Google announced the BERT update to its search rankings algorithm last week. BERT, which is a network-based technique for natural language processing, stands for Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers. The goal of this Google algorithm update is to better understand what is important in natural language queries. According to Google, this update will impact 1 in 10 queries, which represents one of the largest changes to search results in recent years.
The example that Google provided in its BERT announcement is highlighted below. As it pertained to the search for “2019 brazil traveler to usa need a visa” the word “to” and its relationship to the other words in the query are particularly important to understanding the meaning. Previously, according to Google, the algorithm wouldn’t be able to detect the importance of this dynamic and would return results about U.S. citizens traveling to Brazil. But with the BERT update, Google is able to handle this nuance correctly and return a result that is more associated with what the searcher was looking for.
“By applying BERT models to both ranking and featured snippets in search, we’re able to do a much better job of helping you find useful information,” Google said in its release last week. “In fact, when it comes to ranking results, BERT will help search better understand 1 in 10 searches in the U.S. in English, and we’ll bring this to more languages and locales over time.
“Particularly for longer, more conversational queries, or searches where prepositions like ‘for’ and ‘to’ matter a lot to the meaning, Search will be able to understand the context of the words in your query. You can search in a way that feels natural for you.”
According to Search Engine Land, SEO analysts at Moz and Rank Ranger have not seen much of an impact from BERT’s roll-out yet. But some of that may have to do with the fact that their tools track short-tail keywords and the queries impacted most by BERT would be of the long-tail variety. So this is something that would be worth keeping an eye on moving forward when it comes to your current keyword rankings.
Google has stated that there is no real way to optimize for BERT. What content creators should focus on moving forward in terms of this Google algorithm update is that they can be less concerned about writing for SEO and more concerned about presenting their content as clearly as possible for real people and real queries. It’s not necessarily about creating a really long page but more about answering a searcher’s question as quickly and as specifically while providing the most value possible.