Google has recently announced what they consider to be their most important update in the past 5 years. The new BERT search update will impact 10% of search queries. But what is BERT and how will it affect SEO?
What is BERT?
Google’s latest search update, BERT, stands for ‘Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers’. According to Google, this update’s main feature is to be more accurate for complicated search queries that require context.
Google stated the following:
“These improvements are oriented around improving language understanding, particularly for more natural language/conversational queries, as BERT is able to help Search better understand the nuance and context of words in Searches and better match those queries with helpful results.
Particularly for longer, more conversational queries, or searches where prepositions like “for” and “to” matter a lot to the meaning, Search will be able to understand the context of the words in your query. You can search in a way that feels natural for you.”
Google has said that BERT helps search engines have a better understanding of the nuances and context of search queries and match them with more relevant results. It will also help improve the accuracy of snippets and answer boxes.
In the example that Google has provided, the search query is “2019 brazil traveler to usa need a visa”. In this phrase, the word “to” and its relationship with other words is vital for understanding the meaning and context.
Previously, Google would not understand the context and importance of this connection, and would fetch results about U.S. citizens traveling to Brazil. Google confirmed that “With BERT, Search is able to grasp this nuance and know that the very common word “to” actually matters a lot here, and we can provide a much more relevant result for this query”.
Note: The examples below are for illustrative purposes and may not produce the same results.
In the other example below, Google is now able to understand a query similar to the way a human would show a more relevant result for the query “Can you get medicine for someone pharmacy”
Featured snippets will now be more relevant and will be able to distinguish a question apart from a general query about something. The example below shows the search query “parking on a hill with no curb”.
Previously, there would be a lot of importance on the word “curb” and Google would ignore the word “no” without realising how critical this word is to the context of the query.
RankBrain isn’t dead or irrelevant
RankBrain was Google’s first AI update for understanding search queries back in 2015. It would look at both the search query and the context of a website to better understand the meaning of the query. BERT will not be replacing RankBrain. It will be an additional method of understanding queries and content. RankBrain will still be a vital part to understanding searches, but BERT will help these searches bring up more relevant results and understand the context of queries better.
Can your optimise for BERT?
Not exactly. Google has said before that SEOs can’t exactly optimise for RankBrain. BERT is helping Google improve its understanding of natural language, so just write content that is natural for users and Google may use your results in favour of some search queries.
Could this be the biggest leap for Search Engines?