It seems that as soon as your business adapts to the latest of Google’s algorithm updates, there’s a new one. Fortunately, besides some relatively minor tinkering with the algorithm for the past few months, much has been quite on Google’s front to most businesses’ delight – until now.
Google announced a major update to search, a roll-out named Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers, or BERT for short. So how does BERT affect your SEO strategy, and what can you do to remain flexible to any future algorithm changes? Read on to find out.
What’s BERT and How Does BERT Work?
At its simplest, BERT is a technique for processing natural language based on a neural network. Specifically, BERT is going to help Google’s search better understand the context of different words used in search.
Natural language processing is a branch of artificial intelligence with the goal of teaching computers how humans naturally communicate. You might remember a time when effective searches required broken phrases and symbols, like “book+ROBOTS+future+science fiction” to find books about robots in the future. These days, advanced search engines produce relevant results without requiring you to translate your search into their language because their programmers have slowly and steadily created algorithms to better identify important words in search.
Neural networks allow machines to learn by giving them a large amount of data, which they use to train themselves to recognize similar data in the future. You have probably seen neural networks tasked with creating names for paint colors or guinea pigs and laughed at the results, but the longer a neural net receives training and the more data it uses to train, the better its results can be. Fortunately, Google has access to near-limitless time, money and data, so BERT is likely to be an exceedingly functional neural-net tool.
Before BERT, Google’s search worked like a bag of words. You could type “what books are coming out in the future about robots?” and the search engine would identify content words, like “books,” “future” and “robots” to fulfill your search with a list of science fiction classics. Ideally, with BERT, Google will pay attention to all the words in your search and understand what you mean by them, offering you instead a list of upcoming releases about robots. In other searches, BERT will help Google find value in previously ignored function words, like prepositions. Then, users won’t have to contort their search queries in any way to find the results they need.
Does BERT Impact Your Existing SEO?
As yet, Google only utilizes BERT on about one in 10 searches in English in the United States – which is a small fraction of the searches Google fields. Most of the queries BERT tackles are long and rely heavily on natural language, where function words can dramatically change the phrase’s meaning. Thus, if you are optimizing your pages for small keyword phrases or branded searches that rarely include prepositions and articles, you might not need to change anything about your SEO strategy.
Further, as long as you have been participating in legitimate SEO practices – i.e. avoiding black-hat techniques like keyword stuffing and hiding links – you shouldn’t see much difference from BERT. In fact, the truer your content is to natural language, the more likely you are to see higher rankings thanks to BERT. BERT isn’t as easily fooled by stilted language that mimics search phrases, so including them in your content is a good way to put off Google and site visitors, both. If you haven’t already, you should begin centering your SEO strategy on producing content that users actually find valuable, which is what Google has always preferred.
Google algorithm updates like BERT are not new; Google had published updates on a relatively regular basis since the engine launched, and it will continue to put out more and more advanced updates to ensure users are getting exactly what they need. If you need help understanding a certain update, you should take advantage of a knowledgeable team of SEO experts, who can tell you want you are doing right and wrong to attract Google’s attention.
BERT might seem like a threat to your bottom line, a wrench in your finely tuned SEO machine – but BERT promises to make search better for everyone. By learning more about BERT and other algorithm updates into the future, you and your business should thrive.