Ever since it introduced RankBrain in 2015, Google’s updates to its search algorithm have mostly been minor. It’s latest update, BERT, however, which began rolling out at the end of October 2019, will affect as many as 1 out of every 10 Google searches. The results for each of those affected searches will be impacted.
What Is BERT?
BERT stands for Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers. It’s Google’s pre-training for natural language processing (NLP). This allows Google’s AI to better understand human language like humans do.
What Will BERT Do?
BERT will help Google understand search results better. There are a lot of words in English that, before BERT, Google wouldn’t necessarily know what to do with, providing search results that weren’t quite what the query was asking for.
Google’s example was the search query “2019 brazil traveler to usa need a visa.” In this sentence, pre-BERT, Google would have returned results for American travelers to Brazil, not understanding the meaning of “to” within that search. BERT helps Google’s AI understand what the “to” means in the context of this search and produce results for Brazilian travelers wanting visas to visit the United States.
Improved Search Results
The idea behind adding BERT to Google’s AI is to improve search results for users. It will enable Google to better understand the meaning behind users’ search queries better. It will also affect the featured snippet that is provided for search results.
Optimizing for BERT
Even though it’s a major update that will affect 10% of Google searches, there are minimal changes that need to be made to optimization. The intent behind BERT isn’t to punish sites or change SEO in any significant way. The impact on search results is a result of Google better understanding the meaning behind users’ queries.
The best way to optimize for BERT is to determine which queries you want to rank for and make sure that you answer the question thoroughly. The best answer for a specific search is what will be displayed at the top of the SERP, so it’s essential to make sure that you’re providing the best answer possible.
What If Your Rankings Are Impacted?
BERT is meant to update Google’s SERPs so that they provide better results to searchers. If the rankings of any of your web pages have been impacted by the update, it’s because your page wasn’t the best result for that particular query. Chances are good that the conversion rate was actually low for that particular search. Users with that query would have been looking for something else than what was provided for them if the introduction of BERT affected the results for that query.
BERT was initially released on October 25, 2019, and has been gradually rolling out since then. Over the next few weeks, we’ll see continued rollout for all websites that are in English. Support for BERT will come in other languages later on.
BERT is only the latest in Google’s long quest to provide the best search results possible to its users. Google doesn’t consider the problem solved and will continually look for more opportunities to improve even further.