How BERT Changed SEO





Blog Date

June 6, 2024


UK, Manchester

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How BERT Changed SEO

How BERT Changed SEO

As an SEO specialist, I’ve always seen my job as a bit of a linguistic detective work. Decoding the mysteries of how search engines understand and interpret human language has been the name of the game. But with Google’s introduction of BERT in 2019, the game has changed.

Let me take you back a bit. Before BERT, Google’s algorithms were pretty one-dimensional when it came to understanding search queries. They would essentially just look at the individual words and try to match them up with the most relevant web pages. This “keyword matching” approach worked okay for simple, straightforward searches. But it really fell short when it came to more complex, conversational queries.

Take the search, “2019 brazil traveler to usa need a visa.” Before BERT, Google would have gotten tripped up by the preposition “to” in that query. It would have tried to find pages about Brazilian travelers going to the USA, when in fact the searcher was looking for information on Americans traveling from Brazil to the USA. The nuance of the full context just wasn’t there.

Or how about “parking on a hill with no curb?” Without BERT, Google would have put too much emphasis on the word “curb” and missed the key detail that the searcher was looking for information on parking without a curb. The full intent behind the query was lost in the algorithm.

This is where BERT comes in. Standing for “Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers,” BERT is Google’s way of trying to better understand the natural language that we use in our searches. Rather than just looking at individual words, BERT processes the full context of a query, reviewing the words that come before and after to grasp the true intent behind it.

In the Brazil traveler example, BERT would recognize that the preposition “to” is crucial, indicating the direction of travel. And for parking on a hill, it would pick up on the “no curb” detail as the key piece of information the searcher is looking for.

Now, BERT is not the first time Google has tried to advance its language understanding capabilities. Back in 2013, they rolled out the Hummingbird algorithm update, which was all about moving away from pure keyword matching towards a more semantic, “intent-based” approach to search. Then in 2015, they introduced RankBrain, their first AI-powered algorithm that could better grasp user intent.

But BERT takes things to a whole new level. According to Google, it impacts around 10% of all search queries. That’s a staggeringly high number, showing just how significant this update is. And it’s a clear signal that the future of SEO is all about understanding and catering to user intent, not just optimizing for keywords.

So, what does this mean for SEO professionals like myself? Well, it means we can no longer just focus on cramming keywords into our content and hoping for the best. We have to dig deeper, really trying to understand the underlying intent behind the searches our target audience is making.

This is where things like natural language processing (NLP) and entity optimization become crucial. We need to think about how people naturally express themselves in search queries, and then ensure our content aligns with that. Gone are the days of “keyword-ese” – those clunky, unnatural phrasings that users have been trained to use because that’s what search engines could understand.

Instead, we have to write for humans first, and then optimize for search engines second. It’s all about creating content that genuinely answers the questions people are asking, using the same conversational language they would use themselves.

And you know what? I actually find this new era of SEO to be really exciting. It means we get to be more creative, more empathetic, and more in tune with our audience. No more keyword stuffing or other spammy tactics. It’s all about providing value, solving problems, and delighting users.

Of course, it’s not all smooth sailing. Tracking the impact of BERT can be really tricky, since a lot of the changes happen on long-tail, less frequently searched queries. And figuring out how to optimize for this new NLP-driven landscape is an ongoing challenge.

But hey, that’s what keeps this job interesting, right? I’m always up for a good detective story, and unraveling the mysteries of search engine algorithms is right up my alley.

So, if you’re an SEO professional, my advice is to embrace BERT, not fear it. Get to know natural language processing, dig into entity optimization, and start writing content that puts user intent front and center. The future of search is conversational, and the SEO agencies that can master that are the ones that are going to thrive.

And if you’re a business owner or marketer, look for SEO partners who are up-to-date on all these changes. The agencies that are still stuck in the keyword-focused past are going to struggle. You want someone who understands the new rules of the game, and can help you navigate this brave new world of intent-driven search.

After all, as MCR SEO knows, the name of the game is no longer just ranking for the right keywords. It’s about creating content that genuinely resonates with your audience and solves their problems. And with BERT leading the charge, that’s exactly the kind of approach that’s going to win out in the long run.

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