The newest Google update, BERT, dropped a little more than a week ago. It’s one of the biggest updates that Google has made to its algorithm in the last several years.
Google updates come with a lot of questions and over the last few days, I’ve been seen a lot of chatter about it. People have been wondering, what exactly is BERT, and what it means for us going forward.
So, let’s talk about it.
What is BERT?
BERT is an acronym that stands for bidirectional encoder representations from transformers. That’s a mouthful and it doesn’t really tell us a whole lot does it?
Essentially, what BERT is addressing is the natural language that people use in their search queries.
In the past, the way we were searching was a little different. Five years ago if I was searching for a pizza place, I would have googled “pizza Boise”.
Over time, search queries have reflected more the way we talk. Instead of “pizza Boise” I might search on, “Where can I find pizza in Boise?” or “Where’s the best pizza in Boise?”
Nuance is Important
The BERT update is also addressing nuance in the results of searches. To explain this better let’s look at a couple of different examples.
If you were to search on cows what would you have got in the past? Probably lots of articles on livestock. Google is now going to understand there’s a nuance to that word. It doesn’t just mean cows, it can mean a type of fish as well.
Moving forward, if you search on cows, you’re still going to see articles on livestock, but don’t be surprised if you get results on bass as well.
Christopher Penn also had a good example in his article at Trust Insights. Prior to BERT, if I was to do a search on espresso I might just get a list of businesses that specialize in espresso. However, they’re not the only places that serve espresso.
Many coffee places also serve espresso. Now if I do a search on espresso, Google will recognize that other places serve espresso too so I’m going to get results that include coffee places that serve espresso.
Optimizing for BERT
The big question is in regards to optimization, right? If you have a website and you want to rank, this is the concern.
I’ve already seen articles that say they know how to help you rank now that BERT is here. I would suggest that you take those articles with a grain of salt because Google says there is not a way to optimize for BERT.
So where do we go from here?
Google has told us, even before the BERT update, that they want us to focus on EAT, which is:
You need to have all three of these things to rank well in Google.
If you’ve been just pumping out mediocre content whose sole goal is to rank high for specific keywords, you’re going to want to change your strategy immediately. This isn’t going to work anymore.
You need to focus on EAT. How do you do that? Become an expert on what you are talking about. Build authority by getting backlinks that point back to your website.
Don’t create content whose sole purpose is keyword stuffing and driving traffic.
Google pays attention when it directs people to a website and those people don’t stay very long. It tells them that the website didn’t answer the question. If it keeps happening, it could eventually have a negative impact on your rankings.
Google also notices when there are a lot of links pointing back to your website. This tells them that the site must have some expertise and authority on a topic which can result in a higher ranking.
Focus on Humans
If you have spent your time writing for the humans and not the bots, you’re already ahead of the game.
I know it’s easy to get caught up in keywords because we want to rank in search engine results but focus on humans.
Do some research people see what people are searching for and what kind of questions they have. This is the content you want to create.
When you do this you will find that you’re no longer optimizing for a keyword. You will be optimizing for long-tail keywords that fit with the questions people have. Remember, people are searching more with natural language.
This is the direction that Google has been moving. If you’ve been paying attention to what’s going on with search and search engine optimization, that shouldn’t be surprising.
Build the best content on the internet for your subject matter. I know that’s highly subjective. What I think is great content may be different than what you think is great content but make that your goal.
The bottom line is with BERT you want to focus more on EAT and you do this by focusing on answering questions.
I’m others will continue to weigh in on BERT but there have already been some great articles published that I have found helpful.
Barry Schartz at Search Engine Land has written a couple of really good articles, here and here, that have been very helpful. Neil Patel has an article that was good. And, I already referenced the fantastic articles by Christopher Penn and Gini Dietrich. Definitely check out them out when you have a chance.
As usual, I want to hear what you think. Sound off in the comments.