How to update your SEO and content marketing keeping the BERT update in mind
If you’ve ever performed a Google search that returned irrelevant answers, you know how frustrating it can be.
That’s why Google’s 25 October 2019 BERT update is so significant.
Arguably the most important update since RankBrain in 2015, BERTaims to help google Search understand user questions better to enable it to return more relevant answers.
But why is BERT getting so much attention and what’s the big deal about it?
In the following paragraphs, we will discuss what makes BERT different from other Google updates and why you should know about it.
We will also explain how it can impact your ranking and how to plan your content in a way that you can take advantage of the update.
What Is BERT?
BERT, or Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers, is a Google Search update that aims to improve Natural Language Processing, or the manner in which machines try to understand naturally evolved human languages.
The update will enhance google Search’sability to understand the intent of queries by taking into account the relationship between the words in a query instead of looking at them in isolation.
In particular, it will allow Google to understand the context of words like “to” and “for” which is used to overlook until recently, allowing it to generate more meaningful results.
In a blog published on the day of its launch, a Google official called BERT “the biggest leap forward in the past five years, and one of the biggest leaps forward in the history of Search.”
How Will BERT Affect Search Results?
The BERT update will qualitatively improve search results by enhancing the relevance of the links that are displayed on the screen.
As mentioned in the tweet above, it is expected to impact one in every ten search queries. The update will mostly impact new queries, i.e., queries that Google receives for the first time, which account for 15% of the total search volume.
There’s a good chance that BERT will affect your SEO too at some point in time.
To understand how BERT will impact search results, take a look at the examples below. It is clear from these that the update marks a vast improvement in understanding search intent compared to what existed earlier.
In the first example, the search query “2019 brazil traveler to the USA need a visa” returns a pre-BERT answer that matches the keywords in the query but fails to answer the actual question.
In other words, it is a good match in terms of keywords but a poor one in terms of search intent.
The question is about Brazilian travelers to the US and not the other way around.
This problem is addressed in the ‘After’ example where the BERT model has been applied leading to a qualitatively better result.
Here, Google equates “stand” in the query with the word “stand-alone” leading to another irrelevant outcome.
In the ‘After’ example, Google is able to differentiate between the two terms while also displaying a better understanding of the question, throwing up a qualitatively superior result that satisfies the search intent of the user.
In the ‘Before’ example, the query does not pay adequate attention to the words “for someone,” throwing up a generic result on prescriptions and pharmacies.
The problem has been rectified in the post-BERT example whose result is much more aligned to the search intent.
In this example, BERT once again generates a more relevant answer compared to a pre-BERT scenario. Note that the impact of BERT also extends to featured snippets which are now more relevant thanks to the new update.
SEO In The Time Of BERT
While it has been a week since BERT rolled out, there is a reason why you may not have noticed any significant changes to your SEO: BERT only bolsters, and does not alter, any of Google’s current ranking signals.
This was confirmed by Google’s Danny Sullivan, who had this to say about the new update:
Nevertheless, that does not mean you should sit back and let BERT do its thing. It is sensible to take pro-active steps to review your content in the light of the new update so that you are able to take advantage of the changes and add an extra edge to your SEO.
Here are three ways in which you can take advantage of BERT to create winning content that will propel you to high rankings in a post-BERT world.
- Produce quality, in-depth content: With BERT, the focus shifts firmly toward quality, in-depth content that is able to cater to search intent. In other words, your content will need to answer the user query better than your rivals if you wish to outrank them on Google.
- Less emphasis on word length: In the pre-BERT era, Google tended to favor articles of a certain length, but BERT could gradually diminish the importance of the word count in its bid to make content quality supreme.
This means that a well-written 300-word article could stand a better chance of ranking than a 2,000-word one on the same topic if it is a better match for the search query.
- Focus on long-tail keywords: The focus on search intent places a renewed emphasis on long-tail keywords with highly specific content standing a better chance of ranking compared to copies that address the search query only incidentally. An SEO plan that places greater emphasis on content centered around long-tail keywords stands a better chance of success in the aftermath of BERT.
BERT: A Win-Win SituationFor All
On the whole, there is no question that the BERT update will be good for the web by rewarding good content.
It promises to lead to a win-win situation for both, the searcher and the website owner.
While searchers will be able to get more relevant information thanks to BERT, there could be some changes in SEO metrics, including a slight dip, for website owners.
But they too stand to profit in the long termsince the traffic that does come will likely be high-quality leads, thereby enabling website owners to focus on the serious prospectsafter eliminating the non-serious ones.