BERT: What Is It and How Can You Adapt to It?

BERT is an algorithm that Google updated to in order to generate better results for queries that were longer and more conversational in nature. An example of such a query would include voice searches. Here’s some information about BERT, including how it affects your business and what to expect for the future.

Just What is BERT?

The BERT algorithm stands for “Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers.” In simple terms, it’s a technique based on neural networks that take highly conversational and natural language inquiries and puts them into terms that are easier for a search engine to process. An example would be when you say a buoy is “far out in the ocean” as opposed to when a restaurant is described as “cool and far out.” The phrase “far out” is used completely differently in each context, and that’s the kind of thing that BERT is trying to help figure out Google.

It is like a translator between humans and machines. The interesting thing about BERT is that it’s actually open-sourced, which means people know a lot about it and marketers can actually use it themselves if they like in order to get better natural language capabilities for their businesses.

Why Did Google Change Their Algorithm?

Google changed its search ranking system in late October 2019 with the Bert update. Google actually revealed that its update actively impacts about 10 percent of its queries. According to Google, the reason why they changed their system was to accommodate the “longer, more conversational queries.” It’s not hard to guess one of the places that this could be coming from.

It’s getting more and more common to search for stuff online using voice queries. In other words, people who are making use of the “OK Google” voice search on their phone or the Google Home functionality when they are at home. Plus, it’s not just Google that is noticing this trend.

Amazon has Echo, Apple has SIRI, and Microsoft has Cortana. The tendency to use voice tools in order to get results instead of typing them into a keyboard or tapping them onto your phone is a megatrend that any serious business online is going to have to worry about at some point.

What Is Voice Search and Why Does It Matter?

Voice Search is the growing trend towards using your own, physical voice to make auditory inquiries of a tool. So, when you say “OK Google” in order to activate your android phone, and then ask it a question or search for anything, this is a voice search.

The system then has to take the audio waves, translate them into text accurately, and then prepare them for a proper search. This is what BERT is designed to help figure out, and it’s one of the main reasons for the update from Google, beyond people just typing in more conversational phrases into the search engine, of course.

The increasing popularity of using mobile devices, as well as using voice on mobile devices and home devices alike are making tools like BERT more and more relevant and important as businesses do their best to adapt to the realities of the changing consumer market.

Traditional Tools and BERT

The Tool MozCast has a spokesman named Dr. Peter Meyers who recently commented on how Moz relates to BERT. Pete said that BERT shouldn’t impact MozCast very much since the phrases are different and the phrases in MOZ aren’t the kind of natural language variety that you need BERT to figure out. This demonstrates how it’s important for marketers and small business owners to understand the impact of BERT on different tools that you may already use in your efforts.

Another example is the RankRanger tool. The people there said that they haven’t experienced much change from BERT either. This is because of a focus on short-tail keywords rather than the long-tail, which is more what BERT is all about. In fact, it looks like BERT is having a stabilizing effect on these keywords in general, According to Search Engine Land.

Optimizing for BERT

Now that BERT is here among us, it’s important to react to it properly. It’s worth noting that Google claims there’s nothing to optimize for BERT, but Google often makes claims like that. Here are some of the ways you can properly react to BERT to make sure that your marketing efforts remain on track:

  • Natural Language Content-Google’s emphasis remains on content optimized for users. This means natural language content that users can get something out of in some way. That’s always been their focus, and that’s always what they’ve been trying to do, regardless of whether this has always been the case or not. In other words, content remains king, and no matter what else you’re doing to optimize for SEO, you need to make sure that your content is still highly readable and desirable to users. If anything, BERT makes this even more important.
  • More Nuance-Before Bert, a query like “Japanese native needs passport to US” would focus on those in the U.S. who need to travel to Japan instead of the opposite, since the algorithm would fail to properly flip the phrase due to the context behind the word “to.” This means that your keywords can be more nuanced now and you don’t need to be quite as obsessive about just including each keyword without including the little words like “to” which add important context.
  • More Specificity-Another way you can optimize BERT is by taking advantage of the fact that Bert can recognize the specificity of words better. For example, under the old system, a query like “do truck drivers stand a lot of hours” would be interpreted as being about truck driver jobs being available and those companies offering a lot of hours rather than about how difficult it is to be a truck driver standing that many hours on the road. Other examples of this could include how the word “bank” is interpreted since it can mean a sharp turn, a financial institution, a part of a river, or even something else with the phrase “bank on it” or “take it to the bank” ¬†which is just talking about confidence.
  • Connecting Words-BERT means that Google will understand connecting words like “in” or “to” more often than it did in the past. This could indicate a shift towards no longer failing to include these words in keywords like “babysitting Illinois.” The days of more natural language are now upon us and it’s worth taking some time to recognize that adaptation may be required in the future, even if it’s not exactly the case yet.
  • Long-Tail and Conversational Focuses-BERT also represents a shift towards voice searching, and this is something you can optimize for in general. Part of what this means is focusing more on the long-tail keywords. So, essentially, instead of just focusing on keywords like “local football team” you’ll want to be specific with keywords that go between 6 to 10 words like “Football tickets for New York Jets.” A conversational approach that’s pushed by voice is a wise idea going forward because people tend to add those extra details in when they are just using their voice through Google Home or Siri. The more traditional three word keywords are often going to happen more when people are being a bit more frugal when they are typing.
  • Snippets-BERT is also being used to search through and create better-featured snippets. If you can get your company referenced in these snippets, you will have a leg up on the competition without a doubt. BERT is going to make Google ever more efficient at improving these snippets, so the key is relevance.
  • Staying the Course for Now-In general, most tools and individuals haven’t noticed major changes from BERT yet. It’s more about what BERT represents in the long run that warrants your attention in terms of gearing your sites towards optimization. Both elements are important now, including both traditional SEO options and more natural user-focused content. It’s clear that the second one is going to be pushed more and more by Google, however.

The Main Takeaway

Natural language is going to be a major part of marketing going forward, and this trend is only increasing every day. While the past basic methods for SEO ranking will still work, Google is pushing hard towards natural relevance so it’s a good idea for marketers to try to follow suit as much as they can. The days of just awkwardly shoehorning keywords that aren’t naturally sounding at all could be at an end.

BERT may not have a huge direct effect on marketing in the weeks since it came out, but it is absolutely a herald of things to come. What people want the most is to find what they are looking for using the language that they already use every day.

For more information on how exactly to adapt to BERT as well as any and all Google updates, plus everything else to do with marketing and promoting your business, please don’t hesitate to contact us today.