this issue. This is why hreflang tags are not enough. They provide a technical structure that helps Google sort out and understand your content, but to have a full-fledged international site(s), you need a holistic international marketing strategy that includes building link authority to your site(s) from the relevant countries/languages that you are targeting.
Hreflang is very effective at handling cross-annotations among different languages, but when it comes to same language, different regions, you can get mixed results.

Not Using Canonical Tags and Hreflang Tags Together Correctly

The hreflang tag also can be used along with rel="canonical" annotations, but hreflang tags need to referenceself-referential,canonical URLs. For example, page A should have a canonical tag pointing to page A, page B should have a canonical tag pointing to page B, and page C should have a canonical tag pointing to page C. All three pages should have hreflang tags that mention all three of the pages in the group. You do NOT want to canonicalize only one version of a page in a page grouping, as that would interfere with hreflang annotations.


On this page, the hreflang tags might say:
<link rel="alternate" hreflang="en-us" href="" />
<link rel="alternate" hreflang="en-ca" href="" />
So in this case, the canonical tag for this page would be:
<link rel="Canonical" href="" />
And on the Canadian page, the hreflang tags would remain the same, but the canonical tag would be:
<link rel="Canonical" href="" />

Not Using Absolute URLs

This one is a heart-breaker because often everything is correct except for the simple fact that the hreflang link referenced is relative rather than absolute. There really is no margin for error with hreflang tags so make sure you are always using absolute URLs. For example, here is what NOT to do:

<link rel="alternate" hreflang="en-us" href="/usa/" />
<link rel="alternate" hreflang="en-ca" href="/ca/" />
Google wants to be able to crawl the entire URL path, especially since many times hreflang tags reference separate ccTLDs or sub-domains.

Content Credit : Kaitlin McMichael

"Content Is King " - Celebrating Twenty Years of Being True

on Tuesday 7 June 2016
You've heard the phrase, of course, “content is king.” Bill Gates first wrote those words in 1996 in an essay of the same title.

