What You Need to Know About Google’s BERT Update (+ How to Adapt!)

Dec 20, 2019

 

Recently, Google made some big changes to its algorithm—and companies must pay close attention.

It’s well known that Google makes small updates to its algorithm around 500-600 times per year. However, Google’s recent BERT algorithm change is its most significant update in 5 years—and your web traffic might take a hit because of it.

Why does Google Regularly Update Its Algorithm?

Google wants to provide the best user experience possible. According to Pandu Nayak, vice president for Search at Google:

“At its core, Search is about understanding language. It’s our job to figure out what you’re searching for and surface helpful information from the web, no matter how you spell or combine the words in your query.”

While that’s great news for users, we can’t necessarily say the same for businesses. Algorithm updates can weaken your site’s performance by cutting traffic and conversions.

Freaking out over how that might affect your traffic? Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered.

We’ve compiled everything you need to know about BERT and how your business can adapt.

Read on to learn more.

What is the BERT Update?

bert update

BERT stands for Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers. It was first discussed and open-sourced last year on the Google AI blog.

Google’s older algorithm would treat search queries as a “bag of words,” says Nayak. As a result, users didn’t always get the relevant search results they were looking for when Google used its older algorithms such as Fred, Possum, and RankBrain.

BERT fixes this issue by using artificial intelligence to understand the meaning of search queries like humans do.

To develop BERT, Google engineers would feed the AI model a couple of sentences with 10-15% of the words missing. The algorithm would then have to guess which words were necessary for the search to make sense.

It’s the most game-changing leap in the history of search. So how does it work?

How Does BERT Work?

BERT uses Natural Language Processing (NLP), which helps computers understand how humans communicate. This helps the algorithm understand the context behind keywords to provide better results.

Social media and live-chatbots use this same form of artificial intelligence. According to Google themselves:

“This breakthrough was the result of Google research on transformers: models that process words in relation to all the other words in a sentence, rather than one-by-one in order. BERT models can therefore consider the full context of a word by looking at the words that come before and after it—particularly useful for understanding the intent behind search queries.”

Same Search Queries, Different Results

Here’s an example for “2019 brazil traveler to usa need a visa”:

bert search query brazil

For this specific example, let’s pay special attention to the word “to.” The search is clearly about a Brazilian traveler going to the USA . However, previous algorithms would return results about US citizens going to Brazil. The new update better understands the context for the word “to,” which ultimately provides more relevant results for this result.

Let’s check out another example, this time for “do estheticians stand a lot at work”:

bert search query estheticians

The previous algorithm considered “stand-alone” and “stand” to mean the same thing in the query. It returns a result about going to school to become an esthetician. Instead, BERT shows relevant results about the physical demands of the job.

Why does BERT Matter to B2B Companies?

If you’ve noticed any changes to your web traffic, rest assured that you’re not the only one.

BERT went into full effect in the US in October 2019, and impacts around 10% of online searches. That includes traffic on both desktop and mobile.

The update will come to more countries and languages in the upcoming months.

google bert update announcement

So what does that mean for B2B companies? If you want to beat the algorithm, you better make sure to deliver content your audience is looking for.

That means stepping up your game when it comes to strategy and doing intensive research on your audience.

Not sure you’re delivering the content Google is looking for? Here’s what the platform will take into account to determine your ranking:

  • Expertise: Is your content trustworthy and reliable? Are you using stats and facts to back up your claims?
  • User experience: Is your website user-friendly? Is your content easy to scan through? Or does the reader get bombarded with ads each time they visit?
  • Originality: What value are you providing? How does your content differentiate itself from similar posts in your niche?
  • Quality: Is your content high-quality (well-researched, no grammar errors, etc.)? Or does it feel as though you rushed to finish it?

If you haven’t already, we recommend that you verify how much your traffic has changed with Google Analytics. Make sure to go through each page of your site and analyze your current conversions so you can identify areas to work on.

What You Can Do To Prepare for BERT

Traditional SEO is no longer the key to success with BERT. However, there are still actions you can take to rank well in the algorithm.

The rules of content marketing haven’t changed: you must produce great content for your audience. Danny Sullivan, Google’s public Search Liaison, makes it very clear in this tweet:

google bert update optimization

Here are our top tips for creating great content that ranks well with Google’s new algorithm:

Tailor Content to Search Intent

Google is getting better at determining the search intent of users. BERT will try to show the best content based on their intention—not based on keywords.

It’s up to you to figure what exactly your audience wants in order to rank above the competition. Ask yourself these questions about your target customers:

  • What is your audience specifically looking for? What are the challenges or problems they want to solve?
  • What is their goal? How can you help them achieve it?
  • As users search online for solutions, they will likely come across your competitors’ content as well. What’s your USP (unique value proposition)?

The ultimate goal is to create great content that is targeted toward your audience’s needs.

Track it With Google Search Console

Understanding your audience’s intent is critical if you want to create great content. So where do you start?

Why not begin with your existing content? With Google Search Console, you can easily track information about your website. You can identify your most popular pages—more importantly, you can see which Google searches bring people to those pages.

Once you know what search phrases are driving traffic to your website, you can spend time making sure your content actually speaks to those searches.

Useful Resources

Check out these additional resources to help you adapt to BERT:

  • BERT’s open source is available at Github to run your own models and experiments.
  • Google has a great article from August 2019 on how to survive algorithm changes.
  • Are you struggling to find content ideas for your audience? Learn how you can work with sales to create the content your audience is looking for.
  • Keita Kurita offers a brilliant explanation of how BERT works without all the technical jargon.

Don’t Let BERT Drag Your Rankings Down!

It’s a scary time for SEO marketers.

Ranking is getting tougher, but it’s not the end of the world—with the right content strategy, you can still drive results and generate new business.

Wondering how BERT has affected your traffic? Reach out to New Perspective for a free site audit. We’ll analyze your website’s performance and offer a custom strategy to boost your results.

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