Meet BERT! The Latest Google Algorithm Focusing on Relevant Content
BERT is the abbreviation of Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers. It started as a Natural Language Processing pre-trainer that Google introduced and out-sourced in November 2018. It had been used for training a question answering system in matters of minutes or hours.
But in October this year, Google implemented it into Search. saying “ By applying BERT models to both ranking and featured snippets in Search, we’re able to do a much better job helping you find useful information. In fact, when it comes to ranking results, BERT will help Search better understand one in 10 searches in the U.S. in English, and we’ll bring this to more languages and locales over time.”
2. Google’s Announced Updates in 2019
Google makes an unknown number of updates every year but they will announce only those that have visible aftereffects and webmasters must make modifications or new optimizations to their site. In the year 2019 there were 5 such events (not including bug repairs):
March 2019 Core Update
It was the first broad core update of the year but Google didn’t offer much information about what changes it made to the algorithm. It only emphasized the importance that content has for calculating the ranks.
June 2019 Core Update
The second one offered a low amount, but important information, Google advised site owners to strive for better content because this is what users want. So, the trend will go on.
June 2019 Site Diversity Update.
This happened soon after the last core update. Google limited the number of possible top results that a site can have for a single search to 2. This was done to diversify the results shown as requested through the feedback it got from searches.
September 2019 Core Update
The last core update of the year follows the trend of improving the relevance of content analysis that the algorithm makes. It looks like a precursory action for the big change Google made by introducing BERT in the search algorithm.
October 2019 BERT Update
By adapting one of its biggest breakthroughs in NLP and implementing it in Search, Google wants to improve the quality of the result SERPs provide. It mentioned that this update will affect one in ten searches in the U.S. alone.
The trend Google follows can be clearly seen from the updates it made this year, so if you want to improve your site’s rankings the strategy you must use for SEO should be focused on high-quality content. And it must be informative, engaging and easy to understand.
3. The Misinterpretations
As mentioned in searchenginejournal.com: “There is a great deal of confusion and link baiting surrounding BERT”. Mentioned in the same article are some examples of myths that some professionals misinterpreted and you shouldn’t let them influence your SEO strategy. The most misleading one being that you should optimize your site for long-tail queries and doing this may be detrimental to your ranking.
Instead, you should focus on the quality of your content, as mentioned in the same source “BERT is about Google understanding what user’s mean and THEN being able to connect that to more specific information that already exists on your website.” That is why the more you try to optimize for long-tail queries the more damage you may cause to your site’s ranking.
Another misinterpretation revealed in the article mentions that E-A-T (the algorithm that evaluates a site’s expertise, authority, and trustworthiness) and BERT influence each other. They are 2 separate algorithms that have different roles, BUT they are the components of a multi-layered system that decide the rankings. And although they don’t interact with each other, both of them influence the rank given to your site by the system.
4. The Effects BERT Left on the SERPs
Because, now, the algorithm Google uses can understand much better what users are searching for, the results it shows are more relevant. They are no longer based only on keywords. Through BERT, Search’s algorithm understands better the meaning of a query and in this way, it’s able to optimize the results it shows much better than before.
The biggest effects shown are on the sites the focused too much on optimization made to influence the algorithm and less on the user experience. The reverse of the equation also got significant ranking changes.
This happens, mainly, because, despite Google’s ideal to show results based only on user experience, the technology didn’t reach a high enough level to allow it and the algorithm can be influenced through different factors, in this way a site can get high rankings even though it’s less helpful than those in lower positions.
But, with the introduction of BERT, Google’s ideal is closer than ever and the influence of optimization for algorithms took a big dive, making space for those sites that truly made their sites with the goal of helping their visitors.
Most sites were already optimized for visitors. That is why they were affected very little. It’s not so easy to mislead such a complex algorithm, add to that the fact that it’s not rewarding in the long term because Search’s algorithm constantly evolves and it leads to a low number of such cases. That’s why such a major update only affected the rankings so little and only one out of ten queries were majorly affected.
5. What should you do from now on?
By following the trend of the updates, it is plain to see what Google wants from your site. And the best thing you can do for your rankings it’s to listen and go along with the trend. It’s not a good idea to try and manipulate the results by optimizing your site just for the algorithm. In the short term you may have positive results doing that, but once a major update such as BERT hits your site it will sink and it will be very hard for you to bring it back.
The best thing you can do is to focus on user experience. You can do that through many techniques, but the one that Google empathizes right now is content because a majority of people that search something online want to find information and if your site offers that then it will be rewarded with a better ranking.
Good content will also increase the trust users have in your brand, that’s why it would be best to build your site’s content or hire professionals like us to write SEO content for you. The quality of the articles we will deliver to you will be at the same level as this one.
Contact Gamit for a complete SEO quote!
6. About the Author
I am the co-founder and managing director of Gamit. My technical background in routing protocols (with a PhD in engineering obtained at the University of Leeds – UK) helps me really understand the SEO strategies which are needed to obtain and maintain a website on the first page of Google for its main keywords. My main role in the company is to research, analyze and test innovative ways on how to help websites get top Google ranks using only white hat SEO techniques.
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