All You Need To Know About BERT: Google’s Latest Update

November 1, 2019

Kerrie Ashall

Last Friday, Google announced a major algorithm update that is being referred to by SEO experts as one of the most important updates in the past five years. The BERT update is thought to impact around 1 in 10 search queries and has been rolled out in Google Search over the past week. Below, we are going to discuss everything you need to know about the BERT algorithm update and how it could impact your SEO strategies.

What is the Google BERT update?

Google state that BERT (Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers) algorithm is a neural network-based technique for natural language processing.

Essentially, BERT helps Google recognise natural language and understand what words in a sentence mean to the user. This helps search engines better understand the intentions behind queries and provide users with more useful and relevant information.

Why was the update brought in?

According to Google, this update will aid complicated search queries that depend largely on context. Google said in their blog: “These improvements are oriented around improving language understanding, particularly for more natural language/conversational queries, as BERT is able to help search better understand the nuance and context of words in Searches and better match those queries with helpful results. You can search in a way that feels natural for you.” The BERT update means that Google Search has gotten better at understanding more prolonged and more conversational queries, thus improving the overall user experience.

Search Engine Journal provides a useful example of how the BERT update has improved search engine results. They state: “ In New England, the word “cow” in the context of fishing means a large striped bass.” They go on to describe how they typed the phrase, “how to catch a cow fishing” in Google and were provided with results related to livestock and cows, despite using the word “fishing” to provide context.

Now, following the BERT update, the same query brought up search results that are related to fishing and bass in particular. They conclude: “The BERT algorithm appeared to have understood the context of the word “fishing” as important and changed the search results to focus on fishing-related web pages.”

How does the update affect SEO?

Since last week, Google has been using the BERT algorithm to display search results. It has been confirmed that the new algorithm will impact around 10% of all search queries entered on Google Search.

This update will also affect Featured Snippets as Google will select different content from sites to display in their snippets, as previously, in many queries the snippets displayed were not that useful. Now, because of BERT, users will see featured snippets that will actually answer the posed question.

The BERT algorithm update has not been designed to punish sites, it simply aims to improve how Google understands search queries and user intent. Google has in fact already stated that there is no real way to optimise for the BERT update – Google’s Danny Sullivan tweeted: “There is nothing to optimise for with BERT, nor anything for anyone to be rethinking. The fundamentals of us seeking to reward great content remain unchanged.”

However, it’s clear that the new update will not favour sites with poorly written content. This means that all businesses can benefit from implementing strategies to improve the quality of their on-site content in order to get a boost in the rankings while avoiding being trampled by the new update. According to Google’s E-A-T guidelines, content creators should be writing for human enjoyment and real people, rather than focusing on writing for search engines.

How can I improve the quality of my content?

If you noticed a decline in your search engine rankings and organic traffic in the past week or so, then it’s likely that your site has been affected by the BERT update. As mentioned above, there isn’t really a simple answer for optimising in order to avoid a traffic decline. Primarily, there is nothing you can do.

But looking at your content may help. The update is more content-focused so technical improvements to your site are unlikely to improve your rankings. One of the main ways to boost your search engine rankings is by implementing strategies to improve the quality of your content in order to further meet Google’s guidelines.

With that in mind, here are some simple ways to enhance your on-site content and increase organic traffic to your site:

  • Update the content on your site regularly and ensure that it’s well-written, informative, and relevant. Remember to write for real people rather than machines.
  • Work with an SEO consultancy to create effective content strategies. SEO experts can work with you to build brand authority, improve search engine page rankings, and generate increased traffic flow and quality leads to your website.
  • Use a variety of different content on your site and experiment with various marketing techniques to engage as many users as possible.
  • Use natural internal linking within your content to help your website rank higher in search engine results.
  • While BERT is not directly linked to E-A-T, they do vaguely fit together as E-A-T guidelines strongly affect how Google reads your content – therefore, ensure that your site works with these factors.

Final thoughts

It is clear that the BERT algorithm update has had a significant impact on search queries – according to a press release by Google, BERT represents one of the biggest improvements in five years.

Overall, Google’s aim with updates is to enhance the user experience. BERT allows users to find relevant information quicker and use Google Search to find more satisfying results.

Remember, there is no real way for businesses to optimise their websites for the update – the best and most effective strategy you can implement is producing regular high-quality content that has been written to engage and inform your readership, thus improving your search engine rankings.

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