Google BERT: Better Understanding of Searcher Intent
After years of chasing Pandas, Penguins and Hummingbirds, is Google now wanting SEOs to take a walk down Sesame Street? No, they just rolled out a new Google algorithm update called “Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers” – or Google BERT, for short. This algorithm update, which has been under development for five years, may impact one of every 10 searches – so marketers should pay attention.
What is BERT?
The purpose of this new update is to help Google understand longer, more conversational search queries. In the past – when users typed in longer searches – Google would ignore the shorter words such as “like,” “for,” and “no.”
This is a significant reversal from the early days of search, when we were all trained to use short keyword phrases to conduct searches instead of natural language. Search engine technologies just weren’t smart enough to understand questions or long sentences and typically stripped out prepositions and parts of grammar that we all learned in grade school and have since forgotten.
Search engines gradually got smarter, but they still didn’t always understand the context of what a user searched for when he or she typed in or spoke a complex question or a sentence.
For example, a search for “parking on a hill with no curb” would ignore the “no” in the query and return a featured snippet result for “parking on a hill with a curb.” Google only understood the words “parking,” “hill,” and “curb” – and delivered results accordingly.
With the Google algorithm update, Google now understands the context of the search and provides tips on how to park on a hill when there isn’t a curb present.
In another search example provided by Google – “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. It’s about a Brazilian traveling to the U.S., and not the other way around. The use of the common word “to” also matters. There would be a different result if it were ignored.
Content may still be king, but context is queen.
Content continues to be one of the most important elements of a sound SEO strategy. These changes largely impact informational queries which are typically top-of-funnel. These are searches designed to attract an audience who do not yet know they need your product or services – although they have questions that need to be answered. The algorithm will impact both regular results as well as featured snippets, which are the answer boxes at the top of many search queries. Google will first roll this out in English, but other languages will follow.
Google says you can’t optimize toward BERT. You shouldn’t scrap your current strategy, but you should understand that this algorithm change rewards sites that are focused and well-organized. The rise of natural language processing and voice search will lead to a shift from content marketing to intent marketing. Each piece of content should have a narrow focus to address the intent of the user and not try to capture a wide range of search queries that may only be remotely related to each other. Content that clearly and succinctly addresses customer needs will likely be the most successful.
The EGC Group stays on top of the latest cutting-edge trends in SEO, social, and all other methods of digital marketing. Contact us to find out how we can help your brand or business adapt and be ahead of the curve.