The Google BERT Update: What Does This Mean?


At the end of October, Google announced the release of BERT, the biggest change in search since RankBrain was released almost five years ago. This update will impact 1 in 10 of English language search queries. The hype of the latest Google algorithm update in 2019 has caught the attention of the industry, and has left many SEO’s with questions. 


What is the Google BERT update?

BERT stands for Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers. In short, BERT helps the search engine understand the natural language more like humans do. 

Google says, “With the latest advancements from our research team in the science of language understanding–made possible by machine learning–we’re making a significant improvement to how we understand queries, representing the biggest leap forward in the past five years, and one of the biggest leaps forward in the history of Search. “


How does Google BERT work?

In today’s technological world, it’s so easy to take advantage of computers, that we often forget the complexity behind them. Remember, this all started with zeros and ones. Traditionally computers have had a difficult time understanding natural language. The Google BERT update is focused on improving language understanding, particularly for more natural and conversational queries where prepositions like “for” and “to” matter a lot to the meaning. BERT is able to better understand the nuance and context of words in searches and match those complex queries with better results. The update will improve how Google understands complex search queries that depend on context. The “B” in Biodirectional simply means that the computer will look at the words before and after for entities and context. 

Here are some examples Google uses to demonstrate BERT’s ability to understand the intent behind your search: 

google search results before and after the bert update

The search query: “do estheticians stand a lot at work” previously resulted in the simple match of the term “stand” and showing a result with the term “stand-alone”. BERT has the ability to look at the context of the word “stand” and knows that the user was looking for information of the physical demands of estheticians, rather than simply matching keywords. 

google search result example of a before and after the google bert update

Another example shows a result that included a book in the “young adult” category but BERT can better understand that “adult” is being matched out of context, and displays a more helpful result. 


How Will the Google BERT Update Affect SEO and Content?

All current research says that we can’t optimize for BERT. The BERT update focuses on analyzing search queries, not web pages. We just need to continue to write really good content that fulfills user intent. Sloppy content may not be rewarded by the Google BERT update. Don’t overthink it. 

We might not be seeing such a big effect when it comes to two and three word phrases, but rather other phrases that may have been misinterpreted in the past. Google will now have the ability to understand content without relying so heavily on keywords. Users can search in a way that feels natural to them, rather than typing strings of words they think Google will understand, which is not how they would naturally ask a question. 


Is your content ready for BERT?

Reach out. We’d be happy to walk you through the update in more detail and take a look at your current content. Unless you are a brand new start-up, chances are you already have a lot of content that we can use in your content marketing campaign. Our team will conduct an extensive audit of your existing content including blogs or web copy, sales literature, customer service documentation, and internal training information.