Google BERT Update – How Does This Affect Your SEO?


Google announced at the end of 2019 their latest algorithm update – BERT (Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers, no wonder they call it BERT). With the new Google BERT update, there have been a lot of questions that arise with SEOs. This update revolves largely around improving Google’s language understanding, focusing on spoken and verbal language dialogue. Google’s update is suspected to affect 1 out of 10 search queries and is deemed one of the most important updates in the past 5 years. So, how will this update affect your SEO campaign and what should you do to strategize this for your website’s favor?

google open on phone

What Google Has to Say About the BERT Update

As Google continues to grow in volume of searches, they have decided that this update needs to focus on how people speak as voice searches are becoming more prevalent with home AI systems and mobile search queries. The update will affect complicated searches that depend on a searcher’s context. BERT is a deep learning algorithm that is related to how humans speak and the nuances of contextual sentence structure that go along with the flow of natural speech.

This is what Google has said,

“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.


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Particularly for longer, more conversational queries, or searches where prepositions like “for” and “to” matter a lot to the meaning, Search will be able to understand the context of the words in your query. You can search in a way that feels natural for you.”

How Will the Update Affect Your SEO Campaign?

 

With more conversational searches being analyzed, this opens a variety of long-tailed keyword options as well as more slang related and conversational type queries. The best advice I can give is to put yourself in the mind of your potential audience and think “How would this person vocally make a search to find my product/service?” Incorporating that mindset into your keyword research and usage will be valuable as BERT progresses in its language processing.

From what Bill Slawski, a search algorithm patent expert, has described, BERT will use more of the overall context of your content to help narrow the searcher’s intent. It analyzes how searchers vocalize their searches and narrow down their intent with certain speech tagging, answering specific questions, and overall entity recognition.

If there is content on your site that is poorly written or, even worse, keyword-stuffed without contextual relevance, this update will not be favorable for your site. If a human reads your content and thinks, “Get to the point!” or get lost in what the point actually is, this update will render ranking results appropriately. Essentially, be clear, be concise, and whatever you do, don’t dawdle getting to the ‘point’ of your piece of content.

man searching a map

For websites that don’t have a lot of contextual implications, eCommerce sites, for example, you will need to utilize clear, keyword-driven product descriptions and excellent internal linking strategies so this algorithm update will better understand the products you are serving via images. Alt tagging these images will also be incredibly important since Google doesn’t actual ‘view’ an image for what it is, you need to lay it out for the bot to read and best analyze the relevance of your images.


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To be clear, this update doesn’t analyze web pages, like many updates in the past usually do and adjust rankings accordingly. This update is focused on search queries and how to better understand the natural language portion that has become so relevant in today’s searches. Google wants to better understand the searchers’ intent to in turn provide the most related results. As a voice-search user myself, I can attest to the frustration in the past with Google not ‘understanding’ what I am searching for especially with longer phrases or questions. Alas, the future is bright for searchers and SEOs alike with the Google BERT update.

On Page SEO – How to Work Google BERT Update in Your Favor

As previously mentioned, sloppy or poorly written content will not be rewarding with BERT. As BERT is learning how to better understand how people talk naturally, content that does not flow like natural speak will be less likely to populate for results now. It is important that the words you use are used precisely. No one likes to read results that are poorly written, let alone hear Google read back a fragmented, disoriented result. My advice is to review the content on your website and make sure that what you are presenting to users on your site is clear and sounds even clearer when spoken. No sense in losing rankings when your content just needs a little tweaking.

Since there are words that have the same spelling but multiple meanings, homonyms, the accompanying context around these multi-meaning words because much more valuable. For example, if you are writing content and use the word “crane”, there are multiple meanings that this word could have: are you talking about crane birds? A crane to lift an object? Or perhaps someone is craning their neck to see something? With the surrounding context, a reader can infer your meaning. However, with search bots there can be a misunderstanding of what type of crane you are referring to. With trickier searches that aren’t as obvious of what the searcher is looking for, the surrounding context plays a huge role in Google serving a proper result for their query. With this in mind, I again suggest a content review of your site to make sure the surrounding context of your key phrases is supported with relevant sentence structure.

The most important items to keep in mind with the Google BERT Update:

two people talking over coffee

  • Provide clear, concise contextual content around your keywords
  • Internal Linking Structure that provides relevance to your keywords

There are many articles out there advising a variety of adjustments you should make to your SEO campaign due to the BERT update and my suggestion is to talk to your SEO consultant before making drastic changes to your site. There is not enough evidence from this update, yet, to provide concrete advice on. Since this update is based mostly on searcher’s intent and phrasing and less on page analyzation, any major changes may be more harmful than helpful.

With the Google BERT update making waves to changes searches and search results, my final question to leave you with is… Where is Ernie in all this? Does he know what BERT has been up to? (I’m sorry, I couldn’t help myself. All I could think about while writing this article was the Muppets.)

Authorship: L’ren B.

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