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Google recently announced it’s been utilizing an artificial intelligence system called RankBrain that’s being applied to Google’s search algorithms to provide users with better answers to their queries.

What is RankBrain?

RankBrain is an artificial intelligence (AI) tool now being utilized by Google to handle certain types of searches. The science behind it is this: Google now uses this AI to turn the written word into mathematical vectors that make sense to computers. When RankBrain is confronted with a word or phrase it doesn’t understand, it can now make an intelligent guess as to what the query might be getting at. Based on that educated guess, RankBrain is then able to use filters to provide more relevant results.

How RankBrain May Improve Searches

If you’ve ever typed a query into Google, only to be provided with results that aren’t exactly what you’re looking for, you may have tried to rephrase your query to help Google “understand” you better.

RankBrain is trying to improve that problem.

One of the ways that Google’s RankBrain intends to improve searches is by tackling complicated or unrefined queries that aren’t as succinct as they could be. For example, Google understands what you’re looking for if you type, “Pizza,” and will likely give you back results that match what you’re looking for. However, RankBrain intends to help Google with queries like, “Round cheese pie often consumed by cash-strapped college students.”

While the announcement about RankBrain is relatively new, it’s believed that a large percentage of Google queries in recent months were, in fact, affected by RankBrain’s AI.

How RankBrain May Affect Law Firm SEO

While RankBrain comprises one of hundreds of ranking signals that Google uses for its search algorithms, it has recently been defined as one of the three most important signals being used for search queries.

However, even if RankBrain is an interesting and meaningful new feature of how Google handles searches, at this point, it may not have a large effect on your law firm’s SEO if your efforts are solely focused on ranking for obvious terms like “Georgia DUI Lawyer” or “Seattle Divorce Attorney.” RankBrain has a very specific job so far, and that’s dealing with abnormally intricate and obscure queries. As all practicing attorneys know, clients are often times unable to clearly articulate their questions when it comes to the law. According to attorney and LawLytics CEO Dan Jaffe:

“Over time, attorneys develop an ability to read between the lines when communicating with clients who are not legally educated. The words that they use to describe their problem, case or goals are often time very different, and many times illogical. Potential clients ask Google their questions in much the same way. Therefore, having an intelligence built into the way that Google interprets real-world queries may make traditional SEO efforts to rank for obvious keywords and phrases even more obsolete.”

As a result of RankBrain’s involvement with ranking signals, law firms may see a ranking restructuring, the magnitude of which it is too early to predict. While RankBrain is a relatively new feature of how Google is handling searches, it will likely continue to develop over time, as machine learning develops and adapts to the sorts of information we’re giving it. According to Dan Jaffe:

“At some point, whether it’s called RankBrain or whether it goes by another name, artificial intelligence will continue to erode the effectiveness of traditional SEO practices to the point where the average attorney will no longer attribute any value to them.”

We will continue to report on RankBrain as it evolves and as the short-term and long-term impact on law firms because more obvious.