Meet BERT, the Biggest Algorithm Update of the Last 5 Years

Google introduced its biggest algorithm update of the last five years in October. The update will help Google better understand the intent behind users’ search queries and produce more relevant results.

So, what does all this mean for us? Let’s break it down with a few simple questions.

What Is BERT?

BERT stands for Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers. It uses pattern recognition technology to discern the context of words in search queries – especially those that are more conversational – to return more relevant results.

For now, BERT will enhance Google’s understanding of 1 in 10 searches, conducted in English and made in the U.S. Over time, it will help Google better understand how human beings communicate.

How does BERT work?

To determine the context of a word, BERT looks at surrounding words, rather than just what immediately precedes or follows it.

What does this mean for websites?

Google has said that they expect this update to affect about 10% of searches. The algorithm wasn’t built to penalize or benefit any website, but it may drive down organic search traffic that did not actually match a user’s search query. In the example above, MedicinePlus may see less organic traffic for that search with BERT in place.

How can we optimize for this update?

According to Danny Sullivan, Google’s public Search Liaison, “There’s nothing to optimize for with BERT, nor anything for anyone to be rethinking. The fundamentals of us seeking to reward great content remains unchanged.”

Our primary takeaway, then, is part of a running theme in Google updates. Continue to create relevant, clear and useful content for your audience (not machines), and you will be rewarded with higher organic traffic. 

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