How The Google Bert Update Will Impact Your Site’s SEO

  • Cullen Adams | Apr 17, 2020

Google has released many updates over the years, all with a specific goal or goals in mind. Now, Google has just released BERT, designed to address one of the greatest puzzles in the modern era of the internet – Figure out search intent. 

Not long ago, Google announced that they had developed a quantum computer capable of solving problems older supercomputer would likely need thousands of years to solve in mere days. 

Machine learning is advancing at an incredible rate. The potentially irrational fears from yesteryear that robots would eventually take our jobs and take over the world are no longer as far-fetched as they might have seemed.  

What is BERT exactly?

Bert stands for Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers. If you’re like most people, you are probably not clear on understanding what it is, correct?

Essentially, Google has updated its algorithm to understand natural language processing better.

Touted as one of the most important updates in the history of search, it has surprising not had the fanfare that it perhaps rightly deserves. Perhaps, due to the fact that up until now, the SEO community aren’t exactly clear what the BERT update is targeting or how the SEO space will be impacted.  

What We Think BERT Means

It is clear that BERT is a deep learning algorithm associated with natural language processing. Google uses this technology to help it better understand what is known as N.L.P. (natural language processing). 

Put simply, BERT has been designed to help Google understand language patterns and phrases that people use in search, so search results are more aligned to human beings, instead of robots. The language used in search – and language in general – has many nuances. It has been a challenge for search engines in the past to interpret natural language and context of search queries effectively.

Google has long been able to identify synonyms, misspellings and common phrases. But, now with BERT, Google has taken their understanding up a level to include languages nuances and idiosyncrasies to return more relevant results. BERT works synergistically with RankBrain, expanding on its functionality to create an innovative and powerful artificial intelligence that is capable of understanding language and context on par with humans. 

RankBrain is Google’s A.I. (Artificial Intelligence for search, and fortunately, it is not being replaced. But, BERT adds to its strength, ensuring people all over the world get more accurate results for the searches. 

RankBrain launched to the public around five years ago. It is a key component of Google’s core algorithm which uses machine learning (the ability of machines to teach themselves from data inputs) to decide the most relevant results to search engine queries. BERT isn’t designed to make RankBrain obsolete. Instead, give it a gentle push to boost user-experience. 

RankBrain has shown us how Google has adjusted its search result process. Instead of focusing predominantly on specific keywords, search results are determined by natural language processing techniques. For example, when a person searches for “how to wear a tuxedo”, the results won’t only show a bunch of eCommerce sites selling tuxedos. Instead, it will recognize the searcher is more interested in style tips and tricks relevant to wearing a tuxedo. 

BERT, aims to modify this algorithm to provide a more extensive search result. The chief focus of BERT is to help clarify the search intent of the user for Google. 

Why The BERT Update is so Important For Google

Surprisingly, Google reports that approximately 10% of all search queries are new. Meaning, 1 in 10 searches have never been conducted before. Also, the phrasing of search queries – perhaps due a lot to technologies such as voice search – are increasing becoming closer to real human-being communication. 

Voice searches are growing fast, with statistics showing that they will encompass over 50% of all searches within a couple of years.

Additionally, search queries are becoming longer nowadays. 70% of all searches conducted today can be deemed long-tail searches. Users are jumping on Google with fully-formed questions, and there is an expectation of fully-formed answers in milliseconds. BERT is a significant factor in facilitating this. 

How Has SEO be Impacted by BERT?

BERT has been applied in approximately one in 10 search queries on a query-by-query basis. That may not seem like a lot – 10% – however, this represents a significant number of results and businesses should’ve prepared for the shift in rankings. 

It is impacting both organic search results and featured snippets, providing more accurate results with contextual relevance that better fits search intent. 

Remember, the BERT update is designed to only analyze search queries and not page content. So, while directly, there isn’t much you can do to optimize content per se for the BERT update, it is an opportune time to further expand on efforts to create relevant quality content. 

It means Google is getting better at understanding natural language and search intent, and will also improve their ability to deliver webpages that best align with search queries that in the past may not have presented the most relevant content. 

Now more than ever, it is essential to boost any webpages with poorly written, low-quality content. Thin pages with little to no added value won’t get a look in. Instead, webmasters should be creating content geared towards answering queries their audience will be making. 

A FAQ section is an excellent way to naturally incorporate keywords and long-tail keyword searches that users will be asking. It is also a great way to be able to provide quality answers to those questions and increase the likelihood that your webpage will feature as a snippet picked up by BERT. 

It is vital to ensure you still following best practice methods as well. Please bear in mind, the message is to not suddenly start creating content with the view to game search engines. As always, you need to create content and build webpages that best search users who will visit your website. 

How to Ensure Your Website is BERT Ready?

Again, you cannot optimize for the Google BERT update, Google has already come out and said that. But, that does not mean you shouldn’t be doing certain things post BERT to give your site a fighting chance to enjoy top rankings. 

Let’s take a look at what you can do…

1) Optimize for users, not Google 

High-quality content that deserves top rankings is focused on the user. BERT aims to drive that truth home. The BERT update is designed to help Google better understand natural language and user intent, rather than mere keywords.  

You should have learned long ago that keyword stuffing is ineffective for SEO nowadays, but, if you haven’t take heed now. 

2) Keeping E.A.T. ing

E.A.T. stands for Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness; elements of Google’s quality metrics that determine page rank. 

Google has focussed heavily on addressing SEO gaming since it was rife early of the 2000s and early part of the second decade of this century. As a result, it is not possible to churn out low-quality content that is keyword rich that will rank highly.  

In that respect, not much has changed with BERT. But, it’s more likely that helpful and quality content will be rewarded now that Google’s algorithm is factoring N.L.P. (Natural Language Processing).

3) Reassess How Your Website Captures Informational Searches

Possibly the most significant negative aspect of BERT has been a drop in organic search traffic. This could suggest your webpages were ranking for irrelevant searches not applicable to you.

Identify the keywords or webpages that have experienced a drop in traffic. Then conduct searches to see what pages are appearing for those searches instead of yours. It may be an idea to tweak your pages and content to better match the content that Google has chosen to rank above your own as a result of the BERT update.   

4) Avoid Keyword Fallacies 

As soon as Google BERT was announced, SEO “experts” were quick to dish up advice on BERT has changed the SEO landscape. Some of the advice given included: stop words were now critical, long-tail keywords are now more important, and keyword density will cease to be as important. 

But, again, it is essential to remember the BERT update hasn’t changed SEO too much. The fundamentals remain the same, and you are best to avoid any SEO gurus who claim to have the ultimate BERT strategy. 

5) Think Cleverly About Featured Snippets

BERT is tipped to make featured snippets even more valuable. Since, their inception in 2014, featured snippets have proven popular with users, providing a fast way to get an answer to a query without having to click on a search result. 

With BERT, even if your site is not top-ranked, there is a good chance you can earn a place on the first page with a featured snippet. 

You can’t create your own featured snippets, however, there are things you can do get a better chance of your site featuring as one including, create lists with your content, summarize your answers to questions in 40-50 words, use tables to display data and use more video content. 

Conclusion 

While, BERT did create some upheaval – like every Google update – within some corners of the SEO community, it isn’t the game-changing algorithmic event that some may have expected. Even if Google claimed it to be the “biggest update in years”. 

BERT makes search queries more useful for everybody by being better equipped to understand contextual words like “to” “for” so we can find information faster than ever. 

It is another innovation from the leaders in search to provide optimal user-experiences. 

It is important to monitor your site’s performance post-BERT, reassess your content and develop a plan of action with a content strategist if you notice any declines in organic traffic.