Google’s New BERT Algorithm Update: What You Need to Know and 6 Takeways You Can Apply Today
Google BERT Update – “The biggest leap forward in the past five years, and one of the biggest leaps forward in the history of Search.” (Google)
Did you catch that Google launched what they deem one of the biggest advances in Search that will affect 10% of all search queries?
First, do not panic! The Google Bert update is not as scary as it sounds and let us tell you why.
In this article we will help you understand what you need to know about new BERT algorithm. We’ll explore how it may impact your SEO and how you need to adjust your SEO thinking (and approach) moving forward.
What is Google BERT Update?
Announced on October 25, 2019, BERT is Google’s neural network-based technique for natural language processing (NLP) pre-training, which enables Google to understand natural language.
Sound confusing? Essentially, BERT helps Google (a machine) to understand what all the words in a search query mean, including all the nuances and context of the words in the search, in order to provide more accurate and precise results.
In its most basic form, BERT is able to process each word’s relation to all the other words in a sentence rather than one-by-one in order, allowing it to better understand:
- The intent behind the search query
- Conversational (voice) searches
- How prepositions like for and to impact the meaning of the search query
And no, unlike other fun and quirky Google algorithm names, BERT does not refer to Bert and Ernie. The name for the Google BERT update actually stands for Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers.
Why did Google develop the BERT algorithm?
Basically, people’s searches are becoming more and more complicated and Google needed a way to better understand the true intent behind each search query.
“If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the 15 years working on Google Search, it’s that people’s curiosity is endless. We see billions of searches every day, and 15 percent of those queries are ones we haven’t seen before–so we’ve built ways to return results for queries we can’t anticipate.”
In tracking our clients’ search queries and monitoring overall industry trends, we can definitely attest to people’s curiosity and the uniqueness of searches! With voice search on the rise we can only expect to see even more unique and interesting searches asked of Google.
The Google BERT update is a way of preparing to understand these increasingly odd and complex searches and provide the best result(s) possible.
What is an example of how BERT works?
Google’s official product release for BERT provides several examples of test results that are very interesting.
Here is one of a person trying to learn if they need a visa to travel from Brazil to the USA in 2019:
Google explains that the word to makes a big difference in the search – it implies the searcher is needing information about travelling to the USA and not from the USA to Brazil.
In this case, the relevance and accuracy of the search result is highly dependent on this two letter word. In years past, Google may have just left this word out of the search and provided an irrelevant result.
Why do I need to care about the Google BERT update?
In 2018 Google reported making 3,235 updates to its search algorithm.
That works out to approximately 9 changes per day – so what makes this Google BERT update so critical?
The BERT algorithm matters because Google says it matters. They claim it is the biggest leap forward in the last five years and one of the biggest leaps forward in the history of Search.
The second reason why it matters so much is because Google says it affects 10% of queries. Now that isn’t 10% of websites. That’s 10% of all queries, which will most likely apply to your website in some shape or form.
Will the BERT Algorithm update affect my website?
Google has said that BERT will impact 10% of searches. This means YES – the Google BERT update will most likely have some form of impact on your company’s organic visibility and traffic.
However, Search Engine Land’s Barry Schwartz says you may not notice the Google BERT update. In fact, he notes that many SEOs and SEO tracking tools did not notice any massive changes shortly after the update was announced.
In addition, the SEO Community has been unusually quiet in the first few weeks following the announcement and launch of the Google BERT update.
Should I expect to see my rankings change because of BERT?
No. And here’s why …
For most SEO Campaigns, we select and track rankings for a limited number of popular, high-value keyword phrases such as “insurance broker Vancouver” or “pest control company Seattle.” The overall visibility of these simple keywords are just one indicator of any SEO Campaign’s success.
The BERT algorithm update is focused on understanding long search phrases that are searched on much less frequently (and often only once or twice a month) so it is not likely that they on any keyword list we are monitoring regularly.
How do I know if BERT affected my website?
We can help you take a look at your search traffic in both Google Analytics and Google Search Console to see if there the Google BERT update has an impact.
Most likely, we will need to look carefully at specific pages of your website. Did any have significant increases or decreases in search traffic? And for what search queries?
Don’t fret if there are drops in traffic following BERT.
Barry Schwartz warns, “You may notice that those pages didn’t convert and the search traffic Google sent those pages didn’t end up actually being useful.”
Highly regarded Digital Marketing Entrepreneur Neil Patel agrees. He says if your search traffic drops because of BERT it’s a good thing. For example, in a pre-BERT world a person searching for “how to lose weight without diet pills” may have been directed to your article on how diet pills are amazing. Patel points out this is obviously the opposite of what they are searching for and the searcher would hit their back button right away. You wouldn’t expect this unqualified visitor to ever take an action on your website – the only thing they were doing was hurting your dwell metrics (which Google factors into your rankings).
