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Meet BERT: Google's Biggest SEO Update in 5 Years

By: Ryan Metcalf

Google is rolling out what it says is the biggest step forward for search in the past 5 years, and one of the biggest steps forward in the history of Search altogether.

(No, not this Bert)

Over the course of 2019, Google has been very busy with multiple algorithm updates and last week contained the biggest news in the landscape in the past 5 years. Specifically, BERT will impact one in 10 searches (10%) in the U.S. for English related searches with future plans to expand it across the entire search landscape.

So, what’s BERT?

Simply put BERT stands for Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers.

In layman’s terms, BERT is an Artificial Intelligence (AI) based system that will return results based on what it thinks the searcher is specifically looking for when conducting a search for any keyword.

That means BERT models can interpret the appropriate meaning of a word by looking at the words that come before and after. This will lead to a better understanding of queries, compared to processing words one-by-one in order.

In recent years, Google has made it a priority to return information as quickly and efficiently as possible so it was important to create a tool that can read and interpret an ever-growing source of content across the entire Internet. More specifically, BERT will be able to better understand the meaning or context behind searches or specifically when certain words are used in the search query and then return the most relevant website in a search.

BERT in Action

In the example below, the old page simply did not return the most relevant page related to “standing”. This new page specifically mentions “physical demands” making it easier for the searcher to find the correct information related to the search.


When compared, the new results are very clear on why the impact is big. In this example, the old result did not relay the page which specifically answered the search. The old page appears to be more of a generic page on how to get your prescription filled.

BERT also makes an impact on featured snippets and answer boxes. In this example, “curb” had the wrong emphasis placed on it with Google ignoring the “no” in the search query. As a result of BERT, the more relevant information is displayed.

(images from https://blog.google/products/search/search-language-understanding-bert/)

Google admits BERT still isn’t perfect when it comes to displaying the right results, but it’s easy to expect it will get better over time.

How does BERT impact me?

In the short term, there may be fluctuations in rankings meaning you might see either a temporary drop or an increase in performance. There is no reason to be alarmed here. Whenever an update is announced volatility happens throughout the search landscape as things settle.

In the long term, websites with poorly written content are likely to lose a lot of ground from BERT. Poor content makes it harder for AI to read and interpret the content–let alone correctly. As a result, this content will also be harder for the searcher to read so Google will deem it less worthy than another website.

The content on each of our websites is written by a team of professionals to ensure quality and we write content based on what searchers are searching. This includes researching the latest news and trends on a specific keyword level. It’s important to remember that quality is more important than quantity.

The Early Impact from BERT So Far

The very early data so far has shown the update to not be overly significant despite Google announcing it impacts 10% of all searchers. For reference, there have been much bigger impacts throughout the 2019 calendar year.

Another thing we’ve seen which is similar to some industry trends is around informational and long-tail related searches. These typically include more of the longer-tail keywords for searchers trying to find more specific information such as “what is” or “how-to” related questions. These questions are often best answered on blog-related posts too which is something many of our websites utilize. If you’re interested in finding out more about our blog services, feel free to contact us.

In the following example for the keyword “How to fix a gummy smile”, we see changes to the website listed in position 2. Below the post from New Beauty targets and has an opinion that Botox is the best solution.

The page now ranking in position 2 is from Dentistry For Madison. (see below). It doesn’t read like an opinion piece and is more factual information for the searcher. This page is also older with a publish date in 2018 meaning quality content can outrank newer content.

It’s also to note these more informational & long-tail related queries have less search volume. This means the overall traffic and performance of a website is likely to be unaffected.

What can we do to optimize for BERT?

When DoctorLogic builds content, we identify the correct keywords to target based on search trends. When we specifically place these keywords within the important SEO elements, we succeed because we help BERT and Google better identify the topic(s) of the page.

It’s important to remember, we can’t include too many topics or procedures on the same page. Otherwise, Google will get confused and now know how to interpret the page. In this case, that’s why it’s important to have more content to cover multiple topics. The opposite also has problems where we have too many pages talking about the same topic or procedure. Then Google won’t know which page is better or what page we want to be shown in search results. In this case, we need to consolidate to make one page the most powerful it can be.

On a regular basis, we keep up with search trends and follow SEO best practices allowing us to stay ahead of our competition. Very soon, we’ll have much more information to share about some SEO platform updates as well. All of these things make a huge positive impact on rankings while future-proofing our websites to be more resistant to any future Google updates.

It’s important to keep in mind SEO does not happen overnight. It takes time before the impact is fully realized so patience is important.

DoctorLogic uses our software to help turn all of your practice content into 100x more data and we present it to Google exactly how Google wants it. And that makes Google happy.

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