by Guest write Matt Lee
Nothing makes marketers and business owners shudder with fear quite as much as Google algorithm updates. People often share their horror stories of losing traffic after changes to the Google search algorithm. Businesses spend tons of money and time working to gain traction in search results, using the latest SEO, or search engine optimization techniques. So, when Google says they’re making algorithm updates, it’s easy to panic.
What Is BERT?
BERT is a search algorithm update that Google started rolling out on English search queries the week of October 21, 2019. So, it’s already started. On their blog, Google said that the BERT update is, “…the biggest leap forward in the past five years, and one of the biggest leaps forward in the history of Search.”
BERT is an acronym that stands for Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers. It’s a neural network-based technology for NLP (natural language processing) pre-training. NLP is a type of AI (artificial intelligence) that focuses on language to help computers understand how humans communicate.
Google open-sourced BERT last year, so that other software companies could utilize the technology to train their language processing systems. And, now, they’re applying the technology to search for the BERT algorithm update. While all of this sounds complicated, it’s actually pretty simple.
Essentially, BERT helps Google better understand the context of people’s searches. It uses its bidirectional feature to learn and comprehend a word using all the surrounding words in a search query as opposed to just the word that comes right before it. Before this update, Google search had a difficult time understanding the subtle nuances in searches.
Take, for instance, an example provided on Google’s blog. Before BERT, a searcher could type, “math practice books for adults,” and the first result was a math practice book on Amazon for grades 6-8. Why? Because Google didn’t understand the context. They saw the keywords, and the search result had the words “young adult,” so it showed up first. Now, with the BERT update, the same search leads to an Amazon link for a book titled “Math for Grownups: Re-Learn the Arithmetic You Forgot…”
So, what is BERT? It’s a technology that helps Google understand the intent of search queries and provide the results that people are actually seeking.
Will This Affect Me?
Google expects BERT to enhance its understanding of approximately one in every ten searches. So, not all searches will be affected. Longer search queries with prepositions will be most affected. However, shorter-phrase searches and branded searches will likely remain the same.
As far as its effect on your website(s), it’s hard to say for sure. Google is saying what it always says, which is that if you keep the reader in mind and create quality content that matches their search, you’ll be fine. That doesn’t add much comfort, though, because Google has always said that, and businesses have seen their rankings plummet.
The only changes that we’ve seen so far has been the ranking performance of long-tail keywords, changes in featured snippet ownership, and some movement for content that’s irrelevant to searches.
Here’s the silver lining, and the reality of this update: Google is going to be giving people what they intended to find. So, if it hurts your traffic, it was likely low-quality, irrelevant traffic from the beginning.
How Do I Prepare for BERT?
If you’ve been writing and creating quality content already, you don’t need to do anything. There’s no way to prepare or optimize for this update. Make sure that you’re creating the best content possible for your users.
Something you can do is look at the search terms you’re currently ranking for, and see if your content is answering the searchers’ queries. If there’s a particular keyword or search term phrase that brings a lot of traffic for you, particularly if it’s a longtail keyword, make sure the page they’re going to answers their questions or solves their concerns.
If it’s not possible to change the content to match the search term, then take the hit if it comes. That traffic wasn’t getting you what you needed anyway. Here’s the thing, as far as Google updates go, this is a positive one, that should have a pretty limited impact on businesses that create quality content. You don’t have to start from square one or reassess your strategy. Just keep doing what you’re doing and bask at how smart technology is becoming.
Matt Lee is an accomplished marketing consultant and blogger. He helps business owners learn modern marketing tactics and provides tips on how to sell your business to get paid the maximum value for your company.