As a small business owner or entrepreneur, you know how important search engine optimization is to the success of your business. By now you’ve likely, okay probably definitely, heard about Google’s latest update: the BERT model. This update to its search results algorithm is the most major update Google has made since it rolled out the RankBrain algorithm update in late 2015.
We’ve put together all the information you need to know as an entrepreneur or small business owner with an active company website. The most important takeaway is that the new BERT algorithm is not designed to actively penalize any websites. It is simply designed to give Google a better understanding of the intent of a particular search query and a better understanding of the context of each word in direct relation to the other words so that search results will be more relevant and ranked accordingly.
What Exactly is Google’s New BERT Model?
You’re an entrepreneur or a successful small business owner, not a search engine optimization (SEO) expert. Why should you spend time learning about Google’s search result ranking algorithm update anyway? Because it will inevitably, now or down the line, definitely impact how your site is ranked in relevant searches done by qualified potential customers or clients that you want finding your website and clicking through.
Google’s BERT model is an acronym that stands for Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers (try and say that five times fast!). While we could delve into exactly what a bidirectional encoder is or Google’s research on transformers, it likely isn’t pertinent information to the success of your business. Here are a few key takeaways regarding BERT:
- BERT’s overarching goal is to understand the intent of the person searching, not simply understand the words.
- The BERT update will currently affect only around 10% of searches done in U.S. English, with Google planning to expand BERT to more countries and languages over time.
- The BERT update adjusts Google’s algorithm to better understand how people talk naturally when analyzing search queries to provide relevant results.
- BERT models utilize transformers to process each individual word in a search in relation to the words before and after that specific word.
What Will Change with the Algorithm of Google BERT Ranking Search Results?
According to Google, The BERT update is designed to focus on “longer, more conversational queries, or searches.” The BERT model’s search ranking will be particularly important for those longer queries that contain prepositions that are of high importance to the understanding of the search context. Prepositions like “for” and “to” can completely alter the meaning of a conversational-style search query. BERT’s algorithm has a much keener understanding of how these prepositions alter the meaning of a searcher’s intent.
One particularly interesting example Google shared containing before and after search results from the same exact query centered around the particular importance of the preposition and highly-common word “to” within a long, conversational search regarding travel visas.
The search query read, “2019 brazil traveler to usa need a visa.” Before the application of the Google BERT model, Google’s top-ranking search results were focused on providing website results that would answer the question of if a traveler going from Brazil to the United States needed a visa. Yet, you can clearly see and comprehend as a human that the searcher’s intent is to get themselves a visa and they are not asking if they need one or not. Post Google BERT update, search results for the identical query list the top search result as a link directly to the United States Embassy website where the searcher can learn about the process of applying for a visa and then start the application process.
As you can see from the visa query example above, one of the central goals of Google applying the BERT model of search result ranking is to better allow you to search on a conversational-style tone that is true to the way you naturally speak as if you were asking a friend for information and receive more relevant results.
What Can You Do to Optimize to Keep up with Google’s BERT Model?
The best thing you can do is not obsess about optimizing your content and keyword integration around BERT. Instead, optimize every piece of content you include, whether on top-level pages, blogs, or so on, for real people in a conversational manner. While there is no hard data to prove this, it has been rumored that BERT doesn’t comprehend search intent as well as a real human does; it actually comprehends it better.
It is projected that in terms of ranking higher in relevant searches after the rollout of the BERT update, the winners will be websites that have a good deal of high-quality, well written, long-form content that answers questions that the target audience for that website’s product or service is actively searching on. If your website lacks good content that provides the type of information or answers the type of questions your audience is searching for, now is the time to start a new content marketing strategy.
Research Findings That Made BERT’s Development Necessary
A great deal of time and effort went into the development of BERT’s algorithm to generate search results that are so highly intuitive. This focus and dedication by Google’s development team came as a partial direct result of the moderately shocking results of the 2018 Paid vs. Natural Click Distribution Study. The study analyzed 1.4 billion search queries performed from Google’s toolbar to determine the percentage distribution of searchers that ended up clicking on organic search results compared to searches that ended up choosing paid search results.
Of the 1.4 search queries, 94% resulted in a click-through to an organic search result, while just 6% of search queries resulted in a click-through to a paid search result. The research results were highly interesting and a bit unexpected, even for Google’s research team members who conducted the study. As you likely know, half of the paid search listings on the first page of Google search results are listed above the organic results. This shows even more concretely how important it is for your business or brand to rank well organically, as consumers simply trust organic results more than paid results with the small red “AD” symbol next to them, no matter where they are positioned on the search engine results pages (SERP).
Is BERT the Last Word in Google’s Algorithm?
Of course not, but it’s certainly a major step in the right direction. Google is aware that the issue of language nuances and colloquialisms is not a wholly solved problem. However, the rollout of BERT’s highly advanced understanding of long, conversational search queries and its greater awareness of preposition significance is certainly a step in the right direction for more relevant search results for all.
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