Say hello to BERT, Google’s new algorithm change. It’s based on context, and this time, it’s something we may like. I Google everything, so I’m looking forward to this.
Here’s how Google’s algorithm change is going to work
Currently, Google’s algorithm treats a search string as a bag of words. Google picks out what it considers to be the important words from that string and delivers the results to you on a search engine results page (SERP). In this question, “Who is a great keynote speaker?” “keynote” and “speaker” are more important than “is” and “a.” But eliminating “is” eliminates context. In this sentence, it’s irrelevant.
Examples of how the algorithm change affects search results
- “Parking on a hill with no curb.” The old algorithm discarded “no,” in its search and delivered results that referenced how to park on a hill with curbs. The new algorithm recognizes that “no” plays a critical role in the meaning of this search and delivers results showing how to park uphill or downhill with no curb.
- “2019 Brazil traveler to USA need a visa.” In the past, Google ignored “to” and returned results on U.S. citizens traveling to Brazil. But “to” clearly matters, and Google picks up the difference, returning results for Brazilian travelers to the U.S.
BERT is short for “bidirectional encoder representations from transformers.” It uses artificial intelligence and a motherload of a dataset to deliver better contextual results. More simply, it better understands what you’re actually looking for when you enter a search query.
BERT: The most positive change in five years
Google cautions us to keep in mind that only some search queries will be affected by the algorithm changes. Determining how the algorithm works is still something of a mystery, even to rockstar SEO pros. According to Pandu Nayak, Google VP of research, “This is the single biggest … most positive change we’ve had in the last five years and perhaps one of the biggest since the beginning.”
You should be watching your website closely for any changes to your search rankings and spend some time analyzing keyword context, especially if you try to rank well for longer-tail keyword strings. If your search traffic remains stable but conversion rates dip, that’s a sign at least portion of the traffic isn’t interested in what you provide.
Keep creating good content and providing value
Finally, if you give up and decide that it’s impossible to truly optimize for BERT, keep creating content for people, not search engines. Keep it crisp and clear. Use short sentences that a fifth-grader can understand. Be smart. Be funny. Provide information that helps people do their jobs.
Kudos to Google
BERT is a step in their effort to understand what people want when they search. The more you deliver what people want, the more likely you are to rank high in search results. And really, isn’t that what we all want?