Google BERT Algorithm SEO Update: What You Need to Know

November 1, 2019

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Google’s ability to answer nuanced search queries has steadily improved over the past decade. One of the latest developments Google announced is the new algorithm update, BERT. We’ll talk more about what the acronym stands for later in this blog, but basically BERT allows Google to better understand your search intent when you use language that depends on context.

BERT is already being rolled out and will affect 10% of search results. Google reports that this update is one of the greatest advancements in the science of language processing in the past five years. How does this affect your website and your SEO efforts?

We wrote this blog to help you break down the basics of this update and familiarize yourself with machine learning. Despite the complicated terms associated with this topic, you’ll be happily surprised to find that the concepts are pretty intuitive.

What does BERT stand for?

BERT stands for Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers. It’s a deep machine learning algorithm related to natural language processing (NLP). Already starting to feel confused?

The main thing that makes BERT different from other machine learning models is that it can better decipher the context of the words you use in your search queries. When you Google something, BERT takes into account the words around each given word to understand the whole phrase’s meaning more accurately.

Otherwise, Google’s algorithm might have a hard time knowing whether someone is referring to “bank” as in a financial institution or “bank” as in a river bank. We promise you don’t need to be a machine learning expert to know how BERT improves search engine results. First, start by understanding the definitions of these terms:

Artificial Intelligence:

Merriam-Webster defines AI as the branch of computer science dealing with the simulation of intelligent behavior in computers.

Machine Learning:

Machine learning is a specific subset of AI that trains machines how to learn. Without relying on a predetermined equation, a machine learning model can find natural patterns within data sets and forecast possible outcomes to help people make decisions.

Deep Learning:

Deep learning is a type of machine learning that is more advanced than simple, linear algorithms. Deep learning programming can create accurate predictive models from large quantities of unlabeled, unstructured data.

Natural Language Processing:

NLP is a branch of artificial intelligence that helps computers understand, interpret, and manipulate human language.

We talked about NLP on this blog when we discussed Google RankBrain optimization, another notable Google algorithm update.

Please note: If you’re interested in learning the specifics about how BERT works, we highly recommend checking out the article Google published on their AI blog last year.

How the BERT update affects SEO

BERT is going to improve Google search results through its use of advanced machine learning and NLP. Google only started rolling out BERT in English in the US, but they claims that it will evolve to include more countries and languages in the near future. If you’re running a business or work on a team trying to improve your SEO, paying attention to these types of artificial intelligence machine learning updates is important.

In the words of Danny Sullivan (Google’s public “search liaison” who always fields the influx of questions on Twitter after a major update), “There’s nothing to optimize for with BERT, nor anything for anyone to be rethinking. The fundamentals of us seeking to read great content remain unchanged.”

Google Search Liaison Twitter Image - Chainlink Marketing

With each subsequent algorithm update, Google caters more to websites with content designed to be user friendly, valuable, and easy to understand. Your SEO efforts will improve from updates like BERT if you prioritize writing truly valuable content for your audience. Basically, BERT will help provide more relevant answers to the questions you search.

Is there anything you should do to optimize for BERT?

The best thing you can do in the wake of this new update is focus on how appealing your website’s content is for your human audience. Deep learning algorithms like RankBrain and BERT provide more relevant Google search results and featured snippets based on the context and complexity of your search.

Obsessing over keyword density and “hacking the Google algorithm” are pretty outdated ideas/practices. Write the best content for your users, period. SEO guru Izzi Smith put it nicely in the following Tweet:

Izzi Smith Tweet BERT Algorithm - Chainlink Marketing

Even if there were specific actions you could take to “optimize for BERT”, SEO is a long game. It’s disappointing when even experienced, well-respected SEO experts talk about “hacks” for algorithm updates like RankBrain and BERT. The advice itself isn’t wrong per se, but it’s also not a quick fix of any kind.

Rather than trying to find a shortcut to improve the way that search engine bots will crawl and rank your content, focus on the originality, value, and readability of your blogs. Readability is key in your organic search engine ranking, especially now with BERT.

Keen awareness of all Google algorithm changes is important so you can stay one step ahead of any potential updates that do require action to prevent penalties. Google tends to foreshadow updates like these, as you can see by the blog post from last November talking about the impending development of BERT.

Wrapping It Up…

As Google continues to prioritize understanding human search intent, writing in a style that people appreciate will be rewarded. You will already be optimizing for Google’s BERT algorithm if you just focus on writing naturally and creating irresistible content.

Now that you know everything you never knew you wanted to know about artificial intelligence, machine learning, Google’s algorithm, and the roles they all play to end up determining your site’s search engine results ranking, we hope you feel more empowered to discuss these topics and stay on top of new developments.

Understanding how AI works in the context of helping websites rank well in Google search results is more of a necessity than a luxury. What do you think the future of search is in the upcoming decade?

The changes will seem gradual month over month, but there’s no question that five years from now the experience of Google search will feel drastically different. After all, artificial intelligence is only going to become more mainstream over time.

Chainlink Can Help

Being aware of how SEO trends are shifting due to AI and adjusting your strategy appropriately are crucial in today’s digital marketing world. As SEO experts, our team cares about your business’s digital presence. Let us guide you and provide you with the tools you need to make sure your SEO us up-to-date and competitive.

Reach out to us to learn more about how we can help your business grow online. We’d love to give you a free consultation. Also, don’t forget to sign up for our newsletter for more exclusive tips and strategies that are both effective and easy to follow.

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