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Google is rolling out another huge algorithm update, and no it’s not named after an animal this time.
The update was dubbed the name BERT, which many GenXers and Millennials associate with the no-
nonsense practical puppet from the show Sesame Street. BERT stands for Bidirectional Encoder
Representations from Transformers. So, what does that mean for the future of Search Engine
Optimization, and what can we expect in the industry?
According to Search Engine Land, “BERT is a neural network-based technique for natural language
processing pre-training. In plain English, it can be used to help Google better discern the context of
words in search queries.” In a nutshell, Google is getting smarter at recognizing keyword distinctions to
enable more relatable outcomes. For example, the term “what’s up” in a search query carries more than
one meaning. When typing in “What’s up” a user can get several suggestions based on their search
history, country of origin, and overall interests. For example:
“What’s up with our political system?”
“What’s up in my tree?”
“Wassup song Da Muttz”
BERT offers users a more precise translation of what they are potentially looking for by processing their
natural language. It does this by offering suggestions and snippets to better help the user find the
information they are searching for based on their unique language. Another way of looking into how
BERT translates a user’s search query is that instead of processing a single phrase, it breaks down
different words in order to better translate their meaning.
This process is known as NLP or Natural Language Processing. According to Search Engine Land, “Natural
language processing (NLP) refers to a branch of artificial intelligence that deals with linguistics, with the
aim of enabling computers to understand the way humans naturally communicate.” BERT can fine tune
a user’s search inquiries through monitoring messenger apps, search history, location, and social media
chats through analyzing the language used via information gathered from the individual’s smartphone.
According to MOZ, “BERT can outperform 11 of the most common NLP tasks after fine-tuning,
essentially becoming a rocket booster for Natural Language Processing and Understanding.”
For example, when entering the term “Bank”, Google will offer suggestions before the user finishes
typing in the rest of the query. If the user banks at Wells Fargo, that will likely come up first as a
suggestion. If the user loves the artist Banksy, information regarding the popular advocate will be
included in the suggestions. If the user lives near and visits a popular river or is studying geology or
shoreline maintenance, the term bank takes on a whole other meaning, which BERT translates
BERT also uses a tactic called masking. For example, “My (masked word) hurts after I stubbed it on the
couch.” BERT fills in the masked word by looking at the words or phrases before or after the masked
word in order to offer the best translation.
This brings us to what BERT can’t do. According to Allyson Ettinger’s analysis of “What BERT Can't Do,”
she concluded that BERT isn't very good at understanding negation.
For example, a user types in the phrase, “A heron is a…” and the user is be presented with the following
However, when the user enters the term “A heron is not a”, no suggestions are provided.
So how do you optimize for BERT? Google suggests that the purpose of good SEO is to “Give visitors the
information they're looking for”. They also warn against duplicate content and stress the importance of
citations when sharing industry knowledge.
Conclusively, there isn’t too much SEO specialists can do outside of what they are already doing. Google
loves Google, and Google suggests the following:
“Provide high-quality content on your pages, especially your homepage. This is the single most
important thing to do. If your pages contain useful information, their content will attract many visitors
and entice webmasters to link to your site. In creating a helpful, information-rich site, write pages that
clearly and accurately describe your topic. Think about the words users would type to find your pages
and include those words on your site.”
You may find yourself using more descriptive words and phrases more than necessary to convey your
information, but while the human user may not notice these distinctions, Google (BERT) certainly will.
No one knows how long this Google revision is going to last, but there’s no doubt that it is here, so use it to your advantage.
Don’t hesitate to call or email us to take a look at your site’s SEO.