When you hear of Google BERT, you could be forgiven of thinking it’s the company mascot. Unfortunately, it isn’t and nor is it a more humanoid name for Google Assistant. Instead, BERT is a major algorithm update and the letters in its name stand for Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers. If that makes no sense, don’t worry. Here, we’ll explain in plain English what BERT is and, importantly, how it affects the way you optimise your web content.
What is Google BERT?
Google BERT is an algorithm update that enables the search engine to better understand search queries of its users. By having a clearer understanding of what a user is looking for, it can provide more relevant results for individual searches.
The science behind the update is called Natural Language Processing (NLP). This uses artificial intelligence to analyse the way people naturally speak and write so that the search engine has a more informed grasp of what searchers are really looking for when they type or speak a query. In particular, it tries to understand the context of the language used in searches.
One of the important changes that Google has implemented because of BERT is the inclusion of ‘stop words’ in the algorithms processing. Until BERT, Google ignored lots of terms included in searches, regarding them as irrelevant. These included prepositions (words that indicate the relationship between things in regards to time, place, direction and position, e.g. before, after, near, far, to, from, on, under) and conjunctions (words that join up parts of a sentence, e.g. and, so, but, if, etc.).
Through NLP analysis, Google has come to understand that these words play an important role in searches and BERT is an update that takes note of them to help it improve the quality of its search results.
How Google BERT can affect rankings
Google BERT gives the search engine the ability to look beyond basic keywords to understand the context and the intention of a user when making a query. In response, it will drill down into the body of the text to find whether the topic, context and intention of the web page is a good match for the search.
This means keyword-heavy pages, which might have got the lion’s share of the top page rankings prior to BERT, may not get as many first page rankings as previously. Pages on other sites that might not have been ranked as relevant before, might begin to take their place.
As this can affect the amount of organic traffic a website receives and impact online sales, it’s important to reassess the way content is optimised to accommodate the BERT update. Here are the best ways to do this.
- Create content that is valuable for readers
Sometimes, content creators focus too much on SEO and overuse keywords. BERT no longer requires keywords to be regularly dotted throughout the text. Instead, it will look for content that uses language naturally, is informative, detailed and, most of all, relevant to the specific query. Overall, the text must be there to genuinely help the reader rather than a keyword honeypot designed to grab traffic.
- Natural, long-tail keywords
While Google will still use keywords to help it choose which web pages to rank, these will be more related to the terms used in individual searches. As BERT enables Google to focus on the specific words a user inputs, and these will vary considerably between searches, the use of more natural long-tail keywords can make a text more relevant.
Rather than simply thinking about which keywords are important, consider what a visitor to your website is going to be looking for and make sure your keywords revolve around this intention. It could be to answer a question (My tyres have cracks do they need replacing?) get advice (What are the best tyres for winter?) or find instructions (How do I check my tyre tread?) Websites that have content which caters for these queries and has relevant long-tail keywords will rank better under BERT.
- Provide relevant contextual information
While you can reshape existing content to add long-tail keywords, over the long-term as BERT develops, Google will focus on ranking pages that answer specific questions. Indeed, you already see this happening with knowledge boxes appearing at the top of many results and a list of associated questions, with answers, underneath.
For websites to rank highly for these searches, it will mean making changes to content strategies. For example, creating web pages where the title is a question and the content is the answer. Headings within the page would be additional sub-questions or a list of steps in a process and the body text would be the detailed answers or steps.
- Start using stop words
As Google didn’t use stop words in its algorithm before BERT, SEO has dictated that, when using keywords, they should be removed. Indeed, some SEO plugins used to automatically remove them from URLs. This practice has led to many websites with badly written titles, meta descriptions, headings and URLs and produced content that makes little sense for readers. For example: joestyressurrey.com/best-tyres-surrey
- Best Cheap Tyres Surrey
Welcome to Joe’s Tyres Surrey. We stock best tyres Surrey. You’ll find we sell top brand tyres cheap.
People in the real world don’t use language in this way and it is obvious that the content above is search engine focused. This doesn’t present a company well to users or provide them with great customer experience. More importantly, is that people don’t ignore stop words when making searches, especially with voice searches. Following BERT, these will be used to find the most relevant sites and website owners should begin to put them back in their text. It will help you rank better and make your content sound more natural.
The use of AI to understand natural language will be an ongoing process for Google and other search engines as they seek to provide their users with the best results. BERT is a significant leap forward and websites need to adapt their content to ensure it remains relevant for the way Google now works. Hopefully, the advice given here will help you make the necessary changes.
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