Did you know, one in every six queries entered into Google is a completely new search term? Anecdotally, it’s said people are more likely to ask Google a question than ask their partner, their doctor or their teacher the same thing – and they’re more likely to trust the answer they get from Google, too.
So, it makes sense that Google is trying to increase this trustworthiness, and make finding the right answer to the questions we ask an easier, more efficient task.
The BERT update helps the web giant understand our searches better than ever before. It has changed the way in which pages are shown, how ‘relevant’ information is calculated and presented for a query, and is even starting to change how we search in the first place.
Here’s everything you need to know about the Google BERT update, including how it could affect your SEO methodology, your site’s search ranking, and your appearance on search engine results pages (SERPs) – and how you can use this knowledge to get ahead of the competition.
What is BERT?
BERT is Google’s attempt at becoming better at understanding the intent behind a user’s search queries.
When searching for something online, we often need to think carefully about the search term to enter. As we’ve mentioned previously, searching for “birthday cake” will give you significantly different results to searching for “cake recipe” – maybe showing local bakeries, vs. food and recipe websites.
This effect can become even more profound. For example, the word “book” refers to not only a physical book, but also to an action, like “booking” a table or an appointment. And when you consider the colloquial terms which arise in everyday language, and the relational terms we use to differentiate hierarchy in our conversations, it’s easy to see how quickly language can become problematic for search engines.
Recognising this, Google conducted more research into Natural Language Processing (NLP), in an attempt to understand more about the way we talk, use language and infer meaning in everyday conversation. From this research, they were able to create an AI-powered model which can process search terms in relation to the way human language works as a whole, rather than at an individual word-by-word level.
The model is called BERT (which stands for Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers – you can find out more about that here).
BERT considers the full context of a word by looking at the words that come before and after it — and that’s what makes it particularly useful for understanding the intent behind search queries.
Google themselves provide an example using the search term, ‘math practice book for adults’. Pre-BERT update, the words ‘math’ and ‘adult’ were clearly picked up by the search engine as being important.
But, the results displayed demonstrated that the search engine didn’t differentiate ‘adult’ from ‘young adult’ – and as a result, it provided a match from entirely the wrong category.
In the post-BERT update, Google’s results display a link to a ‘grownup’ book. There’s an understanding of the relationship between words that wasn’t there before. And it means the result is much more useful to the user.
How does BERT affect businesses?
No doubt, you’ll have heard of Search Engine Optimisation (SEO), and possibly been working to improve your own search engine ranking following steps like those we talked about in our web optimisation blog.
Unfortunately, since the emergence of SEO, there’s been a surge in inaccurate information hosted on some websites. And, as with any trend, people have been trying to trick the system, stuffing pages with irrelevant keywords, using click-bait titles to gain more views, to name just a few tactics.
This is where BERT is different. It’s designed to reward natural language over ‘shoe-horned’ SEO terms. So, not only will search engine users be able to use more natural search terms to find what they’re looking for, but your business will benefit from using more natural language in your copy to answer questions, talk about your products and preach the benefits of your services online, too.
The rollout started in the US in October 2019, and is currently active on just 1 in 10 search queries. However, Google has already confirmed it will be expanding to 70 more languages in 2020. Plus, although it’s currently Google’s platform, you can be sure it won’t take long before other search engines adopt a similar method, with the likes of Microsoft already using the BERT model.
What your business can do to ensure you site ranks better with BERT
Search engines are now going to become more powerful than ever when it comes to understanding the extent to which a webpage answers a user’s search term.
Many businesses have spent their time focusing only on including all the ‘right’ keywords on their website. But now, it’s no longer about writing for search engines: it’s about writing for people, and doing so in a natural way.
Businesses who are looking to improve rankings and widen coverage on search engines need to ensure their websites contain high-quality, relevant and evergreen copy which is useful to their audience. No keyword-stuffing, no strange phrasing which tries to ‘trick’ search engines into appearing relevant. These behaviours will be penalised under the new methodology.
Keep in mind that people are often searching for the answer to a question because they don’t have that knowledge or information in the first place. So being informative and breaking information down in a natural, logical way will not only help you better answer said question – making the most of Google’s BERT update – but will also leave the users who find your website thinking about you more favourably.
You’ll not only benefit from an increased click-through-rate (CTR), but visitors will be more likely to return to your site in the future, engage positively with your content, think of you as an authority on the subject they’ve been searching for, and form a better relationship with your brand too. Plus, you’ll be rewarded by search engines for providing a positive experience.
As with any other website optimisation tactic, it should be viewed as an ongoing process – not a one-time fix. You can measure, adjust and optimise the results using analytics tools to view the impact, and improve your website over time.
In short: hire a professional, experienced digital copywriter to provide professional, human, high-quality and natural content.
Nobody makes digital work harder for your business than P+S
As a fully-integrated digital, strategic and design agency, P+S are on hand to help you make the most of your digital offering. Our speciality is helping brands to create cohesive, memorable websites that customers will trust – and ultimately, buy into.
Our in-house copywriting team have tons of expertise writing for the web. With a critical eye and the very latest digital knowledge, we can create copy which brings you more web traffic, ensures people stay on your site for longer and engage with your content more often. We can also design and co-ordinate workshops which meet your team’s needs – whether they want to learn more about writing for the web in 2020, or about SEO best practice.
We have more than four decades of experience working with companies across the globe, managing everything from brand conception, to design, strategy, and execution. Our approach means we only use evidence-driven, measurable results, so we can continue to help you refine every element of your business, from its website to your campaign collateral.
If you’d like to find out more about how our web development services can help your business, get in touch today at firstname.lastname@example.org.