When SEOs out there hear the words “Google Update”, they always fear the worst. History shows that any new addition to the search engine’s algorithm wreaks havoc on your website’s ranking, traffic, link building process, or overall content marketing strategy.
Updates like RankBrain, Panda, Penguin, and Hummingbird were tough on business owners upon their launch. All these algorithms focused on finding and punishing low-quality and thin content, link spam, manipulative link building strategies, and poor user experience.
Take Panda for example. The algorithm’s first version, Panda 1.0, targeted thin content and content farms. In its beginning, Google claimed that the algorithm update affected 12% of U.S. searches. This led to several websites like About.com and Demand Media to optimize their content to gain more traffic and page views.
In October 2019, Google introduced a new algorithm called BERT. And no, it’s not after the Sesame Street character. It stands for Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers.
Given the history of chaos and destruction these updates typically bring, it might surprise you when I tell you that this one, regardless of its size, won’t be the star of your nightmares.
Recognizing BERT’s Capabilities
The algorithm is another attempt from Google to understand sentences, content, and search queries on a deeper level with the help of natural language processing (NPL).
This new algorithm model is all about boosting language understanding and analyzing context, so users can perform more natural searches. To accomplish this, Google’s new algorithm doesn’t process words individually. Instead, it focuses on determining the relationship of all words in a sentence.
According to Google, “BERT models can therefore consider the full context of a word by looking at the words that come before and after it.” The fact that the search engine can now interpret the meaning of individual words more accurately opens the door for many possibilities. For example, Google can now examine the use of prepositions in search queries.
Let me illustrate my point with one of the three examples the search engine has shared with the public.
Imagine someone searched for “2019 brazil traveler to usa need a visa.” Here, “to” is the magic word.
The way Google relates that word with the sentence is crucial for two reasons: understanding the true meaning of the query and delivering accurate results.
Before BERT, Google would show results pertaining to a U.S. citizen traveling to Brazil. Now, the search algorithm can analyze the sentence as a whole and establish its context. This time, Google will return the right result: whether a Brazilian citizen needs a visa to enter the U.S.
For users, this is a significant improvement. Since BERT can now better identify how human beings communicate, people can find more accurate results while searching in a more natural way — instead of feeling forced to refine their Google-Fu.
So, now that you know what BERT is trying to accomplish, let’s get into the nitty-gritty: how to incorporate it to your SEO strategy.
Revolutionizing Content Marketing
If I’ve learned something in my 10 years of SEO experience, it’s this: creating high-quality and relevant content is paramount to drive more traffic and increase ranking.
New and old business owners always feel overwhelmed by how challenging content marketing can be.
But to me, BERT is everyone’s saving grace.
However, I’m not here to show you a step-by-step guide for BERT SEO – which there isn’t.
On the contrary, I’m talking about leveraging the algorithm to create higher quality content that is more conversational and tackles context head-on.
Besides understanding prepositions, BERT can analyze content and deliver results based on relevant related topics.
Take a look at the following scenario.
Some time ago, I was struggling to keep my dog’s ideal weight. I turned to Google to find ways I could help my pet maintain a healthy life and steer clear of obesity.
So, I searched for information about “how can my dog lose weight without dry food.” Instead of getting results about alternative methods besides feeding my dog dry food, I found articles about:
- Low-calorie formulas
- Grain-free dog food
- Or anything too similar to dry food
As time goes on and BERT becomes more sophisticated, you can expect these results to be more relevant and in-tune on what you’re actually looking for.
But to do so, you (as a website owner) must first create valuable content that talks about other methods that still make your dog lose weight and that the algorithm will understand from context. To accomplish this, you could talk about:
- Raw food
- Exercises like long walks or hydrotherapy
- Healthy fruit and vegetables
The way to take advantage of BERT while designing your content strategy is by putting yourself in the shoes of your readers.
Don’t focus on keyword density. Forget how Google thinks when returning results and create pieces that are conversational in nature. This will increase your site’s traffic, as the algorithm will show your pages for people who are entering more natural queries.
Writing Shorter Pieces
At this point, you should already know how Google’s search algorithm operates.
And the BERT update doesn’t change the fact that quality and context still rule above content length.
So, re-analyze your word count approach. Gone are the days of creating a 10k post that talks about 50 different topics and fails to engage the audience or deliver relevant information.
Many SEOs out there will tell you that long-format pieces get solid rankings on Google. But what if the information is subpar? Or if the writer doesn’t deliver what the audience wants?
Long pieces usually ramble on generic head terms that Google can interpret in a dozen different ways. If you stick to that format, you’ll be losing the opportunity to rank for topic-specific pieces that focus on long-tail keywords instead.
Which brings me to the last topic.
Leveraging Long-Tail Keywords
Did you know that 70% of Google searches are considered long-tail? With emerging technologies like voice search, the phrasing of search queries these days now resemble real human communication.
If you’re not using long-tail keywords to outrank your competition, you are probably not driving as much traffic as you should.
You readers expect relevant and direct results that can solve their problems as soon as possible. And to them, it doesn’t matter how many words they use to get to that point.
Luckily, your new friend BERT is here to save the day.
We already know the algorithm uses natural language processing to understand longer and more conversational queries. So why not strike while the iron is hot?
BERT allows you to re-think your content marketing strategy by matching your pieces to the way people search. Don’t rely on generic head keywords or content that’s specifically tailored to the way Google thinks.
Using longer keywords and phrases in your copy improves your chances for Google’s new search algorithm to accurately show your pages to your target audience.
When you start creating first-class and conversational content within your niche, you’ll increase conversion, provide more value to your readers, and get better ranking opportunities.
The Ball Is in Your Court Now
BERT’s full capabilities are yet to be seen. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t work it to your favor right now.
And, although there isn’t a secret recipe or a way to optimize your website for BERT (yet), you can still take your SEO strategy one step further.
The good news is that you don’t have to worry about losing a massive chunk of traffic while doing so. Instead, the algorithm’s launch is your new chance to beat your competitors.
In a few years, we’ll be bombarded by search algorithms that fully understand queries just like humans do. So why not put your knowledge about BERT to good use and include it in your content marketing strategy?
If everything fails, you can get ahead of the game by contacting SEO experts that know how to tackle and take advantage of this new algorithm.
Trust me, if you do, your new boost in traffic will speak for itself.