BERT, BERT, BERT. BERT is the Word — Google Debuts Major Update

by | Nov 5, 2019 | Google, Harris & Ward, marketing, Search Engine Optimization

BERT, BERT, BERT — BERT is the Word

Written by Lesley Goodaker, Digital Marketing Manager

Google BERT Updates Impacts 10% of Search Queries

While major search engines have continued to improve their language understanding capabilities over the years, there are still times they don’t quite get it right, particularly when it comes to complex or transactional search queries. And while it’s amusing to see how these types of searches play out — check out Wired’s “Autocomplete” video series for a laugh — this simply is not how natural language works.

At its core, organic search is about understanding language. As marketers, it’s our job to figure out what people are searching for and provide the most helpful information available from the web, no matter how the words in a query are combined. 

Until now, search results have typically responded best to strings of words (or “keyword-ese“) rather than natural phrases. Understandably, this can cause both confusion and frustration for users — enter BERT.

Debuting in late October, the BERT Google update is reportedly impacting over 10% of queries, which means this is one of the biggest Google updates of the last 5 years. Instead of looking at a user’s search terms on a word by word basis, BERT allows Google to interpret the entire phrase better to give the searcher more accurate results based on the type of query.

How does BERT impact online search?

Representing a major step forward for informational search, BERT is pushing Google’s algorithms to read websites like a human would to best understand the nuances between what people are actually searching for and the pages being served as results.

Operating as a type of artificial intelligence, BERT allows Google Search to better interpret the user’s intent to deliver more accurate results. Under this update, slight word modifications in a search query can dramatically alter the search intent. In this way, Google has set the stage for (long-overdue) credit to be attributed to businesses that have been participating in true content marketing.

With BERT, the days of trying to game the system (i.e. keyword stuffing) are over. Business owners and marketers alike are going to have to work harder than ever before to understand and respond to the types of search queries being performed as opposed to strictly target keywords.

What does this look like in action?

With so many different user types, it can be difficult to understand the search intent behind every query. When people perform a search, they might not know the right words to use or even how to spell something. Add to that the shift in search from text to voice and you’ve got plenty of ways in which search algorithms can become confused.

So, what does BERT look like in action? Google laid out a few examples in their announcement:

Example 1:

In this example below, Google shows how the search results change as BERT better grasps the nuances of the search intent. Before BERT, Search interpreted the query as being about traveling to the US versus after BERT when the searcher’s intent was fully captured.

Example 2:

Let’s look at another query: “do estheticians stand a lot at work.” Previously, Google’s systems had a strict keyword focus in which the term “stand” in the query was matched with “stand-alone” in the results. While the original search results were topically relevant, the context was not accurate as it related to the query. With the BERT models, on the other hand, the word “stand” is contextually interpreted to mean the physical demands of a job, and, thus, displays a more useful response for the searcher.

As you can see, the results served to users after BERT are based on an interpretation of what the searcher is actually looking for versus resulrts that best match the strict definition of the words being used.

What does this mean for my business?

The good thing about this update is that this is not an algorithm that inherently penalizes anyone — it simply rewards those who are genuinely trying to respond to the user query and search intent.

The best way to make sure your business is prepared for this change is to have content that answers the questions of your target audience in the form of high-quality, full-form information (such as blog posts). At Harris & Ward, we’ve believed this from the start which is why we’ve developed a unique production process that brings together all of this and more under our comprehensive SEO services.

If you would like some help with your SEO, schedule a consult with us today!

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