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Understanding Google's new algorithm - what is Google BERT?

If you're like most people, Google is your nearest and dearest friend when you need an answer to a question. But you've probably also tried not getting answers to your queries in the otherwise seemingly all-knowing search engine.

And, after all, Google is just a machine that doesn't always understand what people mean. But Google is now trying to change that with the BERT update.

But what exactly is BERT? How does the update affect the user experience for the general user? And what impact does it have on SEO and content marketing? Find out in this post, where I give a brief introduction to what could be Google's most important update in five years.

Adam Ketelsen
- SEO-specialist
Last updated: 12. dec. 2022

1. What is Google BERT?

In a nutshell, BERT is a complex algorithm designed to make Google better at understanding us humans and all the little errors and nuances that are part of our language - and also the way we search in search engines. This will potentially make Google better at delivering more relevant and valuable results to users.

BERT is an acronym for Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers and is an artificial intelligence that enables Google to understand linguistic variations in users' queries based on the given context.

The algorithm uses a so-called transformer, which in short is a mechanism for understanding the contextual relationship between words in a text.

In Danish - and other Indo-European languages such as English, German, Italian, French, etc. - we use relative words to understand the relationship between places, persons, times and things. And relationships are crucial to how we understand and use language. For example, it matters whether you're flying to or from the US - just as it probably matters to your pride and confidence that someone laughs with you and not at you.

However, Google is not always good at understanding this. Instead, the search engine often focuses on the keywords in users' queries. In practice, this means that search results do not always match what the user is looking for.

But with BERT, Google will no longer just read individual words in the query - but instead focus on the whole linguistic context and the internal linguistic coherence between the words in users' queries.

2. BERT to make Google more user-friendly

So what will BERT mean for the ordinary Google user?

The short answer is: even more relevant and credible results - and therefore a better user experience.

Because the better Google understands how people actually talk and search, the better and more relevant search results it will be able to show users. With the update, Google's SERP will therefore be even better at showing users pages that answer their questions - and not just pages with keywords or selected words from the query.

Let me illustrate with an example:

You want to stop smoking. But you want to do it without using nicotine products like patches and gum. So you google "quit smoking without nicotine products".

At present, Google will typically match single words and phrases like "quit smoking" and "nicotine products" with words in search results - without taking into account the highly relevant relationship word "without". This means that the search engine will show you search results with nicotine products - contrary to your query purpose.

But with the BERT update, Google will decode the linguistic context and thus understand the relationship of the relationship word to the other words in your query. Or to put it another way: You'll see pages that answer how to quit smoking without using nicotine products.

In short, Google is trying to become more user-friendly with the BERT update.

3. How does BERT affect SEO?

It all depends on whether you've kept your SEO up to date - or you're still thinking SEO, as you were in 2010.

As I mentioned in the post "Why your business should write blog posts", content marketing plays a crucial role in SEO anno 2019 (2020 just around the corner). Relevant and valuable content that answers users' questions has become best practice in search engine optimization.

This means you don't have to fear poor rankings in search results with the arrival of BERT if your web copy is user-friendly and well-written.

Is your go-to SEO hack to tightly pack your landing pages with the primary keyword? Or do you write a myriad of landing pages with different variations of a keyword, even though they all answer the same question?

Then you should probably consider revising your SEO strategy if you don't want to be left behind in search results in 2020, when Google expects to roll out BERT in Denmark.

In fact, BERT will primarily affect information keywords - i.e. the keywords that users google when seeking information on a particular topic. For example, keywords such as "What is Google BERT?"

This means that it becomes less lucrative to write long landing pages and blog posts where your exact match keyword appears unnaturally many times in the text. Instead, focus on how you can give your users answers to their questions.

 How does BERT affect SEO?

4. BERT's influence on my work

I hope that my post has given you a little understanding of Google BERT - although of course I have only just scratched the surface of the almost inexhaustible knowledge that such a complex algorithm throws off.

Now I have tried as far as possible to describe BERT with objective glasses. But what do I think about BERT as a SEO copywriter - how will the update affect my work?

The short answer is: positive!

In a previous position at another Danish web agency, I often had to write up to ten variations of the same landing page for the same client to hit the most exact match searches. This could be frustrating because I sometimes felt like I was writing to Google - and not to people. Those days, thankfully, are a thing of the past.

Today, it is common knowledge that SEO depends more on the relevance of the content for users. And with BERT, good content marketing will only get easier, because Google will be able to figure out more easily what makes sense to the user.

This means that keyword density and the use of exact match keywords become even less relevant - and that it therefore becomes significantly more fun and easier to write web texts that are both SEO friendly and valuable for users.

5. Is your SEO optimised for BERT?

Not sure if BERT will penalise your landing page's Google ranking? Or do you just have questions about BERT and SEO in general?

Then write to me directly at ak@webamp.dk, or contact Webamp at 70 60 50 28 or info@webamp.dk, and have a no-obligation chat with one of our SEO specialists.

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