The future of SEO post-BERT

Any time Google announces a new algorithm update, SEOs scramble to decipher what it means and how they can stay one step ahead. Website owners will also pay close attention to their website traffic and rankings. The most recent algorithm update was no different, but the overwhelming advice from leading SEO thought leaders seems to be a little different this time.

In a blog post, Google Fellow and Vice President of Search Pandu Nayak wrote:

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.”

It certainly sounds exciting, but what do marketers and website owners really need to know about this update?

What is the BERT update?

BERT isn’t just a fun name like the Fred update. It stands for Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers.

What does this mean exactly?

This technology allows Google to understand words and phrases more like a human and less like a robot by recognising relationships between phrases. It takes us closer to having search engines that can understand the subtle nuances of language. 

How should we be optimising for these latest changes?

The good news is that Google has basically told us not to optimise for this latest update. The very nature of the update means that Google is working harder to understand what website owners are doing. Rather than trying to second guess what will get attention, we should instead focus on creating content which is valuable and helpful to users. 

As a copywriter, this is music to my ears. As Google pointed out in their blog post, they are hoping to put an end to what they call “Keyword-ese”. The act of stuffing in awkward phrasing just to achieve the exact keyword match should hopefully now come to and end. Copywriters can all get back to the practice of writing for people, not search engines. 

How widespread is the update?

If you haven’t noticed any big changes to your website traffic or keyword rankings, don’t be alarmed. BERT has not been rolled out across all searches yet. In fact, it is mostly limited to U.S. English and is only implemented on around 10% of searches. There are plans for a widespread rollout once the testing phase is complete.

However, even once it is rolled out, you still might not notice it in your keyword rankings. BERT will be more relevant for the longtail key phrases that most website owners aren’t tracking anyway.

Do I need to completely overhaul my website?

It all depends on how you have previously optimised your website. If you suspect you may have fallen for a spot of keyword stuffing then you might want to think about reviewing your website copy from a user experience perspective.

Need help finding the right words for your business? We can help. Get in touch with Auburn today to discover how we can help you find more customers online.