How to Pick Keywords in 2018 Complying with RankBrain

The progress in artificial intelligence is so great that machines may outsmart humans one day. At least some of them for sure. In the 00s, keywords were the only clues Google used to analyze the content. But with the launch of its machine learning system dubbed RankBrain, SEO trends have changed for keyword research.

Google doesn’t focus on word-for-word phrasing anymore. Today, it digs much deeper into the text to understand its relevance for a query. Even when there’s an unknown query, the system determines what phrases are related to it and returns results based on that relation.

Thanks to the human-level intelligence of RankBrain, Google has shifted its focus from keywords to the user intent. But while the days of keyword stuffing are gone, it doesn’t mean you can get done with keyword research. It is still as crucial as a decade ago. The only thing that’s changed since then is the way you approach it.

In this post, you will learn how to research keywords from a new angle to comply with RankBrain. Since Google named it the third most important ranking signal, you can’t neglect its weight.


How Google Interprets Search Queries

Before you start picking keywords, check out how Google interprets queries with RankBrain.

Focus on Word Root

Back in the day, Google treated words with the same root yet different endings or suffixes as different words. Now the engine takes into account only the root. The query “install security system” gets results with the verb “install” in a modified form. In the first instance, it becomes a noun with -ation suffix, while the second has a gerund with -ing ending.

keyword research rankbrain

Equality of Singular and Plural Forms

Google considers a noun in singular and plural forms as one word. It refers not only to regular nouns taking -s and -es endings in the plural, but also to those changing root vowels. If you type “tooth whitening” into Google, you will see many results with “teeth whitening.”

keyword research rankbrain

Recognition of Acronyms and Abbreviations

Google knows what shortened forms of phrases stand for. If you want to find a business consultancy in New York, you can type the city name as NYC. The engine will return relevant results to your query.

keyword research rankbrain

Understanding of Synonyms

When users type similar queries, Google realizes they need pretty much the same. That’s why it doesn’t differentiate between synonyms. Searching for “cooking supplies,” you will find pages optimized for “kitchen” instead of “cooking” and “utensils” instead of “supplies.”

keyword research rankbrain

Interpretation of Concepts

Today, it’s all about the meaning of the query, not its wording. Whether you type something short like “number of Amazon employees” or paraphrase it into the entire question “how many employees does Amazon have,” it makes no difference. Google understands your search intent. Not only does it show similar results for both queries, but also gives an instant answer and some additional info.

keyword research rankbrain



How to Do Keyword Research with RankBrain in Mind

Now that you know how Google interprets queries, learn how to choose keywords following its logic. This step-by-step guide is universal for any niche and goal, be it traffic or conversions.

Step 1. Brainstorm ideas of how you can help potential customers.

In the era of RankBrain, keyword research doesn’t start with keywords. As the user intent is the centerpiece of search, think of how you can address people’s needs. The main reason why they use Google is to solve their problems, not buy your products.

Let’s say you want to promote running accessories. Seasoned runners already know about GPS trackers, heart rate monitors, injury prevention items, armbands, holders, belts, and other useful stuff. But what if it is someone who hasn’t run since school?

That person may not have a clue about all those goods that make running a pleasure. You can’t expect him to type your product names into Google. In this case, more probable queries will be your product purposes and benefits.

Here are some examples:

  • how to make running more comfortable,
  • where to store keys while running,
  • how to track running distances,
  • what to wear for winter runs,
  • how to prevent running injuries, etc.

So, brainstorm ideas of how your products can be useful to potential customers. There are many places to learn about their concerns, e.g. communities on social media, forums, Q&A sites like Quora, etc.

Google also has two features to suggest queries that people commonly ask.

  • Autocomplete. As you start typing in the search box, Google automatically completes your phrase with users’ common queries.

keyword research rankbrain

  • Related Searches. At the bottom of the SERP, you can see more variations of the query you typed in the search box.

keyword research rankbrain

Step 2. Make your seed keywords more specific.

While your products may be new to some prospects, there are also many active users who already know about their benefits. They usually search for items using their exact names known as seed keywords in the SEO community. However, seed keywords like “running belts” are too broad terms to withstand competition. That’s why you need to come up with more specific variations known as long-tail keywords.

A single long-tail keyword gets only 30-70 monthly searches on the average. But in total, the search volume can be quite high. As people ask the same thing using different phrases and Google equates synonyms, your page can rank for multiple long-tail keywords.

According to the recent study, there are 49+ million keywords with a minimum search volume. To compare, only 620 keywords have the highest volume.

keyword research rankbrain

Logically, 49 million is a higher number than 620. So are your chances to drive traffic with low-volume keywords. When you browse through seed keywords, filter them by their monthly volume of up to 70 searches.

Step 3. Choose broad keywords with a high search volume and potential.

