Google recently announced that it is employing BERT in virtually every search query.
BERT is a technique for natural language processing pre-training that helps Google understand words within the context of the surrounding words. Google has said that BERT helps Google Search better understand the intent of a search query.
When BERT was announced it was said to be used in 10% of search queries, particularly on longer types of search queries. Moving forward, BERT will impact nearly ever English language search query.
According to Google:
“Today we’re excited to share that BERT is now used in almost every query in English, helping you get higher quality results for your questions.”
What is BERT?
Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers (BERT) is an algorithm that helps Google to better decode/interpret the questions or queries asked by people and deliver more accurate answers to them.
BERT is specifically designed to address the nuances of voice search which are far different from the type of searches people have typically done through text. Voice search is more natural and tends to include longer (or long-tail) phrases. Consequently, the BERT algorithm will be focused on learning and processing natural language.
Trying to better understand the relationship between words and why context matters when delivering search results is at the core of the BERT algorithm.
The big benefit of BERT is a shift from worrying about exact matching for boosting SEO to considering how users use natural language in voice search to find the information they’re looking for. It’s a more user – than bot -focused approach to searching for and finding content — something that content creators are likely to applaud.
BERT places a premium on conversational queries — the kind of queries that regular people (not bots) use when searching for information of interest. That means that content creators can use their natural ability to connect with an audience by creating super-specific content that focuses on long-tail keywords — the kind of keywords that people use when they speak with each other.
As voice searсh becomes more popular, it’s safe to assume that BERT is here to stay. Since they’re verbalized, users commonly phrase their voice queries in the most natural way possible. The algorithm is particularly helpful for breaking down the conversational language queries because of its ability to understand the nuances of the questions.
BERT will improve voice search by boosting the ability of search algorithms to understand the nuances of search queries.
How does BERT impacts SEO?
In one word: SIGNIFICANTLY!
Since Google’s BERT algorithm uses NLP, it impacts on-page and off-page SEO.
To be more precise, BERT changes the way we understand queries as a whole, and each word separately. Besides, Google is capable of assessing the sentiment of selected entities from the website’s content.
How BERT enhances search quality?
15% of search queries are used for the first time.
People are using more and more long-tail searches to find an answer to their question especially with the rise of voice search.
It means that sometimes the algorithm doesn’t have enough historical data to anticipate the intent behind the search term, thus it may have some difficulties satisfying the user and delivering relevant results.
A key to on-point results is understanding the language — regardless of spoken (voice search), or written language.
BERT is a way to improve capabilities in this area.
Context is everything
BERT predominantly relies on NLP to “consider the full context of a word by analysing what comes before and after it,” and accordingly, understand the user intent behind search queries.
Carefully analysing content for both its meaning and context, along with whether it’s well-written and purposeful, makes a lot of SEO tactics, especially black-hat ones, infeasible.
What was once an explicit keyword-based search is no longer that. It’s a search based on context and intent.
That’s a major change. Fundamentally, it’s the difference between ‘give me what I said’ and ‘give me what I want.’
How to optimize for BERT?
According to Google, optimizing for BERT is impossible since there is “nothing to optimize”.
BERT is mainly about improving Google’s query understanding, it doesn’t change how Google determines whether or not a page is relevant. The fundamentals of on-page SEO remain unchanged.
However, that certainly doesn’t mean this news isn’t actionable.
Here are some simple strategies that can help you with the recent BERT update.
- Simpler and Succinct Content
Word count isn’t as important as you might think it is and that’s directly related to writing for answering a user’s query. Google has always reminded SEOs that we should write for the users – not the search engines.
If you’re among the SEOs who still focus on keyword density, keyword placement, etc. inside your content while not giving importance to the quality and “naturalness” of your content, you might be losing out on opportunities to rank higher.
One guiding principle we follow every time I write content is if a high school graduate can understand (this is niche dependent) the content I’m writing, then the search engines can understand it as well. Here are some pointers to always consider when you write your content:
- Avoid flowery, highfalutin, and unnecessary words
- Be as straightforward and direct as possible
- The content should contain new and useful information that is helpful to the readers
- By doing this, you’re not only optimizing your content for the users but you’re also helping search engines better understand the content you’re writing.
- Topic Clusters
Much of SEO for businesses moving forward is about visibility. How can we position ourselves to be the brand that answers the questions our clients want to know? This is why content will continue to be the backbone of any SEO strategy.
Being visible for a specific topic is much better than ranking for a particular keyword. Through the use of topic clusters, you can create signals to search engines that you are authoritative/influential for a certain topic that encompasses a wide range of long-tail keywords – which will eventually outweigh the traffic you’re receiving for just a handful of high-traffic, high-difficulty keywords.
- Featured Snippets
More than 50% of Google searches now end in zero-click, meaning that most users find the answers they needed on the results page, and don’t have to visit different websites. Google takes snippets from ranked pages that provide the most satisfying answer to the query.
For web users, the prevalence of zero-click searches means that Google is doing a good job of making the world’s information useful. And because consumers have grown more impatient over the years, the convenience of not having to scroll through several web pages greatly improves their search experience. For businesses, however, this means that SEO strategy has to be strengthened.
In my opinion, The best way to optimize for zero-click searches is to win featured snippets. Occupying position zero boosts your online presence, even if not all users click on your website.
- Be Specific with the Keywords or Queries You Target
One of the main SEO challenges for BERT is that it’s not about how Google understands the content of website, but to better understand what exactly a user is looking for. For SEOs, the key here is to be more specific on the queries or questions your content is looking to answer.
It’s similar to starting a business. You should think of a business that solves needs because those are the types of businesses that are profitable. Same with content. The best content are those that answer and satisfy the needs of users.
We often remove stop words or pronouns from the keywords that we are targeting thinking this is how people search. We often forget about long-tail keywords, search terms full of stop words in between, but this is exactly what BERT is trying to accomplish.
In addition to using keyword research tools, use the following to research for content:
- Google Autocomplete
- People Also Ask Box
- Related Searches
The queries that reflect in these areas in the search result are the mirror of what people search and how people search so use these as clues to how you write your content.
BERT noticeably improves Google’s ability to understand natural language, but they’re still far from perfect. If you feel your job as an SEO is to ignore search engine capabilities and “just write for humans”, this won’t change what you do. But you will probably be outranked by SEOs who are able to write for humans while also keeping in mind the limitations and capabilities of search engines.
We optimize to help make search engines’ job easier, and should bear in mind the current imperfect reality of relevancy algorithms.
With that mindset, BERT subtly shifts the ideal content strategy, and it should also change how you do on-page optimization. So even if BERT doesn’t change on-page optimization fundamentals, you can “optimize” for it in the sense that can adjust your SEO strategy and optimization process. While these shifts are subtle, I believe SEO consultants and content creators who understand this before others have an opportunity to gain some additional traffic for their clients.
Ultimately, it’s the quality of your content and its relevance to your audience that will generate the best results. By focusing on a few core strategies, SEOs and marketers can readily rank higher on Google SERPs.