Does Google RankBrain Have A Learning Disability?

In October 2015 Google confirmed the use of RankBrain to provide better and more relevant search results. People gravitated to Google over the other major competitors because it used to be eerie how well Google could predict what people were looking for.

Not any more…

I don’t have empirical data to support this, I just have anecdotes. Then again, the general population makes their decisions based on anecdotes and feelings, empirical data just measures the shift after the fact. More and more people I talk with are expressing their frustration with Google and how it now takes an average of 3 or 4 searches to find what they’re looking for.

I used to hear stories of how Google’s Instant Search could read minds. My favourite example is around the time of Toddlers and Tiaras, someone would type “who the f** is …” and Google would complete that search with “Honey Boo Boo”. I remember the exclamations of surprise and joy when that was indeed what people were trying to search! Google’s Instant Search could read minds! Then Google introduced RankBrain. Then Instant Search couldn’t read minds. Then Google dropped Instant Search to “make search more inline with mobile devices”. Or… machine learning sucks at guessing and it was easier to turn it off.

I think the Search Market is ripe for a major shift as Google’s RankBrain, even after 2 years on the market, is still not able to deliver the results people are looking for at first swing. Want something empirical? Try searching for “population of northbrook” from within Canada. You get results for Northbrook IL. Okay, so you modify your search query to “population of northbrook, ontario canada”. The first result is STILL Northbrook, IL in the United States. It’s actually the 4th result that provides the numbers I was looking for.


4th result, not bad right? The result I was looking for is first on First on, first on and it was even first on which is in freakin’ Chinese!!!

Want more data? Net Market Share tracks the number of searches people do on different search engines and then compares them. Google’s market share has fallen from 80% to 69% on this graph:



As more people discover Google’s RankBrain a little slow at predicting what they’re looking for, they will turn to other options. I wonder if this is evidence of Google’s decline.