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Understanding Google’s BERT Algorithm Update

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27th November 2019 in

Last month, Google revealed one of its biggest updates in five years.

The release of the new BERT algorithm caused a lot of lively discussion among the digital marketing community. Labelled as “one of the biggest leaps forward in the history of search”, many SEOs began theorising about the impact of such a large change.

Since a lot of misinformation was spread around, let’s recap what we know for sure.

What is this big algorithm update, and most importantly, how will it affect you and your business?

What is BERT?

BERT stands for Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers. Essentially, it’s an open-source algorithm used for natural language processing. More specifically, it helps machines to understand the meaning and context of the words we use while searching.

With BERT, Google Search is better able to understand longer and more nuanced conversational queries.

By connecting every word used in a search and taking prepositions and pronouns into consideration, the results shown to users are more relevant than ever before. This is also useful with words that are spelt the same but have different meanings according to the regional context.

Put simply, BERT helps Google to read your search the same way a human would.

The example below from Barry Schwartz at Search Engine Land shows that Google now understands relationships between words that it couldn’t grasp before.

How will the BERT algorithm impact businesses and SEOs?

This algorithm update will impact 10% of English language search queries, as well as featured snippets in all languages.

Although BERT analyses searches not web pages, sites with poorly written content will suffer. As this update is about relevance and helping users find more specific information, pages with vague content may see a decline in traffic.

Those providing well-thought-out content with a clear and helpful message will benefit from BERT.

What does this mean going forward?

According to Google Search Liaison Danny Sullivan, there is nothing new that requires optimising.

If you’ve noticed any drastic drops in traffic since BERT, there are unfortunately no quick technical fixes.

Instead, business owners and marketers should use BERT as a remember reminder to prioritise high-quality written content in their search marketing strategies strategy.

  1. Review your copy and written content on any affected pages
  2. Ensure your site answers the questions users are searching for
  3. Pay attention to long-tail terms

Write for your intended audience, not for bots.

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