What is BERT?
Simply put, it’s Google’s new and improved AI ranking algorithm. Google already has RankBrain, an AI (Artificial Intelligence) algorithm that was launched back in 2015. BERT doesn’t replace RankBrain; they’ll work together to improve the search engine’s language processing capabilities.
Why Does BERT Matter?
BERT is a language model update, meaning it helps the search engine understand and better predict the sequences of words, phrases, sentences and concepts. It now understands the search query at the sentence level, including how synonyms and prepositions are used and how they may be missing from what a user puts in search.
For example, if you search, “nearest espresso open now,” BERT will understand that a coffee shop serves espresso and will return a map of the closest coffee shops that are open.
Why Name It BERT?
For starters, the algorithm’s name has nothing to do with Ernie’s comic sidekick nor the jack-of-all-trades and best friend of Mary Poppins. And let’s not forget the lovable Q*bert and his garbled nonsense speech — nothing to do with him either.
BERT stands for Bi-directional Encoder Representation for Transformers. Boring, I agree.
How Does BERT Affect My SEO?
Studies are showing BERT is able to increase search accuracy by two percentage points - a significant increase in computing power, especially when you take into consideration the millions of people searching every day.
This means BERT is goooood. It knows what it’s searching for, and it will find it. So, your online content must be thorough, expert and top-quality. Your technical SEO must be in place and follow best practices, or BERT will pass you by.
What Do I Need to Do Differently?
For starters, ensure your website contains quality content that answers the questions your customers are searching for. Build your website content around topics - not just a single keyword. And use natural language instead of worrying about phrasing things a certain way.
Simply put, it’s the way we have been doing good SEO (Search Engine Optimization) for the last several years. BERT just makes solid SEO and quality online content even more important.
Are More Google Updates on the Horizon?
Yep, yep and yep. Google actually makes hundreds of changes to its search algorithm each year. An incredible 3,234 updates were made in 2018 - that’s almost 9 updates every day. The majority were minor, with a few majors in between.
These algorithm updates are simply an attempt to retrieve information and data that helps deliver the best and fastest possible result to the user.
If you take a look through Google history, you may recall some of those major updates. Here’s a fun throwback:
Fred - Let’s start with Fred. First off, who the heck is Fred? Fred actually started as a joke. Amidst chatter of a “big update,” a Google representative joked with an industry magazine that the update was named “Fred,” and just like that, Fred was born. Fred is now the catchall name for any quality-related algorithm update that Google does not otherwise identify with a name.
Panda - This was Google’s first slap on the wrist to those trying to manipulate search results with poor quality content. The Panda update said “no more throwing up words on a web page just to rank.” This algorithm assigns pages a content quality classification as a ranking factor to help rid search results of poor-quality content.
Penguin - This was Google’s slap on both wrists. The update degraded websites practicing black-hat link-building techniques. Penguin helps ensure links in website content are natural and relevant to help the user in what they are searching for - an effective good-bye to manipulative and spammy links.
Hummingbird - This update was a huge advancement in search technology that continues to affect results today. For the first time, search engines were using conversational language processing to understand human intent and context to deliver more precise results.
Mobilegeddon - Just as dramatic as the name sounds, this was the update that said: Make your site mobile-friendly ... or else. Dun dun dun. Your pages were either mobile-friendly or they weren’t; no gray area in the eyes of the search engine.
Pigeon - To improve local search, the Pigeon update improved Google’s location and distance ranking parameters to enhance local ranking signals. This provided more relevant local search results to users based on proximity.
RankBrain - RankBrain is the initial AI put in place by Google to help it process new search queries. And surprisingly, about 15 percent of the queries Google processes every day are new – meaning no one has ever searched using those exact terms before. (Ah, the beauty of the human mind.)
In summary, good ’ol BERT changes nothing if you have been producing top-quality, expert and trustworthy content while conducting best practices for technical SEO.
If you haven’t been doing this, then BERT changes everything, as you will likely fall lower in search rankings. Now is the time to evaluate how your website is built. Take time to audit your SEO and look for online content opportunities.
What information should your website contain to ensure BERT finds you? Does your website answer your customers’ top questions? Does your website have best-practice SEO in place?
Not sure? Consider a professional digital audit to uncover what you may be missing. Or, start by learning more about what a good website should have in 2020.