Meet BERT: Google’s New Natural Language Algorithm Update

By Danny, 7 months ago (3 min read)

Yep, it’s that time again. In such a rapidly evolving search landscape, a Google algorithm update can (and often does) send digital marketers into a frenzy, as they scramble to work out what the latest tweak to ranking factors means for their content calendars and digital strategy.

Luckily, today, we’re to help – providing a no-nonsense breakdown of BERT, Google’s latest search algorithm update. From what exactly it is to how it should influence your approach to content marketing in the future, we’re covering all the ins and outs to ensure you have a thorough understanding of this new, user-focused update rollout.

So, who on earth is BERT?

BERT stands for Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers – catchy, right? Though it may sound like something straight from the pages of an H.G. Wells novel, the theory behind this update is actually pretty simple. In short, it’s designed to enable Google to better comprehend the language used in natural, longer-tail search queries by being able to contextualise certain words within the wider query.

What difference does this make?

The biggest impact that the introduction of BERT has on Google’s understanding of user search queries is the ability to better understand intent. By being able to contextualise words in relation to all the other words in a phrase – as opposed to considering each word one by one as was done previously – Google is able to provide users with more accurate and relevant information with regards to their intent as a searcher. This is particularly useful in cases where more conversational phrasing is used in search – such as in the increasingly popular voice search format.

A prime example of this is an increased emphasis on words such as ‘for’ and ‘to’. Traditionally, a query such as ‘can I pick up parcel for someone royal mail’ would see Google’s algorithm place emphasis on the phrases ‘pick up parcel and ‘royal mail’ – returning results relating to how to pick up a Royal Mail parcel. In truth, this isn’t the information the user was looking for. Following the BERT update, Google now recognises the importance of ‘for someone’ in terms of the user’s intent and will return more accurate results for queries like these – taking into account the idea of picking up a parcel on behalf of somebody else.

What does this mean for content marketing?

So, now we understand what BERT is and how it operates, it’s time to get down to brass tacks: what does this mean for content marketing? In short, it depends!

This algorithm update was first rolled out at the end of October and it didn’t quite have the same impact on wider search results as previous updates. This is because it’s more common for marketers to be tracking the performance of short-tail keywords as opposed to longer-tail keywords, as shorter-tail keywords are the ones with higher monthly search volumes and therefore likely to be the greatest traffic-drivers. As BERT is fundamentally concerned with user intent, it primarily concerns the ‘top-of-the-funnel’, longer-tail keywords – in other words, niche informational terms as opposed to transactional terms.

This new update is also sure to have a noticeable effect on featured snippets. Now that Google can better comprehend the context of a search, it can now more accurately identify the content most relevant to the user’s intent – meaning that, if you’re writing concise, informational content surrounding a particular query, your chances of obtaining a featured snippet will be drastically improved.

So, when it comes to optimising your content for BERT, the simplest answer is: don’t! Instead, look to optimise for the user by creating highly targeted, informational content that focuses on providing a direct answer to the original query.

For those of you used to abiding by industry best practices, you’ll find that most of your content already follows this rule by placing a distinct focus on quality. As long as you continue to write natural, authoritative content that prioritises giving the user valuable, actionable information rather than focusing on keyword quantity, you’ll find your content is already up to BERT’s exacting standards.

Pair this with regular, thorough research into the informational queries your potential customers are searching and you’ve got the recipe for success.

To strengthen your SEO strategy and ensure your content is optimised in line with the latest in industry practices and trends, get in touch with the experts at Land Digital today.