As the world’s go-to source for information, Google is constantly changing and updating its search algorithm to improve the search experience for users. While most of these updates are minor, Google periodically releases larger-scale algorithm changes that can have a more drastic effect on rankings.
One of these algorithms is known as BERT, which stands for Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers. BERT utilizes natural language processing (NLP) and machine learning (ML) to determine searcher intent more accurately than ever before in 70 different languages.
The core idea behind BERT, which rolled out in October 2019, was to make search engine bots more conversational in nature and “train” them to think more like a human – that is, to decipher the meaning behind complex queries where one word can change the entire intent of the query.
Like with all Google algorithm updates, BERT is designed to improve search engine results by providing the most relevant, informative and useful results first. While it does not directly penalize or de-rank websites, it will rank those with higher quality, more relevant content higher than those who lack it.
This reiterates the ever-important mantra that content is king, and not just any content, but highly informative content that answers search queries with the highest degree of relevance and readability. A focus on user intent is key to creating BERT-friendly content. If your website’s content does not match with user intent, it can be negatively affected.
Optimizing for BERT
The key to optimizing a website for BERT is to ensure that all content is as in-line with searcher intent as possible. Search engine users approach queries with a wide variety of intentions behind them – are they looking to buy a product or service, an answer to a question, a step-by-step guide, a list of suggestions, the list goes on and on. The challenge for every SEO is determining how to best answer a user’s question or query using targeted, optimized on-page content that draws users to the website.
One major distinction to keep in mind is the difference between informational and transactional search queries. For example, a highly general Google search for “plumbing” is likely to show results that educate the reader about plumbing, while a search for “plumbing near me” is more likely to show plumbing service providers near the search location.
One helpful way to assess the intent behind a query is to perform a Google search and analyze the top results – if these results all convey the same information, but your website features different information surrounding the same topic, it may be an indication that you need to re-think your content strategy.