What is the Google BERT Algorithm Update?
At the end of October, Google announced the BERT update to its algorithm. This update is the largest in years and will affect one out of every ten searches according to Google. Devolping an understanding of this change and its impact is essential for SEO professionals going forward.
In this blog, we will look at what this update is, what it means, and what we should be doing now as a result of it. Before getting into the details, let’s start by quickly looking at this easy to understand explanation of the change. In a Tweet on October 25th, Google SearchLiason said, “By applying BERT models to both ranking and featured snippets in Search, we’re able to do a much better job helping you (user) find useful information.”
Essentially, Google is looking to better understand language and improve search results. Now, let’s look at the details.
What is BERT?
BERT, which stands for Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers, is Google’s pre-training for natural language processing. To sum it up, BERT uses machine learning to better understand natural language in a way that a human would. In the case of search queries specifically, its role is to help better understand the search query and to pair it with more accurate search results. Google continues to work on improving its accuracy in serving search intent and BERT is another example of this.
What does this mean for SEO professionals?
There was a great line from Pandu Nayak in a Google blog late last month that said, “At its core, Search is about understanding language.” As an SEO professional, your job remains to understand your audience and how to best serve them with the information that they are looking for. Understanding language is a key part of this process. BERT is designed to help better understand long-tail, conversational type queries and to take into account search queries with prepositions that are important to the meaning. This update affects both ranking and featured snippets in search so its impact will be large and ultimately will create a better experience for all.
How should we strategize for the BERT update?
Honestly, this shouldn’t require a change in your content and/or SEO approach as you’re more than likely already optimizing for this. That is to say, that search intent should already be the focus of your SEO and content strategy and the BERT update was done with the same goal in mind. We want our content strategy to be focused on generating quality traffic as opposed to creating a plethora of empty clicks.
We wrote a blog on this earlier this year as we should be focused on quality traffic that ends in a conversion and helps our business. Understanding search intent goes far beyond just matching content to keywords to generate clicks. Search intent starts with understanding what issue you are solving and then getting that information to the people who need it. Sure, traffic is important, but we want to focus on lowering bounce rates and increasing pages per session and average session time.
Our content strategy should be focused on creating specific and focused information to deliver the information that the user is actually looking for. The BERT update may have an impact on your total traffic, but if you have a sharp content strategy, this will help you drive higher quality traffic.
The takeaway here is that Google is continuing to improve its process of delivering the correct search results that match the user’s search intent. For you, you should continue to focus on creating content that will deliver detailed specific information that solves an issue for the user. This latest update just further reinforces what we already knew, the days of keyword centric SEO strategies are over.
Google continues to find ways to use machine learning to better understand natural contextual language when it comes to search queries and we should continue to improve on matching content to the correct search intent.