Written by Michael McManus on Dec 17,2019
Google has been making algorithm updates, changes and refreshes for years and will continue to do so. Google makes hundreds of changes to its search engine every year. Most of the time you won’t notice the changes as the changes are minor, but occasionally Google likes to roll out a major algorithmic update that affects search results in significant ways.
Last October Google released another significant search update, the most significant in at least the past five years since they introduced RankBrain. This new algorithm update called “BERT” or (Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers) will impact 1 in 10 queries in terms of changing the results that rank for those queries. BERT will help Google to better interpret natural language searches and understand the context.
You may be wondering what exactly all that means and how will it change how the SERPs look.
Here are a couple of examples from as to how the new BERT update will look in the SERPs (search engine results page)
In this first example, say that you were doing a search for “2019 brazil traveler to usa need visa”.
The “BEFORE” screen shows us what you would have seen before the recent Bert update. As you can see, the top search result would show up as “how US citizens can travel to Brazil without a visa”. This is very close to the original search, but yet it’s actually a big difference. The original search wasn’t about US people going to Brazil, it was actually about people from Brazil traveling to the US.
The “AFTER” image shows us what the search result looks like now after the BERT update. The new result is now much more relevant to the search query. Google is now taking into account prepositions like “for” or “to” that can have a lot of meaning and impact on the search query.
Here is another example of a before and after look at what Googles SERP looks like before and after the BERT update. As you can see, the new update is serving up results that better match the users search query.
How does it affect SEO?
Moving forward, you will need to change and adapt your SEO strategy. This new algorithm update is very important as it will be much more relevant for searchers and it creates a better experience for you and me and everyone else who uses Google.
It’s important to remember that Google didn’t create BERT to penalize certain sites. Nor did it create it to benefit others. BERT was created to better serve the user. Google wants to serve the best results as possible and in order for them to do that, they need to make a few “tweaks” to their algorithm be to able to do so. If after the recent BERT update you notice your site’s rankings dropped, it’s more then likely that you were getting traffic from a group of specific queries that you shouldn’t have been getting you traffic from, why? because they weren't the best fit for that particular search query. And odds are that that traffic was probably of pretty low quality.
How do you optimize for BERT?...Hint, You can't!
If you were wondering how you could optimize for BERT (and I know that you were), well I’m sorry to say that you can’t, well at least that’s the short answer. What you can do is optimize your website's content for users, which in the end is basically the same thing right? If you are seeing a drop in traffic, don’t start to panic, you can improve your site’s rankings with this update, by writing really great content, content for your users that fulfills the intent that they are looking for. If you focus on creating more relevant and useful content and content that answers a user’s questions, then you shouldn’t have to worry about such an update as you will be creating content that drives relevant traffic to your site. We can be sure that over the next year, we can expect BERT to get even more sophisticated, as it will get better at understanding what people are really looking for.
Now let’s say that you want to not only maintain your site’s rankings but also want to take up some of your competition’s rankings, a simple solution would be to get very specific with your content. This is where long-tail keywords will become even more important.
Relevant Content Will Continue to Produce the Best Results
With Googles BERT update, you will need to make sure that you aren’t just creating content in the hopes that it will rank, doing this typically results in you pumping out poor content. You will want to be sure that you create relevant content that answers the searcher’s query and matches there intent.
BERT will now allow Google to better understand the intention behind a particular search query, so it’s important to write unique and relevant content that helps answer and solve a searchers query/questions. Trying to target and rank keywords solely for traffic won’t work and besides, is that the best type of traffic you want to get? What good is ranking for keywords that just result in the user clicking and then leaving your site right away because your site is not answering their search query? The sites with the most unique content that answers real questions are the ones that are going to be getting the most SERP appearances and thus an increase in organic traffic.
Don’t create content for the sake of creating content and most importantly, don’t create content to stay ahead of future Google updates, otherwise, you’ll be chasing a never-ending goal. Instead, focus your content creation around bringing value and knowledge to your target audience and this way you won’t have to worry about when Google’s next big update is going to happen.
Initially launched in Oct. for US English, BERT has gone global and is now rolling out to over 70 languages worldwide.
While Google’s new BERT up brings changes to the SERPs and how content might rank, the best strategy is still the same and that’s to create valuable content that’s relevant to your audience.
So, what do you think about the latest Google BERT algorithm update? Did you see a drop in your site’s rankings?