Here is the the essay in it’s entirety here

Content is where I expect much of the real money will be made on the Internet, just as it was in broadcasting.
The television revolution that began half a century ago spawned a number of industries, including the manufacturing of TV sets, but the long-term winners were those who used the medium to deliver information and entertainment.
When it comes to an interactive network such as the Internet, the definition of “content” becomes very wide. For example, computer software is a form of content-an extremely important one, and the one that for Microsoft will remain by far the most important.
But the broad opportunities for most companies involve supplying information or entertainment. No company is too small to participate.
One of the exciting things about the Internet is that anyone with a PC and a modem can publish whatever content they can create. In a sense, the Internet is the multimedia equivalent of the photocopier. It allows material to be duplicated at low cost, no matter the size of the audience.
The Internet also allows information to be distributed worldwide at basically zero marginal cost to the publisher. Opportunities are remarkable, and many companies are laying plans to create content for the Internet.
For example, the television network NBC and Microsoft recently agreed to enter the interactive news business together. Our companies will jointly own a cable news network, MSNBC, and an interactive news service on the Internet. NBC will maintain editorial control over the joint venture.
I expect societies will see intense competition-and ample failure as well as success-in all categories of popular content-not just software and news, but also games, entertainment, sports programming, directories, classified advertising, and on-line communities devoted to major interests.
Printed magazines have readerships that share common interests. It’s easy to imagine these communities being served by electronic online editions.
But to be successful online, a magazine can’t just take what it has in print and move it to the electronic realm. There isn’t enough depth or interactivity in print content to overcome the drawbacks of the online medium.
If people are to be expected to put up with turning on a computer to read a screen, they must be rewarded with deep and extremely up-to-date information that they can explore at will. They need to have audio, and possibly video. They need an opportunity for personal involvement that goes far beyond that offered through the letters-to-the-editor pages of print magazines.
A question on many minds is how often the same company that serves an interest group in print will succeed in serving it online. Even the very future of certain printed magazines is called into question by the Internet.
For example, the Internet is already revolutionizing the exchange of specialized scientific information. Printed scientific journals tend to have small circulations, making them high-priced. University libraries are a big part of the market. It’s been an awkward, slow, expensive way to distribute information to a specialized audience, but there hasn’t been an alternative.
Now some researchers are beginning to use the Internet to publish scientific findings. The practice challenges the future of some venerable printed journals.
Over time, the breadth of information on the Internet will be enormous, which will make it compelling. Although the gold rush atmosphere today is primarily confined to the United States, I expect it to sweep the world as communications costs come down and a critical mass of localized content becomes available in different countries.
For the Internet to thrive, content providers must be paid for their work. The long-term prospects are good, but I expect a lot of disappointment in the short-term as content companies struggle to make money through advertising or subscriptions. It isn’t working yet, and it may not for some time.
So far, at least, most of the money and effort put into interactive publishing is little more than a labor of love, or an effort to help promote products sold in the non-electronic world. Often these efforts are based on the belief that over time someone will figure out how to get revenue.
In the long run, advertising is promising. An advantage of interactive advertising is that an initial message needs only to attract attention rather than convey much information. A user can click on the ad to get additional information-and an advertiser can measure whether people are doing so.
But today the amount of subscription revenue or advertising revenue realized on the Internet is near zero-maybe $20 million or $30 million in total. Advertisers are always a little reluctant about a new medium, and the Internet is certainly new and different.
Some reluctance on the part of advertisers may be justified, because many Internet users are less-than-thrilled about seeing advertising. One reason is that many advertisers use big images that take a long time to download across a telephone dial-up connection. A magazine ad takes up space too, but a reader can flip a printed page rapidly.
As connections to the Internet get faster, the annoyance of waiting for an advertisement to load will diminish and then disappear. But that’s a few years off.
Some content companies are experimenting with subscriptions, often with the lure of some free content. It’s tricky, though, because as soon as an electronic community charges a subscription, the number of people who visit the site drops dramatically, reducing the value proposition to advertisers.
A major reason paying for content doesn’t work very well yet is that it’s not practical to charge small amounts. The cost and hassle of electronic transactions makes it impractical to charge less than a fairly high subscription rate.
But within a year the mechanisms will be in place that allow content providers to charge just a cent or a few cents for information. If you decide to visit a page that costs a nickel, you won’t be writing a check or getting a bill in the mail for a nickel. You’ll just click on what you want, knowing you’ll be charged a nickel on an aggregated basis.
This technology will liberate publishers to charge small amounts of money, in the hope of attracting wide audiences.
Those who succeed will propel the Internet forward as a marketplace of ideas, experiences, and products-a marketplace of content.
This essay is copyright © 2001 Microsoft Corporation. All Rights Reserved.

Test your Website Mobile-friendliness & page speed in one Place - Google

on Monday 6 June 2016
In a bid to test your website’s mobile-friendliness and page speed for desktop and mobile under one roof,Google has introduced a new tool/ landing page. It is intended for small businesses to test their sites,instead of going to a specific mobile-friendly testing tool and/or page speed testing tool. It was revealed via a blog post on ‘Google Small Business Blog’.

The new tool, available over here, will test this all at the same time. The unique aspects of this tool are:

  1. Get all three scores on one page.
  2. Google will email you a more comprehensive report for you to share with your web Team.
  3. Google will now give you a 0 out of a 100 score for how mobile-friendly your website is, as opposed to if it is mobile-friendly or not.

Here is what the scores say:
  • Mobile-friendliness: This is the quality of the experience customers have when they’re browsing your site on their phones. To be mobile-friendly, your site should have tappable buttons, be easy to navigate from a small screen and have the most important information up front and centre.
  • Mobile speed: This is how long it takes your site to load on mobile devices. If customers are kept waiting for too long, they’ll move on to the next site.
  • Desktop speed: This is how long it takes your site to load on desktop computers. It’s not just the strength of your customers’ web connection that determines speed, but also the elements of your website.
Here is a screen shot of the report of one of the this site:

You can see it is a pretty overview, much better than the more webmaster/developer-focused options Google has given us in the past. As you scroll down, you get more details on how to make your site more mobile-friendly or faster on desktop or mobile browsers.