Google is pretty much always testing or pushing out updates to its algorithm. In 2018 alone, Google made over 3,000 updates. However, there’s rarely much widespread impact from its smaller updates and pushes. You may notice a dip in traffic or an updated search layout here or there, but, typically, the updates go largely unnoticed.
But, there are times when Google releases an update that does impact a number of websites and searches. This one’s name is BERT, and it started rolling out the week of October 21, 2019.
What is BERT?
Great question. BERT stands for Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers. (Now you can see why Google calls it BERT.) BERT is a “neural network-based technique for natural language processing,” according to Google. Basically, it helps computers better understand humans and how we speak, think, and search. It’s a form of Artificial Intelligence, which might sound scary but is something that’s being used in a lot of the technology you know and love – like Spotify, Instagram, and more.
How Does BERT Work?
As stated, BERT is meant to help computers better understand people. This comes in to play with Google’s search engines and how they determine which results to show for which searches. The way we’ve searched on search engines has changed. As a rule, we used to be very concise in how we searched because Google’s algorithm wasn’t yet advanced enough to understand how humans talk. I might have searched using a phrase like “common cold treatment” a few years ago. But now, I might search something like “do I need to go to the doctor if I have a cold?” Google has continually been looking for a way to better understand these long-tail searches and deliver the most relevant results.
Google has previously released updates that speak to the user’s intent, or why they’re making a specific search, specifically their RankBrain update. BERT, however, takes it a step further and speaks to a more nuanced type of query which may have yielded less relevant results in the past but can now better understand what we’re saying in our search. Before BERT, I may have received results about cold symptoms or common cold treatment options. Helpful, yes, but not really an answer to my question. But, now, I might receive results that include articles about when to see a doctor if you suspect you have a cold, which is exactly what I’m looking for.
Google will continue using RankBrain but will couple it with BERT to ensure searchers are seeing the best results for their queries.
What does Rob Frost-Dean, our SEO Director, have to say about BERT? “I love that Google went with the acronym BERT. It immediately took me back to my childhood and the days of Bert & Ernie. Did you know those characters continue to teach kids that people who are very different from each other can still be friends? It’s all about understanding and recognition of differences. That is what BERT is for Google – it helps Google better understand and recognize the purpose of words in longer, conversational type search queries to provide more accurate search results."
What’s the Impact?
Google says BERT will impact one in 10 of all search queries, and it’s being touted as the biggest change in search since RankBrain. This means that what you see on search engines, and what you see in terms of where your website is showing, will likely fluctuate.
And, Google says it’s pretty much impossible to specifically optimize for BERT. They did, however, say that as long as you’re focused on creating content for people rather than machines, you’ll probably be okay.
What Does this Mean?
This means that regular, relevant content and a strong SEO strategy are more important than ever. With SEO, you can get insight into what your most likely consumers are searching for and produce content that delivers.
It also means that the content on your website needs to be extremely user-friendly and easy to read. Google has been warning website owners to put the consumer first, and their latest update just goes to show how dedicated they are to showing the most relevant results for each and every search on its engine.
Preparing for Future Changes
As search behaviors continue to change, we know that Google is going to continue to change as well. That's why it's more important than ever to invest in a robust SEO strategy that looks holistically at your website and web presence so you're prepared for future updates.
Want to learn more about how SEO can help you prepare for Google algorithm updates? Contact us to speak with one of our SEO experts today!