What Can You Do about Google’s Recent BERT Update

(Image Source: Flickr)

When SEO experts and marketers were just about thinking that 2019 would end on an easy note, Google came up with BERT! No, I am not referring to the yellow character from Sesame Street in the feature image! I am talking about the BERT update launched in October this year that received a lot of attention. 

Naturally, everyone’s been hysterically busy since then! The BERT update has led all SEO nerds and digital marketers into a never-ending pursuit of understanding its impact on their SEO efforts. As if this wasn’t enough, just this month, Google announced the global rollout of BERT in more than 70 languages. 

When it was launched, BERT was applied only to featured snippets for languages other than English. However, starting December 2019, this update will support other languages worldwide, improving Google’s language-processing abilities and the quality of search traffic. 

Source: https://twitter.com/searchliaison

But how will all this affect your SEO? Read on to know more about Google’s latest BERT update and what you can do to stay on top of it. 

What is BERT? 

BERT stands for Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers. I am guessing you are a non-AI professional (like me!) who is primarily interested in how this update will affect your site’s ranking. So, I urge you not to pay too much attention to the technical terms like ‘encoders’, ‘representations’, and ‘transformers.’ In layman terms, BERT is a deep learning algorithm that helps Google understand the nuance and context of the words in a sentence, allowing the search engine to match the queries with the most relevant results.

Allow me to clarify one thing – BERT is not here to replace RankBrain. Though RankBrain uses machine learning to determine the most relevant results, it focuses on keywords and past searches. On the other hand, BERT lays emphasis on understanding the context of the words and how they relate to each other. Thus, RankBrain and BERT work together to deliver the results that address the user intent. 

Is all this still confusing? Let me make it simpler for you! With the BERT update on, Google now uses natural language processing (NLP) to focus not only on the keywords but also on transformer words like ‘to,’ ‘at,’ ‘in,’ and ‘for’ to understand the meaning of the query. 

Pandu Nayak, the Vice President of Search at Google, explains how BERT works on the company blog. For the query ‘do estheticians stand a lot at work,’ Google’s previous algorithms would match the keyword like ‘stand’ to come up with results including the term ‘stand-alone’. However, BERT understands that the term ‘stand’ is used in the context of the physical demands of the profession and hence will display a more meaningful result. Refer to the image below.

Source: https://www.blog.google/products/search/search-language-understanding-bert/

So, if the launch of BERT has adversely affected your site’s SERP ranking, one or more of these is true – 

  • Your Informational Search Strategy Sucks

Informational searches are those where the user is looking for specific information. These searches are most likely to be affected by BERT as they use more transformer words than any other type of search. Further, 80 percent of all searches are informational in nature. 

So, if your website doesn’t offer high-quality content that’s relevant, useful, and authentic, you will not rank high for informational content. That’s probably why the BERT update pushed your website down in a big way. 

  • Your Site Was Accruing Traffic from Irrelevant Searches

Google didn’t launch BERT to penalize or reward websites. So, if your website’s ranking suffered, it’s probably because a group of irrelevant queries was getting you the traffic. In a way, this is a good thing as this helps you get rid of low-quality traffic. 

  • You Are Stuffing Your Content with Keywords

From the very beginning, Google has made it clear that it wants webmasters to create content that satisfies the end-users, not its crawlers. The search engine has always worked towards discouraging marketers from stuffing keywords. Instead, it urges people to create relevant and high-quality content. 

So, if you are creating content that’s stuffed with keywords in order to trick the algorithm, BERT is bound to punish you. Keep that in mind when creating your content marketing strategy

What Can You Do about BERT? 

  1. Don’t Optimize for BERT. Optimize for User Intent!

Frankly speaking, there’s nothing much you can do other than creating quality content that satisfies user intent. Danny Sullivan, Google’s public search liaison, confirmed this fact in one of his tweets. 

Source: https://twitter.com/dannysullivan/status/1188689288915050498?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw%7Ctwcamp%5Etweetembed%7Ctwterm%5E1188689288915050498&ref_url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.seroundtable.com%2Fgoogle-bert-no-optimization-28435.html

However, behind every search there’s an intent. Creating content that satisfied the user intent like offering specific answers to problems or sharing information about the services they are looking for can improve the relevance of your website. 

  • Understand the Types of User Intent

User intent can be of three types, namely informational, navigational, and transactional. 

a) Informational 

At this stage, the user is trying to gain information on a particular subject. Look what happens when I search for ‘how to edit a video.’ I get a list of ‘informational’ search results in the form of videos, tutorials, and posts. 

Notice the use of transformer word ‘to’ in this type of search query. 

b) Navigational 

Here, the user is looking for content that will help them consider their options. However, at this stage they are still weighing options and aren’t ready to make a purchase. 

For instance, a user may look for ‘top video editing tools.’

c) Transactional

At this stage, the user is ready to buy. Hence, for a query ‘Where can I buy video editing software’ the search results comprise of online stores and the sites will appear that are pushing hard to sell. 

  • Conduct Keyword Research for Intent-Based SEO

Once you are aware of the type of content you need to provide to your users, identify the key phrases you should be optimizing it for. Use Keyword Research Tool of Ahrefs to filter the key phrases. 

  • In the keyword explorer tool on Ahrefs site, type in your root keyword and search. If we consider the example of video-editing tools, our root keyword will be ‘video editing.’
  • In the menu, select “having same terms.”
  • Above the results’ list, click on the “include” toggle while selecting the option “Any word.”
  • Enter the keyword modifiers shared in this chart by Ahrefs. Make sure they are aligned with the type of content you are creating.

Source: https://ahrefs.com/blog/search-intent/#how-to-optimize-for-search-intent

  • Click “Apply.”

Now, you have a list of search queries that users are looking for and that align with the type of content you will be creating.

  • Create Content That’s Optimized for User Intent 

Use the key phrases identified above to create content that offers the search engine crawlers and your end user enough context to understand what you are trying to offer. Make sure you include these phrases in the title tag, headers, body, URL, and the metadescription. 

2. Establish E-A-T in Your Content

Google is constantly trying to deliver the most relevant and credible content to its users. Hence, the Google Search Quality Guidelines lays emphasis on satisfying the E-A-T criteria that rates content based on expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness. 

Expertise: The knowledge and skills possessed by the site owner on the subject matter. 

Authoritativeness: The credibility of your website in the domain.  

Trustworthiness: How trustworthy your website is in the industry. 

There’s no way you can satisfy user intent (and BERT!) if you aren’t considering the importance of Google’s E-A-T update in your content marketing strategy. Read this post for interesting tips to improve your E-A-T rating

3. Ditch Keyword Stuffing 

Google can see through a webmaster’s efforts to manipulate a site’s ranking through keyword stuffing. Keyword stuffing is one of the most outdated SEO practices that can not only damage your reputation but also attract penalties from Google. 

BERT (like RankBrain and Hummingbird) is designed to boost user experience. It gets right down to what users are really looking for. It helps Google learn from user search queries to produce better results. Hence, it’s best not to over-optimize your content. 

Take-Home Message 

The introduction of the BERT update reestablished the fact that no one understands a user search intent better than Google. This new machine-learning algorithm has definitely made Google an expert at understanding the trickiest searches made by users worldwide. 

Understanding BERT and revising your content and SEO strategy is definitely a worthy pursuit as Google will reward you eventually for doing so. Use the information and tricks shared in this post to optimize your website for what BERT cares  about most- user intent. 

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