How Search Engines Use Machine Learning: All You Need to Know

Search Engines Use Machine Learning

Written by Jeremy Earle, JD

September 25, 2022

Learn why and how search engine results pages (SERPs) appear the way they do. Take a look at how search engines utilize artificial intelligence (AI).
  • Understanding the system, you’re optimizing towards is critical in the world of SEO.
  • When it comes to SEO, you need to know how search engines work, including how they crawl and index websites, how search algorithms work, and how they employ user intent as a ranking indicator.
  • Machine learning is another critical topic to be familiar with.

There is a lot of talk about “machine learning” these days.

However, what is the impact of machine learning on search and SEO in general? –

This chapter is about how search engines employ machine learning, so don’t miss it.

When it comes to artificial intelligence, what exactly is machine learning?

If you don’t know what machine learning is, it’s hard to understand how search engines use it.

First, let’s get a definition out of the way, supplied by Stanford University in their Coursera course description:

To put it another way, “machine learning” is the study of how to make computers do things on their own, without any outside input.

Before We Go Any farther.

The distinction between machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) is becoming increasingly blurred as more and more applications are being developed.

According to the definition given, machine learning is the study of getting computers to draw conclusions based on data, rather than having them preprogrammed with instructions on how.

On the other hand, artificial intelligence (AI) is the science of designing systems that either have or appear to have human-like intellect and process information in a comparable way to the human brain.

You can see the change by looking at it from this perspective:

To put it another way, a machine learning system is a tool for problem-solving. Mathematically, it comes up with the answer.

There is no need for the solution to be programmed or worked out by humans manually, which speeds up the process.

Setting a machine to search through massive amounts of data about tumour size and location is an excellent example. A list of known benign and malignant outcomes would be sent to the machine.

Using this information, we could then ask the system to create a model that would anticipate future encounters with tumours and provide chances dependent on the information gathered during the analysis process.

This is a completely logical argument.

To do this, a few hundred mathematicians could work for many years (assuming the database is enormous) and hopefully without making any mistakes.

It’s possible to execute this identical work using machine learning in a fraction of the time.

My thoughts turn to Artificial Intelligence as they begin to touch on the creative and become less predictable when I think of it.

Similarly, artificial intelligence working on the same problem can simply look up relevant information and conclude past research.

Alternatively, it could introduce brand-new information into the mix.

Alternatively, they might begin working on a new electrical engine, abandoning the initial project.

It’s unlikely that it will get sidetracked by Facebook, but you get the gist of it.

Intelligence is the most important factor.

Even if it’s fabricated, it would have to be real to provide the same variables and unknowns that we confront in our everyday interactions with others.

Let’s get back to the topic of artificial intelligence and search engines.

Machine learning is the current focus of search engines and most scientists.

TensorFlow, Google’s open-source machine learning framework, has been made available via a free online course.

This is the future. Therefore, it’s best to have a handle on things now.

Let’s look at a few examples of machine learning in action at Google, as we can’t possibly know everything that goes on there.


If you’re writing a piece about Google’s machine learning, you can’t leave out their earliest and still highly relevant use of a machine learning algorithm.

Right, we’re talking about the RankBrain algorithm.

Entities are defined as “single, distinct, well-defined and identifiable,” The system was tasked with developing a knowledge of how those entities relate in a query to help the user better comprehend the query and a collection of previously known appropriate replies.

Both things and RankBrain have been simplified to the point of absurdity, but that’s all we need for the time being.

Google provided a collection of known entities (queries) to the system.

Assuming the seed set is correct, the system would next be tasked with identifying new types of things using the seed set.

It would be useless if the system couldn’t recognize a new film’s name, date, or other information.

Following this first step, the system would have been trained to comprehend the relationships between entities and what data is indicated or directly requested and find acceptable results in an index once it could produce sufficient results.

It addresses many of the issues that have plagued Google.

“How can I replace my S7 screen?” should not be required to be included on a web page on replacing one.

Because “fix” and “replace” often mean the same thing in this situation, you can omit them.

  • Uses machine learning to
  • Continually learn about the connections and relationships of entities.
  • In this situation, “replace” and “repair” may be synonyms, but “how to mend my automobile” would not be if I was looking for “how to replace my car.”

Instruct other parts of the algorithm to produce the correct SERP.

RankBrain was initially tested on searches that Google had never seen before. I think this is a good test because it makes logic.

