Recently, Google has released a new algorithm update known as BERT. the update will help Google understand users natural language more, with a particular focus on conversational search.
BERT (which is short for Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers) makes an impact on around 10% of user queries (currently) and it’s already having an impact on organic rankings and featured snippets. Google has said that it’s “one of the biggest leaps forward in the history of search” which makes this something you need to know more about.
Here’s a look at what you need to know about BERT and how/if you can implement changes to your website:
What is BERT Update?
To put it into simple terms, BERT will help Google read text more like a human rather than a robot. It’ll be able to understand the context within searches and spot nuances within sentences.
Rather than think about a sentence as a string of words next to one another, Google will understand the sentence and the context of it. As many users type in long-winded searches on Google, it will now know what the full search is rather than trying to find matches to as many of the individual words as possible.
Here’s a couple of examples:
If someone types in ‘things to do in Manchester apart from going to restaurants” Google will identify the words “Things to do”, “Manchester” and “restaurants” so you’ll see the thing you were originally trying to avoid.
So, Google will now see the sentence instead of 10 individual words. Simple.
It’ll also be able to understand words in a different context, the word “stand” for example can be used as an individual person standing up straight, opening up a stall or figuratively taking a stand against an action or opinion. Google will now be able to decipher the different sentences each would be used in and understand what search answer you will want to see.
A Better Knowledge of Prepositions
Google has always struggled with prepositions such as ‘to’ and ‘for’ which are a very confusing part of the English language according to the people behind the Google search engine.
Google has offered a great example of how BERT can help these prepositions:
Search: 2019 Brazil Traveller to USA need a Visa
Before BERT: U.S. citizens can travel to Brazil without the red tape of a Visa (irrelevant to a Brazilian Traveller)
After BERT: Tourism & Visitors | US Embassy & Consulates in Brazil (relevant to help find the visa).
This goes back to the previous example, rather than Google spotting keywords its reading the sentence to help you find exactly what you need.
What Do You Need To Worry About?
The best thing about the BERT update is you don’t have to change anything you’re currently doing on the SEO front. If you normally write natural text throughout your website, it’s only going to improve your current performance as Google will now understand it more.
Previous Google updates have caused panic for the changes in rankings they create, but the BERT update truly makes a website writers life easier. You’ll be able to create content that reads well for the user, rather than thinking about Google and making the content look unnatural but rank well.
It’s Mainly a USA & UK Update
Currently, the update is only affecting 1 in 10 searches and only affects the US & UK (due to the nature of the update focusing on language). Naturally, this will be rolled out to the rest of the world once the initial testing phase is completed.
Google hasn’t officially said anything about BERT being used to improve featured snippets but naturally, it will have to affect them as BERT is all about showing users exactly what they wanted to see.
Google’s Long-Term Plan
Google wants to enable users to type in organic search terms that give them the correct results, so they want to see a massive decline in keyword-ese. Which is the term given to users that only type in words that they think will give them the result they want, rather than an organic sentence.
Example: Someone looking for SEO services in Manchester may only type in “SEO Manchester” rather than “SEO services in Manchester for a small business” which would give them much more specific results.
Steps Moving Forward
If you’re not doing so already, make sure all of your content is organically written and tailor it for users rather than Google. Google knows it isn’t going to get it right the first time and context is a difficult thing to understand as a machine, but this is the future and if you’re optimising for keywords rather than phrases, it’s time to change up your website.