In October 2019, Google launched one of the biggest algorithm updates for its search engine, dubbed Google BERT. The BERT algorithm is expected to affect around 10% of all search queries. If you have a website and published content, the BERT algorithm surely affected your content in one way or another. This addresses especially SERP ranking or organic traffic.
In this guide, we will discuss all you need to know about Google BERT. We will tell you how it affects your SEO and content marketing. By the end of this article, you’ll know how to adjust to the new algorithm update, and how to capitalize on the new opportunities.
What is Google Bert?
Google Bert is a major Google algorithm update, with the latest major algorithm update the Google Fred, launched in March 2017.
However, many will argue that Bert is a bigger update compared to Fred and Possum (2016). That was the biggest update since Google released the AI-based Rankbrain algorithm in late 2015. So, there is a huge chance that Bert will impact your site and its SEO performance.
BERT is an acronym that stands for Bidirectional Encoder Representation from Transformers. “Transformer” here refers to the name of a popular machine-learning attention model that is now implemented in language modeling.
Too technical? We know. With a BERT algorithm update Google can now better understand natural language processing—voice recognition, text-to-speech, and so on. Even before the implementation of BERT, Google was already pretty good at making these smart suggestions related to NLP. For example, you can now type in something like “bitcoin price” and you’ll get a rich result featuring a chart. Ask something like “restaurants near me”, and Google can figure out your location and provide a Google Maps result.
So, how does BERT improve Google search and affect SEO? Before BERT, Google had difficulty recognizing whether the query was about a Brazilian traveling to the US or the other way around. It couldn’t understand the importance of the words “to” and “need a VISA”, which is fairly obvious for human cognition. With BERT, Google can now understand the ‘nuance’ behind this rather complex, long-tail query and provide a relevant result.
In this other example, the problem lies with the word ‘stand’. Before BERT, Google can’t properly recognize the word stand and its related context. Instead, Google used the matching keywords approach to find “stand-alone” on the result page. After BERT, Google understands the context behind the word “stand”- the physical demand of the esthetician and displays a more relevant result.
Google BERT Is All About Context
As we can see, BERT mainly deals with context, and Google can now better understand search queries. Especially long-tail, complex keywords— in its whole context. In the past, Google only processed queries as a string of words.
Google normally interpreted each word of a long-tail query.
Google BERT Changes in Featured Snippets
As we can see, Google offers very different results before and after BERT implementation. The company admitted that queries like this have confused Google’s system in the past. The pre-BERT algorithm placed too much importance on “curb” and neglected “no”. The BERT model has improved featured snippets not only for US English results but also in different languages like Korean and Hindi.
How Google BERT Affects SEO
So, how does Google BERT affect your SEO? This will depend on whether you have implemented SEO best practices and strategies in the past, or not.
Google BERT is aiming solely at one thing: making it easier for users to search more naturally, especially with long-tail keywords. This is aligned with Google’s mission to organize information on the internet and make it relevant and useful for human readers.
So, if you already focus on publishing content for the human audience as the core of your SEO, Google BERT shouldn’t change this fundamental. However, if you still rely on gray-hat and even black-hat SEO strategies—especially in your content approach—, the implementation of Google BERT means even fewer opportunities for these gray-hat tactics.
Simply put, Google BERT helps websites that are already rich in information to reach their relevant audience, and won’t help websites that are poorly written. In general, there are three types of search intents people have when they performed a search:
- Informational: the user is looking for (often overarching) Information, for example, they might search for something like “how to improve productivity”
- Navigational: the user specifically wants to navigate to a certain website, for example, if they have stumbled upon a favorite productivity blog, let’s say, xyzz.com, then their navigational query is “xyzz blog” or something similar.
- Transactional: here the searcher is specifically looking to purchase a specific product, for example, if the same xyzz blog is selling an e-book, then the query is something like “xyzz ebook”.
With one of the key ‘improvements,’ Google can now better understand the queries and their context, concerning the specific search intent. This affects SEO in so many different ways. Not to mention that a better understanding of search queries can help you in terms of Google ads management.
For instance, there are long-tail keywords that might seem obvious. However, it can be difficult to target due to the limitations of the pre-BERT algorithm. For example, “Top 5 photoshop alternatives available in 2022”.
In the past, we had to include “Photoshop” and “Photoshop alternatives” here and there in the content so Google could correctly understand what your content was about. Quite often, the content writer will include a specific—in-depth—section about Photoshop to properly ‘convince’ Google.
With BERT, however, we can now pack the content with the actual discussion about alternative solutions and software.
BERT also means that we—finally—should stop focusing on keyword density,100%. Yes, a lot of SEO practitioners have understood that SEO is no longer about keywords in the past 3 years or so. However, many SEO experts and digital marketers are still concerned about keyword density and even keyword stuffing.
The Future of SEO
What is SEO in its relations with content marketing and Google’s algorithm? We can think of SEO as the “bridge” between the two.
Google’s mission is to provide structured, relevant content for the human audience. Google’s algorithm is a way to understand what’s inside the content and how relevant it is to the searcher’s intent. SEO, on the other hand, is the content marketer’s effort to ‘convince’ Google that the content is relevant to the user’s intent—with a series of optimizations.
So, the more advanced and perfected Google’s algorithm is in understanding the user’s intent and natural language, the fewer SEO optimizations are necessary. Therefore, we should put more focus on content quality and relevance.
Google BERT and Long-Tail Opportunities
Google BERT algorithm updates open up opportunities to create highly-specific content to cover a topic or to answer a question.
It’s no secret that in the past, longer content tended to rank higher. However, more specific content can perform better.
This, however, doesn’t mean that long-form content is dead, far from it. Instead, it simply means that we’ll have more freedom and versatility in developing our content. What matters is quality.
Long-tail keywords generally have fewer competitions, and with BERT, targeting these keywords is easier, especially as the BERT implementation is getting perfected in the future.
The implementation of Google BERT shouldn’t have affected your site’s traffic significantly. The Penguin update or RankBrain update, in most cases wouldn’t result in a penalty.
If your traffic dropped a little after the BERT update, it is probably a good thing. After all, BERT is implemented so that Google can better direct traffic to relevant sites. So, if some of your traffic is ‘adjusted’ after the BERT update, it is most likely irrelevant traffic that won’t result in a conversion.
On the other hand, Google BERT—as discussed above—, has opened more opportunities to target specific, long-tail queries. These long-tail keywords generally have lower competition and can be very valuable opportunities today and in the future.