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Google’s new BERT algorithm

Google launched its biggest search system update in almost five years at the end of 2019. The search engine giant’s Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers (BERT) algorithm will impact the rankings of 1 in 10 search queries. This means that the results we see based on our search terms will change dramatically; giving users better information by having a more complex understanding of their language and context.

So then, what is BERT? According to Google, it is their neural network-based technique for natural language processing (NLP). This basically means that BERT will help computers to better understand language and the complexities of context – just like humans can. BERT will take these nuances and apply them to the user’s search, returning better matches for those queries. In a nutshell, BERT will deliver far more relevant results to Google users. Luckily, this is something that content can answer and that we can help you with.

Google launched BERT in an effort to make search more about matching the intent of the user rather than pure string matching. It will assign websites a higher ranking if their content is more relevant and useful to the user. “Content will truly have to be written to user intent rather than just strings that a user might search,” says growth consultant and advisor Eli Schwartz.

When we write content for websites, brands and clients, we compile all the client information that we receive and utilise it to contribute to achieving these SEO goals. We know from our broad experience what we need to do in order to optimise content for the highest click-through rate to your website.

How will BERT affect website rankings?

This can affect website rankings on the search engine results pages (SERPs), but Google has been placing more focus on the end-user, rather than the websites. They want to deliver the most relevant information to internet users. This means that if websites want to retain their high rankings, they will need to have strongly user-focused content and deliver the right information in the simplest way.

While it is not technically possible to optimise your website for BERT, having a well-designed site that is simple to use and features carefully-crafted content will help your rankings. “With users having more options than ever in how they search for things, it’ll be even more important for [websites] to bear in mind the fundamentals of clean architecture and content delivery,” says Kelly Stanze, a search strategist at Hallmark.

The benefits of BERT for the user

BERT simply analyses the language used in the search query and returns a better result than before. For example, a user searching for “South African travel to USA need a visa” will now return results aimed at South African travellers. Previously, Google may have returned results aimed at US citizens travelling to South Africa. Simple words such as “to” can change the entire search query, thanks to BERT.

“If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the 15 years working on Google Search, it’s that people’s curiosity is endless. We see billions of searches every day, and 15 percent of those queries are ones we haven’t seen before – so we’ve built ways to return results for queries we can’t anticipate,” explains Google Fellow and Vice President of Search, Pandu Nayak.

“At its core, Search is about understanding language. It’s our job to figure out what you’re searching for and surface helpful information from the web, no matter how you spell or combine the words in your query. While we’ve continued to improve our language understanding capabilities over the years, we sometimes still don’t quite get it right, particularly with complex or conversational queries.” he adds.

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The old way of searching on Google using keyword strings can now be eradicated. These are not how we usually ask questions and the majority of users struggled to use keyword string searches effectively. Now, asking questions on Google with natural language will return relevant results, making the search easier to use and more effective.

“With the latest advancements from our research team in the science of language understanding – made possible by machine learning – we’re making a significant improvement to how we understand queries, representing the biggest leap forward in the past five years, and one of the biggest leaps forward in the history of Search,” concludes Nayak. 

If you wish to partner with someone who knows how to apply the best practices to achieve BERT’s SEO goals, don’t hesitate to contact us at zani@mobimeme.com.

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Written by Joshua Oates

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