Here’s the Lowdown on the BERT Google Algorithm Update (And What it Means for Your Website)

For many years, Google has ignored common words such as “and”, “or”, “of”, “to”, “for”, “a”, and others. The reasoning was mainly due to the amount of time and lack of relevance many of these terms had affected search inquiries. But in a recent algorithm update, a few of these words have become a pivotal aspect in deciding where search results will rank.

As only one piece of this major Google update, common words are part of a much larger emphasis that is now being placed on long-tail keywords and the natural language people use in search inquiries.

There are a few things everyone should be aware of as it appears this update is only the beginning of a much larger plan to change the entire mindset behind search engine optimization.

 

What Was the Recent Google Update?

Known simply as BERT, this algorithm change made a significant impact on the rankings of about 10% of sites and pages across search results. The update placed an emphasis on improving the search engine’s understanding of the context within an inquiry as opposed to simply looking at each word individually.

In their statement about the changes, Google said that it will have a better grasp of “more conversational queries, or searches where prepositions like ‘for’ and ‘to’ matter a lot to the meaning”. In turn, the update will make it easier for people to search in a more natural way that they would normally speak, as opposed to trying to think of the relevant keywords they need to include within the search query.

Looking deeper at the way someone would naturally search for something means that Google is placing an even bigger priority on its ability to answer questions and understand the real search intent behind every search.

A before and after comparison of the BERT update
A search result for a long tail query before and after the BERT update

 

How Will the BERT Update Affect Websites?

In their statement about BERT, Google said the changes will focus more on search queries than it will on websites. But this still means your content will have to be optimized to be worthy of relevant results.

With an understanding that this major change is focusing on natural language, this is going to have a serious impact on websites and pages that have poorly written content. Regardless of the keyword research and usage, if a page isn’t providing details within context that flows and provides answers, it is likely to see a dip in the rankings.

Basically, Google is saying that if a person is reading your content and can’t grasp the point or the main idea behind what you’re trying to say, then the search won’t be able to either. This extends to the structure of a page, the use of images, proper internal linking to relevant content, and ensuring that everything within the site is important to the topic.

 

Sites that Were Affected by the Google BERT Update

Only one out of every ten searches were impacted by these changes, leaving many people with limited concern about their place on search engine results pages (SERPs). But as with any Google update, some companies and specific websites saw either positive or negative fluctuations in their search rankings once BERT was rolled out.

A handful of news sites including The New York Times saw their rankings dip immediately following the update. Experts predict the drop was due to the algorithm’s emphasis on long-tail keywords and the fact that many news providers are often focused more deeply on simpler, shorter search terms.

Google has made it clear that these updates were only the beginning of a bigger outlook for a new way of looking at the natural language used in searches. So while this may not have impacted the other 90% of searches yet, it is a good time to take a look at your own content and make some changes to prepare for possible future adjustments.

A search query and featured snippet after the BERT update
A featured snippet example of BERT in action. Notice how the snippet is able to interpret the meaning of the query, despite not having all of the keywords in the title tag.

 

What to Do After the BERT Update

Google’s Danny Sullivan has stated that you can’t optimize for BERT and that Google is still seeking to reward great content.

If your rankings have dropped, it’s likely your pages are failing to satisfy search intent or your content is poorly written. BERT is about understanding natural language queries. You can make sure your content is worthy of a spot in SERPs by satisfying search intent, offering unique value and writing for people.

Think about the ways people would ask about what you do, what you offer, or how your business/service solves a problem. From there, provide both the questions and the answers within your website content in relatable, easy-to-understand ways that demonstrate your authority, knowledge, and relevance in your industry.

Remember: Write with people in mind.

 

Do You Need Help After this Recent Google Update?

Whether you were part of the initial 10% who have been affected by BERT or you’re part of the lucky 90% who has been given a head start, there’s no time like the present to improve your website content and SEO.

Here at ENDURANCE, we’re fully committed to keeping up with Google algorithm changes as they’re rolled out to ensure everyone we work with gets the most up-to-date and effective SEO services.

Get in touch with our team today and learn about all the ways we can help you improve your search rankings, marketing efforts, and more!

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