When it comes to online marketing and SEO, signal-to-noise ratio is quite low. You’ve seen so called ‘SEO gurus’ yak about “7 tips to instantly improve your ranking”. And most of this advice, works so-so, if it does at all. Because it’s all guess work. It’s all journalism – offering no real value.

A few days ago, a research scientist at Google told media that an AI thing called RankBrain powers “a large fraction of Google searches”. And the SEO world is still abuzz. Gurus have already started the work on this RankBrain thing. May be they will come up with some clever tricks to manipulate it. Nassim Taleb said it best:

To bankrupt a fool, give him information.

So let’s talk about RankBrain. It’s a machine learning system that helps Google respond to search queries that haven’t been entered before. Machine learning is a part of a broader Artificial Intelligence or AI. With AI systems, researchers try to get the machines as close to as human intelligence. If you ever dabbled in programming then you may know that computers are actually dumb. They do only what you tell them to do. They do not have a natural intelligence like us human beings. That’s why we put “alt” tags with images.

To deal with this limitation, we’ve been providing computers with algorithms. Machine learning is a little different. With it, the machine teaches itself instead of just complying to human beings.

Industry leaders believe three most important parts of Google’s search algorithm to be: backlinks, content, and RankBrain. That said, nobody outside Google truly knows how search works. That leaves behind only guesswork for the SEO gurus. There are just too many variables to take care of. This is what Greg Corrado, that scientist at Google told Bloomberg:


Now comes the ultimate question. How can we help our SEO efforts without getting tangled up with the minute details of Google’s technologies? The good news is – it’s all out there already. The old marketing wisdom: give people what they need and tell them about yourself in a way they want to listen. This is what advertising veterans have been telling us about. And this is what Google recommends us to do. You’ve got to be brutally user-centric in everything you do.


Putting too much weight on trying to please Google has one major side effect: you forget to take care of the basics. You start superstition-101: performing tricks and praying for results. Google is just trying to provide users with the most relevant content. Everything else is the details. So here’s what we are going to recommend (repeating what Matt Cutts says):

  1. Provide great content (on website and on blogs)
  2. Your website should be fast and well-designed
  3. You must get backlinks (PR or natural via great content)

You do everything else but ignore these basic building blocks of a web experience and Google will punish you.

So RankBrain is not something that you should be concerned with. That’s Google’s department. That’s the thing for sharp software engineers and scientists. What you should be concerned with is to take care of your customer. As advertising legend David Ogilvy once said:

Customer is not a moron, she is your wife.

Minimal SEO is the best SEO.