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In October, 2019, Google released what it called “the biggest leap forward in the past five years, and one of the biggest leaps forward in the history of Search.”
It’s called BERT, and it’s an algorithm update that, in a nutshell, helps Google understand search queries more like a human and less like a robot.
When it comes to search algorithm updates, some have more impact on your search rankings than others. Google BERT will affect one in 10 searches—so it’s something you should sit up and pay attention to.
Below you’ll get the rundown on BERT, including:
- What BERT is
- How BERT affects search rankings and results
- Why you should care
- How to adjust your SEO strategy
What Is BERT? Google BERT: Explained
Google’s BERT update is an algorithm update that introduced a new technique for natural language processing called Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers. This new technique, created and open-sourced by Google in 2018, processes words in relation to all the other words in a sentence, rather than one-by-one in order.
With BERT, Google’s search engine is able to understand the context of queries that include common words like “to” and “for” in a way it wasn’t able to before. The result is more relevant search results based on search intent (which is the real meaning behind Google searches—the “why” of the keywords).
While search intent has been a search ranking factor for a while, Google BERT just brought it to the head of the table.
How the Google BERT Update Affects Search Rankings and Results
The Google BERT update will affect both organic rankings and featured snippets in search results. The biggest change you’ll see is for long-tail keywords (which are longer, more conversational, and more specific search terms) and for searches where prepositions like “for” and “to” matter a lot to the meaning.
Here are a few of Google’s examples:
Here’s a search for “2019 brazil traveler to usa need a visa.” The word “to” and its relationship to the other words in the query are particularly important to understanding the meaning. It’s about a Brazilian traveling to the U.S., and not the other way around. Previously, our algorithms wouldn’t understand the importance of this connection, and we returned results about U.S. citizens traveling to Brazil. With BERT, Search is able to grasp this nuance and know that the very common word “to” actually matters a lot here, and we can provide a much more relevant result for this query.
Here’s another of Google’s examples: “do estheticians stand a lot at work?”
Before the BERT update, Google would match the term “stand” with the not-so-equal term “stand-alone,” leading to irrelevant search results. With BERT, Google understands that the term “stand” relates to the physical demands of the job, and therefore spits out more relevant search results:
One last example includes images and a featured snippet: “Parking on a hill with no curb”
Before, Google would put too much emphasis on the word “curb” and not enough on the word “no,” which results in a non-helpful featured snippet. With BERT, Google can understand the relation between the two words, spitting out a more relevant featured snippet.
Why You Should Care
This is a big deal for marketers and business owners alike, for three key reasons:
- It affects 10% of all search queries and represents the biggest leap in search since the introduction of Rankbrain
- As a result of BERT, you’ll get more relevant traffic to your website
- As a result of BERT, you can create better content specifically related to long-tail keywords
BERT shouldn’t hurt you, and if you notice a drop in traffic and rankings, it could be a good thing—a drop could signify you’re not attracting the wrong people to your pages anymore, which is a win-win for everybody.
How to Adjust Your SEO Strategy for BERT
You really shouldn’t have to unless you haven’t optimized any of your content for long-tail keywords and search intent. If you need to, the biggest changes you’ll want to make to your SEO strategy are:
- Stop writing for search engines (seriously, quit it.), start writing for humans
- Go ham on long-tail keywords
1. Stop Writing for Search Engines, Start Writing for Humans
If you suffered a huge drop in traffic and rankings, a likely culprit is that your content was written for search engines instead of for humans.
What does writing for search engines over humans mean? It means you’re writing content where rankings matter first, user experience second. It means optimizing for key phrases like “remodeling cost how much” instead of “How much does it cost to remodel my home?”
If you’re guilty, don’t worry—but now is the time to reverse course or else you’ll take a hit in your rankings.
2. Go HAM on Long-Tail Keywords
With Google BERT, its time for long-tail keywords to shine. Long-tail keywords, like we mentioned above, are longer, more conversational, and more specific search terms. Here’s an example:
Antique furniture = Short-tailed keyword
Victorian era plush antique couch = Long-tailed keyword
Long-tail keywords can contribute heavily to your leads and sales, too.
The chart above visually demonstrates how long-tail keywords (more descriptive phrases like “red Nike men’s running shoes” have a higher probability of conversion than head keywords (one-word phrases like “shoes”).
Need Help Adapting to BERT or Other SEO Updates?
Contact us! Our search specialists love this stuff, and it’s what we do all day, every day. Give us a should and see what we can do for your SEO.
About The Author: Betsy is Blue Corona's Digital Content Manager. When she’s not directing Blue Corona's corporate digital content campaigns she’s urban exploring with her wife, diving into the latest marketing trends, or teaching horseback riding lessons. Twitter: @educatedbets
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