What is BERT?

Submitted by rsg on Tue, 12/31/2019 - 14:03

Have you heard of BERT? And no, we’re not talking about the Sesame Street character. Chances are that even if you haven’t heard of BERT, you’ve likely seen some of the repercussions on your firm’s site. In case you haven’t guessed, BERT is one of Google’s most recent major changes. But what exactly is BERT? And how will it impact your firm’s site?

What is BERT?

BERT is the largest change to Google’s system since RankBrain. Since it was released in October, it is set to impact 1 in 10 queries searched on Google. BERT, standing for Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers, is a language learning update. Just as you may have used “context clues” when you were younger to figure out the meaning of a word, Google can now process words based on the words around it, not just in a linear, one by one format. This should help with understanding the intent of a search query.

BERT is meant to help better understand language, rather than decide which pages are more valuable. Search queries and results will be understood more as sentences and phrases, rather than just individual words. Think of words with multiple meanings. Now, Google can better understand which definition of a word was meant in a search query. This will help pull search results better suited for an overall query, and not just a word within the query.

How Will BERT Impact Your Firm’s Site?

As Google uses BERT to better understand the intent of a user’s search, you may find that your rankings for keywords may change, both positively and negatively. To see how your firm’s site is being affected, you’ll need to monitor your traffic and rankings for keywords.

Since BERT is meant to better understand search queries, Google is giving a greater emphasis on the search phrase as a whole, and not just a single word. For example, before a user may have searched “no work credits for SSD”. The search results pulled could have completely ignored the word “no”, pulling information on the required amount of work credits when applying for Social Security Disability Insurance. With BERT, the word “no” would now be taken into context. The search results will likely now inclue how you can apply for Social Security disability even if you don’t have any work credits.

How Can I Optimize For BERT?

BERT was first released in English (other languages have since followed) in October. If you saw a trend in the changes of your rankings since then, BERT may be the explanation. Because BERT is used in about 10% of all search queries right now, you should still be monitoring for other updates to make sure they are also not the cause of any shifts in traffic.

If you believe your firm’s site is seeing a drop in traffic because BERT, you may be wondering what can be done. Unfortunately, there’s no cut and dry answer on how to optimize your site specifically for BERT. The best way is to make sure your content is written for users. This means making sure your firm’s content is giving valuable information in an easy to read format. Continue to follow SEO best practices and writing in a conversational tone in a clear format.