Even if you only dabble in Digital Marketing you have no doubt come across the new Google algorithm update – BERT. But what is BERT? How will it affect your website?
Well, lets go back slightly. Google releases between 5 and 10 large updates every year, or at least they used to. Now you’ll find they release thousands and thousands of time on-going updates that make minor tweaks to the algorithm that affects how your website is found. In 2018 alone Google released 3,234 updates to the algorithm! But when a major update comes along it gets a catchy name. Penguin, Panda, RankBrain, Fred…. or BERT, because why not?
What do they change in theses algorithm updates?
That’s a best kept secret of the Google team. Sure, they give a little overview of what the aim of some of the updates are but they keep the technical stuff to themselves to stop people figuring out how to play the system.
This doesn’t mean we can’t figure it out though. Looking at the data most of the SEO community can piece together the changes and potentially how they might change a websites visibility in the SERPS (Search Engine Results Pages). For instance in the past two years we have had a move to mobile first indexing, Site Diversity (making it harder for one website to dominate a single search result), meta description size updates, etc. The aim always being to improve search results for customers and help you find what you are looking for.
What is BERT?
BERT is the latest addition to the search algorithm. It’s designed to better understand what’s important in natural language queries for both typed searches and the increasingly popular voice searches via smart speakers. It’s aim is to help the algorithm understand those longer conversational search terms (long tail keywords as we call them in the biz) that users pump into the system every day.
See, Google’s algorithm is great. It looks at what you are looking for and tries to match the results as best it can to your query. It even takes into account your search intent – whether you are doing research, looking at buying a product, interested in reviews etc.
But, sometimes it struggles to understand our little human idiosyncrasies in the way we type and talk. Human language is really difficult for a computer to understand at times. We have multiple meaning on certain words:
‘I left my phone on the left side of the room’
‘The baseball pitcher asked for a pitcher of water’.
We also have things like homophones – words that sound the same but have different meanings:
Where, Wear, Were
To, Too, Two
As well as Anaphoras, Synonymy, Polysemy and Homonymys that we use in every day life but never really think about.
We instinctively learn the context of these words as we grow, but Google really struggles to understand them at times. Particularly if the user uses the wrong one. It has to look at the natural language and the context of the words to help it understand the meaning of the sentences. Ultimately that is BERT’s aim.
So whats the impact?
At the moment not much! There so far hasn’t been any major spikes to the search results like we’ve seen in previous updates. But this doesn’t mean things won’t change over time as the system learns. We honestly don’t know what BERT will affect at this stage, or how you can optimise for it. In fact Google is telling you not to waste your time even trying! But the upside… we can stop (for the most part) trying to write for a machine when it comes to the content of our sites. Sure, we’ll still need to include keywords to be found, but we can hopefully start to write a little more human.
Want To Find Out More?
If you’re looking for more information on the BERT update then I would highly recommend reading Dawn Anderson‘s Search Engine Land ‘A Deep Dive Into BERT‘. As I type this is the most comprehensive article on the subject and well worth a read.