Head of Strategy & Planning
In October, Google announced the biggest change to its search in five years: Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers (BERT). BERT is designed to better understand nuances of words within search terms and uses some heavy-duty neuro-linguistic programming, as well as Google-improved cloud-based computing, to cope with the processing. As with any such change, rollout will be in stages, and the full impact will be felt in 2020.
By January 2020 BERT was rolled out across 70 languages and is already being used to better understand content on your site and will inform how Google chooses to surface that in their results.
A good example of how BERT works is the query “2019 brazil traveller to USA need a visa” This is about a Brazilian traveling to the U.S., and not the other way around. Previously, Google algorithms wouldn't understand the importance of this connection, and returned results about U.S. citizens traveling to Brazil.
Due to its desire to improve search results, Google estimated that 10% of search results would be affected and most of this would be longer tail search terms. The type of content that affected may have been poorly written, using templates, badly translated or written purely for SEO purposes. If you did see a drop-in traffic the 'value' of that traffic was likely to be low and poorly converting.
As with many updates that Google makes to their algorithm there is a temptation to quickly try and find out how it works and what we can do to take advantage of the changes. But BERT is nuanced, ever learning and changing, focussing on understanding how sentences and phrases should be interpreted
Due to its constant learning and adaption realistically, you are not able to directly optimise for BERT. However, you should continue to write compelling content, content that reads naturally, is engaging, well-structured and focusses on understanding user intent and answering their specific needs. BERT allows Google to understand more of the connections between user queries and the content that it is able to index and interpret. Your content should always be looking to answer the questions for the user or point them in the direction of where to find those answers.
At the heart of this is understanding user intent, so whether the search query is informational, transactional, navigational or Instructional. BERT should be thought of not as an optimisation opportunity, but more as clear call, again, from Google to make sure you are creating the right sort of content for your users that answers their needs. Doing that and doing it well will enhance your SEO campaign performance into 2020.
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