For queries that may have been under-optimized, RankBrain should be used to improve results for a group of users who may have been getting poor results before RankBrain was implemented.

As well as 2016, it happened.

Looking back at my previous examples, we can see that the same outcome was achieved with different languages in each of these circumstances. I think it’s important noting that this is how it works, and you should experiment to see whether it’s true for your examples as well.

Rankings have shifted slightly, with the number one and number two sites trading spots, but the same result.

Let’s have a look at my car as an example now:

As a result of machine learning, it is possible to envision Google recognizing that if I need to maintain my car, a mechanic may be required (nice call, Google); however, if I need to replace it, I may be referring to replacement parts or needing official paperwork to replace the entire thing.

Machine learning hasn’t figured everything out yet.

Unless I specifically mentioned the part I want while asking how to replace my car, it’s safe to assume that I’m asking for the entire thing.

Then again, it’s just a baby; it has a lot to learn.

Furthermore, the DMV does not apply to me because I am Canadian.

Machine learning has been used in this example to determine the meaning of my question, the layout of search results pages (SERPs), and possible actions I might take to accomplish my goal.

RankBrain isn’t responsible for all of it, but machine learning is.


Machine learning is also at work if you use Gmail or any other email system.

With a false-positive rate of under 0.05 per cent, Google claims to be blocking 99.9% of all spam and phishing emails.

Give the machine learning system some data, and then let it go on its path.

Assuming that one were to manually programme all conceivable permutations yielded a 99.9% success rate in spam filtering and change on the fly for new strategies, it would be an enormous undertaking.

A 97 per cent success rate with just one false positive (meaning that one per cent of your legitimate messages were forwarded to the spam bin — an unacceptable level of error) was achieved by doing things this way.

Enter machine learning — train it on all the spam you can positively confirm, feed it new messages, and reward it for correctly choosing spam on its own. Overtime (and not much of it), it will learn far more signals and react far faster than a human ever could.

For example, when you set it to watch for user interactions with new email structures, it will add the new approaches to its spam-filtering list and filter not only those emails but any others that employ those same methods.

What Is Machine Learning?

If you were expecting an explanation of machine learning, you were disappointed.

To demonstrate a rather simple paradigm, the examples were essential.

Just because it’s simple to understand doesn’t mean it’s easy to make.

The following is a typical sequence for a machine learning model:

  • Establish a baseline for the system to work from. In other words, a set of data that has a wide range of conceivable variables linked to a predetermined positive or negative outcome. This serves as a starting point for the system and is used to train it. Because it now understands how to recognize and weigh aspects based on previous data, it can produce a beneficial outcome.
  • Create a win-win situation. Following a period of conditioning, new data is introduced into a system that has already been trained. In the absence of information about an entity’s relationships or whether an email is a spam, the system has no idea what to do. It is offered a prize, but it is not a chocolate bar if it choices correctly. An example of this would be to give the system a reward value to hit the greatest number that is achievable. This score grows each time it chooses the correct solution.
  • It’s time to let go. The machine learning system can be integrated into the algorithm once the success metrics are high enough to outperform current systems or reach another criterion.

Assuming my hypothesis is correct, most of Google’s algorithm implementations are based on this approach, known as supervised learning.

The Unsupervised Model is another type of machine learning model.

This is the model used to group similar items in Google News. One can deduce that it is utilized in other areas, such as identifying and grouping photographs containing the same or similar persons in Google Images.

Rather than providing specific instructions, this paradigm instructs the system to group items (such as images and articles) based on shared characteristics (the entities they contain, keywords, relationships, authors, etc.)

What’s the Point of All of This?

If you want to know why SERPs are organized the way they are and why pages appear in the SERPs at the positions they do, you must first grasp what machine learning is.

Understanding an algorithmic factor is one thing, but understanding the system in which those factors are weighted is just as vital, if not more so.

For example, I would pay special attention to the lack of useful, relevant information in the SERP results for the question described above if I were employed by a company that sold cars.

A failure has been achieved. Find out what content might be a hit, and create it yourself.

If Google thinks a post, image, news, video, commerce, featured snippet, or any other sort of content will satisfy a user’s goal, then deliver it.

A Google engineer sitting behind each searcher, altering what they see and how they see it before it’s sent to their device, is how I like to think of machine learning and how it’s been evolving.

But even better — than engineer is linked to every other engineer learning from global rules like the Borg.

However, we’ll go into greater depth on user intent in our upcoming article.

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