You might’ve heard there was a Google algorithm update last month. You also might’ve seen an influx of digital marketers and content producers tweeting frantically about it. A lot of people have asked what the big deal is. Google implements algorithm updates so often that SEOs couldn’t possibly keep up with every single tweak — so what makes this one so special?
Well, the BERT update will actually impact one in 10 search queries. It’s actually the biggest update since 2015. So yeah, it actually is a pretty big deal.
What is BERT?
BERT stands for Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers. That roughly translates to: Google now understands directional phrases. It means the search engine now understands words like: no, for, on, to. If you’re still not sure… this is HUGE.
The biggest example of this going around is visa requirements. So, pre-BERT you might google “travelling brazil to USA need a visa”. Because we’re natural English speakers, to us that means the searcher is travelling from Brazil to the USA and they want to know if they need a visa. Google didn’t understand natural language though. So, when it searched your query, it dropped ‘to’. Your results page would come up with results for “travelling brazil USA visa” essentially.
Coming in at #1, would be an article by the Washington Post that read: “U.S citizens can travel to Brazil without the red tape of a visa”. Which is the absolute opposite of the searcher’s question.
The BERT update means that Google now better understands natural language. So, it won’t drop those super important directional words out of the query. It means that now when our Brazilian traveller friend googles “travelling brazil to USA need a visa” they’ll get this super useful link in that coveted #1 position: Tourism & Visitor | U.S Embassy & Consulates in Brazil”.
How does it affect searchers?
It means people are going to get much more relevant and useful results from Google. It also means that voice search is going to be a lot more useful now. Before the BERT update, voice assistants (Siri, Google Assistant) and SmartHome systems (Google Home, Amazon Echo) were only really useful for simple, easy to interpret informational or navigational searches. We mean queries like “what year was Queen Elizabeth born?” or “where’s the closest cafe”.
Voice search is what inspired the BERT update. These voice assistants and SmartHomes actually gave Google a really good reason to learn natural language. In the SEO and marketing community there’s updated predictions circling all the time. At the moment though, people think by next year half of all searches will be voice search.
So, the BERT update is basically giving the people what they want. And that’s the freedom to trust their voice assistant to pull the first result from Google and get it right.
What does BERT mean for SEOs?
Every time Google makes a biggish update there’s a bunch of SEOs freaking out. And every time, Google employees are like, “guys chill — it just means you have to write good content.” Yet every time, there’s still these rumours of hacks and tricks flying around.
If you’re going for longevity (hint: you should be), then the key really is to create good content. Update your website with content that people landing on your website probably need — the content they’re looking for.
The BERT update will mostly affect informational queries. Where Google Maps answers navigational queries and links to online stores answer transactional queries; content is what answers informational queries. So, optimise your content. Your blogs, website content, infographic alt texts, even your videos and podcasts (have you transcribed these for voice search yet?). Refresh and optimise all of your content so it’s up to date and full of quality and usefulness. No keyword stuffing, no paragraphs of location links, just good content.
And what does BERT mean for your content strategy?
It means you should be looking at your customer journey a little bit more. Predict what content or what answers the customers or potential customers who are coming to your website actually need. Plan content for every stage they may be in:
- Early research phase: they know they need something to solve their problem
- Shopping around: they know what they need, they just haven’t made a choice yet
- Ready to buy: they just need to be sold on it
Give them the information they need for each stage. Helpful DIYs, relevant How Tos, a comparative guide to your products. It’s not necessarily about the length of your content anymore, or the keyword density, or even the alt text on your images anymore. Those things still count, they’re still important. But we’re shifting towards quality. It’s about answering actual questions, writing content to help someone. Not just to get extra keywords on your website. Videos and podcasts are still helpful and they’re steadily gaining traction in both content marketing and SEO strategies.
Basically, write the content you’d like to find if you were researching the topic.