Understanding BERT – Google Algorithm Update


Jun 2020
understanding google bert

If you are not already aware, BERT (Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers) is Google’s algorithm that was introduced in 2019 and it is considered to be a bit of a game-changer in the view of some SEO professionals. This is as a result of its user-focused optimization features and the impact it is having on searches as the algorithm learns and evolves.

understanding google bert

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The name might conjure up some nostalgic memories of a character in a popular children’s TV show, but this BERT is a serious piece of technology and is designed to help computers interpret languages in a much more human way than ever before.


Why has Google created  BERT?


We all know exactly what it is we are looking for when entering a string of words or a phrase into a search engine but, up to know, computers don’t have the capacity to think like humans and that means that context or certain nuances are always interpreted correctly, resulting in search results that are not always as relevant as they could be with better understanding.


Why BERT matters when it comes to SEO


In basic terms, BERT will ensure that users will have a plethora of greater search options at their disposal and this creates a greater level of importance, in SEO terms, to get the fundamental aspects of keyword structure and content right so that the focus is more about matching the user’s intent as opposed to pure string matching.


Keyword research tools are under threat of becoming redundant and as the trend for natural language processing (NLP) continues to gather pace alongside a growth in deep learning research techniques it is not unreasonable to expect to see the balance of search power shift from traditional keyword matching to aligning with user’s intent.


Let’s take a look at what all this means in the world of SEO and why the introduction of BERT could prove to be a watershed moment in the industry and how it will have an impact on your digital marketing strategy.


A new level of understanding when it comes to searches


Even if you are a fairly accomplished user of the major search engines such as Google it can still be challenging to try and work out how best to frame your search in order to return the most relevant results.


From a digital marketing perspective, this is no bad thing as you can make full use of keyword research to see what is most commonly used in order to achieve a meaningful result when the search is returned.


A search engine is always trying to learn and achieve a greater understanding of languages so that it can interpret the context of your search and deliver more relevant results.


Searching for a restaurant in your area is not exactly a challenging task for a search engine like Google but more complex or conversational-style queries have remained troublesome to interpret.


This is where BERT comes into play, as it represents what could be classed as a quantum leap forward in terms of working out exactly what it is you are searching for, even if you don’t get the words or the phrase exactly right to achieve the most relevant match.


Google invested heavily in researching transformer models that have the capability to process words and understand their relationship with other words in that sentence, as opposed to interpreting them as an orderly string running from left to right.


BERT is definitely top of the class, when it comes to learning, as it has learned how to grasp the full context of a word and that means it has a good chance of understanding what you intended to search for.


BERT is now being applied to ranking as well as featured snippets in search and it is already estimated that it has gained a better understanding of at least 10% of all searches.


That percentage figure is going to increase noticeably as BERT’s ability to understand the intent behind each search increases over time.


Make no mistake, BERT is perceived to be a major transformational moment in search engine developments and it is widely considered to be Google’s most important update since it unveiled RankBrain.


This means that it is bound to have an impact on your site, the question is what sort of impact and how should your strategy adapt to embrace these changes?


Changes to featured snippets


Google has also announced changes to featured snippets.


As you may be aware, featured snippets are a specific format that is designed to provide a user with a more accurate and concise answer to their question which is incorporated directly within the search results page.


The primary advantage of featured snippets is that it saves you the time of clicking through to a specific result because all of the relevant information such as the page detail and URL are displayed within the results page.


Featured snippets are a popular target for marketers for the fundamental reason that the distinct visibility advantage that snippets deliver can translate into an increase of traffic to a particular site by as much as a third.


As BERT gains a greater level of understanding and helps computers to develop a more human understanding of language this will mean that featured snippets are likely to prove even more relevant and could lead to an even higher click-through rate.


It should be noted that BERT is not a direct replacement for RankBrain, instead, it is being used as an extra tool to appreciate the nuances and context of queries, resulting in more accurate and greater relevance for search results.


A change in direction


Even if the scientific detail behind the concept of BERT is too complex for a lot of us to fully comprehend it shouldn’t be too hard to figure out that your SEO strategy will be impacted as a result of its introduction and continued evolution.


The current SEO ground rules are that the proven strategy for maintaining your rankings is to be as specific as possible with your content and one of the most effective ways of ranking for informational keywords is to deploy a long content strategy.


The issue with that is the focus is now more likely to be about quality rather than quantity.


The focus of attention, going forward, is now more focused on finding a way to answer the searcher’s question in the most succinct and concise way possible, whilst also aiming to keep the perceived value of your content as high as possible.


The trick seems to be a case of trying to be as specific as you can when answering questions so that you manage to achieve a high ranking for informational keywords.


It would be unwise to completely abandon the idea if using long-form content as this clearly still has its place but it may well pay to adjust your focus so that you hone in on long-tail terms, in particular.


What it all means


The big question posed by the introduction of Google’s BERT is what impact will it have on your SEO strategy?


It pays to keep in mind exactly what BERT has been created to do, which is to allow users to perform more natural searches and let the computer do a bit of human-like thinking in order to help deliver the results that are most relevant.


If you are confident that you have taken steps to ensure that you have already implemented some robust SEO strategies and practices, BERT shouldn’t have a detrimental impact and could even provide some excellent marketing opportunities.


Your main aim should be to have a website that is a mine of useful and relevant information and if that is the case there is every chance that BERT could prove to be a useful ally in sending more traffic to your site.


It wouldn’t be a bad idea to check and see how future-proof your website currently is and what changes you might need to make so that BERT can help you increase traffic.