From our Depsters November 15, 2019
Why you should(n't) optimise for BERT
When you hear the name ‘Bert’ you probably think about Bert and Ernie right? Well, after reading this article you will no longer have that association. Spoiler alert: in this article, Bert has something to do with Google.
On October 25th, Google announced the most important update in five years to its algorithm called BERT. This is a content-related update, aiming to improve the understanding of our relationship with words. This might sound vague, but it comes down to improving the way Google interprets the context and search intent of queries. The BERT algorithm is designed to better understand longer and more conversational queries. For example, Google didn’t understand the context when you searched for queries with prepositions. When you searched for ‘flights to the U.S from Amsterdam’ it was possible to see results about ‘flights from the U.S. to Amsterdam’. Due to this update, Google understands the context of the search query better. But what will be the impact on SEO of this improved algorithm?
BERT vs previous core updates
This specific Google update is one of the biggest changes to its algorithm in five years. The company expects the update to impact 10% of all English searches in the United States alone. The update will be rolled out across more countries and be available for more languages over time. After this announcement, marketers immediately had high expectations, especially after the impact of previous major updates like Pinguin, Panda and RankBrain. However, there are still no marketeers talking about significant traffic and ranking changes yet. How come? Well, there is a simple explanation for that: the update mainly impacts long tail keywords and featured snippets.
Long tail vs short tail keywords
The BERT update influences the rankings of long tail keywords. Long tail keywords are more specific than short tail keywords. Overall, we consider keywords as long tail if they are made up of at least three keywords. In general, the monthly search volume of long tail keywords is lower than the short tail keywords. Changed rankings for long tail keywords could stay unnoticed, since most marketers only track short tail keywords. Moreover, tracking tools show lower fluctuation levels of rankings compared to previous Google algorithm updates. However, we do recommend to start tracking relevant long tail keywords. Especially when your website contains a lot of news articles or blog-like articles. It’s the only way to find out the real impact of BERT.
Another improvement rolling out with BERT is about featured snippets. Featured snippets are selected search results that are shown in an answer box. They appear on top of the organic results just below the ads. Google uses its new natural language processing to give the best answers to questions. If your website can provide users with the best answer to their question, Google may show the answer in a featured snippet. This is an extra feature which increases traffic to your website. However, unlike the other improvements, this was something BERT already did on a global level.
How to optimize for BERT
Google doesn’t recommend optimising pages in a totally different way after the BERT update. Danny Sullivan tweeted: “There’s nothing to optimize for with BERT, nor anything for anyone to be rethinking. The fundamentals of us seeking to reward great content remain unchanged.” However, marketers should create somewhat structured content which ensures that the topic of the page is clear, content is coherent and internal linking is done well. Most importantly, content should be optimised for real people and not bots. It’s that simple.