Google has rolled out another update called BERT and although it’s in its early stages, there is a 1 in 10 chance that it will affect your content — if not now, then in a few months from now.
As a blogger, you might wonder what this update means to you and your content.
You might be asking:
What will happen to my traffic?
Do I still need to do SEO?
What does BERT even mean?
These are valid questions and are important to find answers to, especially if you rely on organic search engine traffic. Let’s take a look at the details of this Google update and how it will change the way you write your content moving forward.
What is BERT?
BERT, which stands for Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers, sounds complicated, but it’s actually quite simple.
This means that Google has updated its algorithm to better understand the relationship between words when used in certain ways.
When people type in a search term, they use different words to describe the thing they are looking for.
For instance, a guy from the UK might type in “best holiday destinations” while another person from the US might type in “best vacation destinations.”
Both mean the same thing, although both guys used different words.
Google’s algorithm wants to understand how people use language better.
In technical terms, this refers to Natural Language Processing or NLP, which is a sub-field of artificial intelligence that helps machines understand human language and process it correctly.
To understand how NLP factors into the BERT update, let’s see what Google had to say about it:
“This breakthrough was the result of Google research on transformers: models that process words in relation to all the other words in a sentence, rather than one-by-one in order. BERT models can, therefore, consider the full context of a word by looking at the words that come before and after it—particularly useful for understanding the intent behind search queries.”
Prepositions like “to,” “from,” and “for” are now better recognized in connection with the words that come before and after them. This means BERT will work mostly on queries that sound natural and close to actual spoken or written language.
In a nutshell, the BERT update is just Google’s way of understanding what the search query is asking for so its algorithm can return the right results.
Some examples of BERT
Google has shown a few examples of how BERT changes the search results to reflect a more accurate answer.
The first one is for the search query: “2019 brazil traveler to the USA need a visa”.
Before BERT, Google understood this as someone from the USA wanting to get a visa to go to Brazil when it was actually the other way around.
After BERT, Google now understands the use of the word “to” in the query, leading to the correct search result which is a link to US consulates in Brazil.
In the second example, Google mistakenly matched the word “stand” in the query with “stand-alone” in the search results.
With BERT, the algorithm was able to recognize that “stand” in the sentence meant a physical act of standing while on the job.
What BERT means for your blog
Your blog’s traffic may drop, which is a good thing because your content might not be what the searcher is looking for.
It’s not the kind of traffic you want anyway.
You need to change your SEO strategy and do this:
- Create super specific content
- Focus on answering questions quickly (to get into Featured Snippets)
- Use natural language, with clear context
- Don’t focus on keyword density
- Use long-tail keywords
This means a blog post on “How to Build A Dining Table With Teakwood” might rank better than “How To Build A Dining Table.”
Your content is now more specific and has the chance to get found by the right audience.
As for keywords, there is no more need to use the same ones throughout your content. Now that BERT understands natural language better, then it should be fine to create content that sounds natural.
So instead of repeating “build a teakwood table” many times in the article, you can use variations like “make a table with teakwood,” or “steps for building a table made of teakwood.”
BERT will know that these terms are related and are all relevant to building a teakwood table.
The importance of Featured Snippets for BERT
Have you ever typed in a question on Google Search and it gave you the exact answer on the top-most part of the results page?
That is an example of a featured snippet.
A featured snippet usually contains an image, the answer or answers to the query, and the source URL.
Below is a featured snippet:
With the BERT update, content that immediately answers a question has a higher chance of getting being a featured snippet.
So how can your content get a chance at being a featured snippet? By doing these things:
- Format your content correctly – This means you should use headings, sub-headings, lists, and captions correctly so it will be easy for Google to turn it into a featured snippet.
- Have an FAQ section where questions are headings and the answers are directly under it as a short paragraph (40-50 words).
- For tutorials, recipes, and list-type information use a step-by-step format using numbered or bulleted lists.
- Answer different questions related to the article topic. Example:
- What is a featured snippet?
- What kind of questions are answered with featured snippets?
- How do I optimize content for featured snippets?
With these strategies, you are increasing the quality of your content as well as your chances of getting to position zero, which is what experts call the featured snippets spot.
Common FAQs for BERT
Bloggers and content creators have a lot to say about this latest update, and here are the top questions asked about BERT:
What (and WHO) will be affected by BERT?
It is a worldwide release. Google says the BERT update will affect 1 in 10 searches in over 72 languages both in ranking and featured snippets Search results. It is important to note that BERT analyzes search queries and not web pages.
BERT, our new way for Google Search to better understand language, is now rolling out to over 70 languages worldwide. It initially launched in Oct. for US English. You can read more about BERT below & a full list of languages is in this thread…. https://t.co/NuKVdg6HYM
— Google SearchLiaison (@searchliaison) December 9, 2019
Do I need to change my existing content for BERT?
Experts and even Google itself claim that you don’t need to change anything for BERT. As long as you create content that is natural, conversational, and relevant to your audience, there is no need to modify for BERT.
When was BERT implemented?
BERT began rolling out to English language searches on October 21, 2019. There is a plan to apply BERT in other languages, but Google did not provide a set timeline.
Do I need to create long-form content for BERT?
Not necessarily. Google’s search liaison Danny Sullivan says that word count does not define the quality of a piece of content. Whether it’s 300 words or 1000 words, your content should answer a search query in a way that is written for humans.
Will BERT affect SEO?
Yes. Google announced it will affect 1 in 10 search queries. SEO is built on keywords typed in the search, so it follows that SEO strategies might be affected by BERT — both negatively and positively.
Keywords not relevant to a search query will see bounce rates increase, while relevant keywords backed with relevant content will get rewarded with more traffic.
Making BERT work for you
Unlike the past updates, BERT provides an opportunity for content creators to write for humans and not restrict themselves with keyword-based content.
As mentioned earlier, there is more freedom to use multiple terms, referring to a single topic. Keywords no longer have to have prepositions omitted, which means “best cameras vlogging 2020” can be “best cameras for vlogging in 2020.”
BERT seems to apply more towards “informational” queries, which are usually questions that start with what, when, where, who, why, and how. This means there is a lot of room for bloggers to answer basic yet specific questions in their niche.
While updates made by such a giant search engine like Google can sometimes be alarming, BERT is actually good news.
People are expected to get more accurate answers to their questions when doing a Google search, and that’s a good thing.
As content creators, this is what we should also aim for our content: relevant information that is useful to our audience.
BERT will also push us to write in a natural way, and veer away from rigid keyword structure that doesn’t make much sense.
What questions do you have about BERT?
Write them in the comments below!