Should my SEO change because of BERT?
You’re not the only one asking this question – it’s at a top concern for many business owners, Digital Marketing Managers, and even SEO Consultants.
The good and bad news is that Google has said there is no real way to optimize for the Google BERT update.
BERT means that Google is just becoming that much better at understanding natural language and the intention behind the search queries we enter into our search bar.
In fact, Danny Sullivan (Google’ public search liaison) took to Twitter to say:
“There’s nothing to optimize for with BERT, nor anything for anyone to be rethinking. The fundamentals of us seeking to reward great content remain unchanged.”
— Danny Sullivan (@dannysullivan) October 28, 2019
In Search Metric’s podcast about Google BERT Algorithm update, Jordan Koene warns:
“Companies should avoid making abrupt changes to their strategies as it will take time to obtain actionable key insights regarding the update’s impact on search.”
What should I do in light of the BERT algorithm update?
Now that you understand the Google BERT update a little better, and the direction Google is moving with its Search Algorithm, here are the big takeaways for you to think about.
1. Continue writing web content for humans.
Don’t worry about Google – keep your website content focused on your visitors’ needs and stay relevant. Answer their questions! If it works the way Google says, BERT will do an even better job at directing visitors with questions to your website if it has the answers.
“Go very specific and answer the question better than your competitors. From videos and images to audio, do whatever needs to be done to create a better experience.”
Did you catch that? It’s about the “visitor experience!”
2. Use precision and accuracy in your website content.
Yes, the Google BERT update is all about understanding the intention behind a specific search query.
Our job now is to make sure that on page SEO is extremely clear and precise in the words used and meaning behind the words. Avoid sloppy content and make sure there is a clear purpose for every word, heading, paragraph, and page on your website.
This may not be new SEO advice but it will likely become more critical in the future.
3. Keep preparing for longtail and voice search.
BERT seems to be mostly focused on the “longtail keywords” – which is just SEO jargon for searches that are multiple words long and usually rarely searched on.
These unique longtail searches are often how we do a voice search on our phone. We use natural language to ask Google a question or find an answer, as opposed to previously when we typed in a short search that was both quick to type and what we thought Google was capable of understanding.
Neil Patel points out that 84% of marketers are still focusing on 1 and 2 word searches. Only 1.7% of marketers are focusing on searches that are 5+ words long, which is how more and more people are actually searching.
Take advantage of this big opportunity. Be an early mover and start thinking about adding long-tail and voice search strategies into your overall SEO Campaign.
4. Move your focus off keyword phrases.
In explaining the Google BERT update, Google says they are trying to understand the relationship of other words in a sentence.
Notice how they don’t mention keyword at all! Stop and notice this big shift in thinking. Google is moving further and further away from keywords by the day.
Now that Google is better able to understand context, you can expect to see the average person become more confident in using long-tail search queries. Whereas, in the past they thought they had to use very short, specific search phrases.
It is impossible for any website owner or SEO to keep a keyword-focused KPI mindset and track hundreds and thousands of long-tail phrases that are delivering traffic. If you haven’t already, it’s time to turn your attention to more ROI-focused SEO deliverables like leads generated.
5. Address the expectations of users and look for new opportunities for focused content.
You can capitalize on the Google BERT update by developing organized content on your website that answers all of your visitors’ questions and addresses all of their needs. As Google can better understand searches you can better anticipate the answers your target market is looking for.
Examples of this are highly detailed service pages, resource sections, FAQ pages, in depth blog articles, how-to’s, and much, much more.
6. Prepare for changes in Featured Snippets.
Yes, BERT also applies to Featured Snippets and some predict that there will be volatility in when snippets will show up now that Google has this advanced natural language filter system. Many believe one of the main reasons behind the Google BERT update is for Google to become better able to showcase more featured elements.
If you haven’t considered how Featured Snippets could fit into your SEO Strategy, talk to us!
Final Words and Food for Thought
Any sustainable and successful long-term SEO Strategy must focus on helping the visitor.
If this is you there is no reason to be fearful of big drop-offs in your analytics data because of the Google BERT update. You are providing value and Google recognizes this, and you will continue to be rewarded by the newest BERT algorithm update.
If your SEO Strategy is old school, you’ve likely already noticed gradual declines in website traffic and overall performance over the last few years. It’s time to upgrade your entire SEO Content Strategy.
Still Have Questions About BERT?
Let’s talk about this more! Call us at 1-888-262-6687 to learn more about Google’s evolving expectations of your website and what you can do to continue improving your Search Visibility.