Although long-tail keywords rule the show in the days of RankBrain, you can still try luck with popular terms that have a high search volume. Just take into account a few metrics to pick the right ones.

  • Seasonality

There are cases when a high search volume drops to record lows. For example, running belts are in demand throughout the year. But when it comes to something seasonal like back-to-school items, most searches fall within a given period only.

The keyword “back to school” has a monthly search volume of 75K in the US. But this data is an average for the last 12 months, which means it differs every month.

In Google Trends, you can see that traffic for “back to school” grows even higher in July, two months before the beginning of a new school year. After students stock up on all the necessary supplies, it drops in September and stays low until next July, i.e. for the whole nine months.

keyword research rankbrain

  • Clicks

If a keyword gets a lot of searches, it doesn’t mean all of them turn into clicks. That’s because Google gives instant answers to some queries with its SERP features. The keyword “dollar rate” gets 21K searches per month, but only 12% of them result in clicks.

keyword research rankbrain

When users type this keyword into Google, they see a currency converter above organic results.

keyword research rankbrain

What’s the point in scrolling down and jumping from page to page if the answer is in view straight away? Before picking any keyword, check out how SERP looks for it.

  • Difficulty

This keyword metric indicates how hard it is to rank in Top 10 and how many domains must refer to you for that. At the very beginning, it makes little to no sense to use keywords with a high difficulty score. You won’t outperform the biggest niche players that have spent a fortune to get to the top.

Start with keywords that have a low difficulty score like “running belts.” Only after building some reputation, you can switch to keywords that are more difficult to compete for.

keyword research rankbrain

Step 4. Use keywords that work for your competitors.

If some keywords already drive traffic to your competitors, they can do the same to you. To discover them, use one of SERP checkers you can find on the web. You’ll learn what sites rank in Top 10 by your target keyword, how much traffic they get, and how many keywords generate that traffic. To see the full picture, click on the keyword number.

keyword research rankbrain

Step 5. Figure out unique keyword ideas.

Following competitors’ keyword research strategies is a surefire way to grow traffic. But you need a unique voice to build a loyal customer base. Otherwise, you’ll get lost among hundreds of sites with similar content. Try these free tools to find unique keywords none of your competitors rank for.

  • Answer The Public generates a massive keyword database divided into five categories. They include question-based, prepositional, comparative, alphabetical, and related keywords.

keyword research rankbrain

keyword research rankbrain

Step 6. Weed out synonyms and categorize the remaining keywords.

When you finish your keyword research, you’ll come up with lots of ideas. For example, I found 1,700+ long-tail variations of the seed keyword “running belt.” You may get a much more extensive list. Don’t you dare stuff them all into your content. Google may penalize you for keyword abuse. Look what will happen to your organic traffic.

keyword research rankbrain

First, weed out keywords with an identical meaning. When people use queries listed below, they want to find the same product, and Google understands that. So, leave only one of these keyword suggestions:

  • phone holder running belt;
  • belt to hold phone while running;
  • belt for phone while running;
  • phone belt for running;
  • running phone holder belt.

Next, categorize the remaining keywords by features, design, purpose, price, etc. I grouped “running belt” variations into 12 categories. You may have different categories depending on your industry and products.

BrandAdidas 3 bottle running belt, Gear Beast running belt, Nathan Hipster running belt, Nike hydration running belt
Genderbest running belt for men, best hydration belt for running for women
Purposerunning belt with water bottle, running belt for keys, running belt for wallet, running belt for cell phone
Specific Purposerunning belt iphone 6, running belt for iphone 7 plus, nexus 6p running belt, note 5 running belt, samsung s5 running belt
Use Casepregnancy support belt for running, deep water running belt, best running belt for half marathon, self defense running belt
Featureselastic running belt for cell phone, water resistant running belt, sweatproof running belt for phone, light belt for running at night
Designrunning belt with pockets, diy running belt no zipper, running belt with zipper, fold over running belt
Sizeplus size running belt
Statustop rated running belt, amazon most popular running belt, best hydration belt for running 2017
Pricelowest price for urban active sports running belt
Comparisonsrunning belt vs armband, running belt vs fanny pack, running smartphone holder vs belt, running belt or backpack
Related Questionshow to wear running belt, how to make your running belt stay in place, should running belt sit on hips or waist, should I get an extra running keeper on belt




The team of Google has made significant progress in artificial intelligence. If you play it smart, there will be no obstacles to reaching the top in SERP. Think of how valuable your content is for the target audience, and only then get down to keyword research.

Can you suggest any other ideas to pick keywords complying with RankBrain? Feel free to speak your mind in the section of comments.


About the Author

Nick Campbell is a content creator and marketer at Ahrefs with passion for technology, SEO, and copywriting. Work up every idea from chaos to clarity is his motto.