On October 25, 2019, Google announced its biggest and newest algorithm update in the past 5 years, BERT. This update impacts the search results that populate after a user’s specific query to give them more accurate, useful results. The most notable change is that the algorithm takes into account the context of a query to provide a user with more relevant search results.
What you need to do, or not do, will vary based on how your content is currently written.
What is BERT?
BERT stands for “Bi-directional Encoder Representations from Transformers,” a neural network-based technique for natural language processing (NLP) pre-training.” This technology allows searchers to use natural, conversational language in their queries and is applied to 1 out of 10 search queries in the United States.
During the pre-BERT era, Google users had to tailor their searches to “speak the language” of the Google Machine. Finding the right “Google-ese” word or phrase to return desirable results often proved difficult.
If someone searched for a word or phrase that may be rooted in regional dialect or using uncommon terms, the user would then be forced to repeat their query using different words (possibly multiple times) in an attempt to receive more specific results based on their intended search.
This is what is important to BERT.
Searching with BERT
Prior to BERT, Google search would simply read the user’s query word for word or simply left to right; not paying special attention to the relational nuances of all the words in a query. This would be reflected in the subsequent offerings of unrelated results of the intended search. The user would then be forced to re-search in order to get a more targeted outcome.
BERT uses the context of a user’s query to determine the intended search to provide appropriate search results. What does this mean? It means Google users can use their native dialect or natural language (which is usually long-tail in practice) to perform searches and have them interpreted more accurately.
The BERT update will essentially allow Google to read a user’s query backwards and forwards to identify the subject or subject modifier of a search. Google provided examples of several pre-BERT and with-BERT sample phrases in their blog post to illustrate the increased accuracy of search results based on a word’s relationship to other words in a query.
E-A-T-ing with BERT
Content is king. Because of this, writing compelling, engaging, high-quality content for your website should be your main focus.
Even with BERT knocking on your web door, it is still important to use words and phrases that are not only in line with what people may be searching for, but to also consider HOW they are searching for it.
In a nutshell, the rollout of BERT does not fundamentally mean a complete overhaul of your content. It does, however, mean that if you were not utilizing the E-A-T (Expertise, Authority, and Trustworthiness) SEO model before, now would be a great time to start.
For many of the plastic surgery and med-spa businesses we work with, E-A-T has definitely been the basis of our approach to content. Being able to go beyond using keywords, building the E-A-T factor of the physicians and practices we partner with proves to be beneficial and helps them rank highly on Google Search.
Ultimately, this means that their content is able to address a number of Google queries written as questions, long-tail, and short-form phrases.
This is what is important to Google.
The Addition of BERT
Think of BERT and E-A-T as part of a formula.
Your E-A-T worthy web content + A user’s Google Search query + Google’s more accurate understanding of the user’s intent (BERT) = Your site appears in their search results and the user get what they are looking for!
Take this example to help you visualize the idea of the formula:
You are the owner of A Med-Spa in Small Town, USA that specializes in facial fillers. You have a comprehensive webpage that addresses the injectables used in your practice and how they can be used. You have included information on how fillers can be used to lift the corners of the mouth and reduce the appearance of continuous frowning.
The page also includes plenty of factual information about fillers, you, your practice in Small Town, high-quality reference links… essentially, it’s E-A-T worthy.
Jane Doe, a resident of Small Town, is looking to learn more about finding a way to upturn her naturally downward pout. Jane goes to Google and types in “how to get mona lisa smile done near me.” Jane has heard this term used in relation to augmenting the outer corners of the mouth to create a more pleasant resting face. But, there is no mention of “mona lisa smile” on your site. How is Jane supposed to find your practice with that query? In theory, BERT will work its magic and understand that Jane is looking for information regarding finding a solution for the downward corners of her mouth near her location in Small Town, USA.
Because of your site’s E-A-T and BERT’s understanding of Jane’s intent in her search, your webpage “Facial Fillers in Small Town, USA | A Med-Spa” appears in Jane’s search results.
Without BERT, it is quite possible that Jane’s query would return results related to the actual Mona Lisa’s smile or the movie, Mona Lisa Smile starring Julia Roberts. A frustrated Jane would need to revise her search terms, even though she may be stumped on WHAT to search to get the relevant Google results she is seeking.
Your content matters.
Point, blank, period.
When you publish high-quality web content your page is more likely to show up as a Google Search result for the user’s query – no matter HOW they may search for what your site addresses.
At this time, there is nothing for you to change if your home on the web is applying the E-A-T SEO framework. If you publish short form, unoptimized content for your site that doesn’t address E-A-T, BERT still cannot help you drive traffic to your page. Knowing BERT is here requires you to welcome BERT with open arms through providing what it is looking for in your neck of the internet. This could create a very mutually beneficial relationship between your site content and Google Search users.
TL;DR? Write good content, BERT will help users find you.