In Digital Advertising, Search Engine Optimization

Last month, Google introduced the world to BERT.  It’s their biggest change in five years, but many have yet to come to understand exactly what BERT is.  So, let’s take a closer look at this latest system and how it relates to search queries.

Unlike most updates rolled out by Google, BERT is an open-source natural language processing system that results in stronger search engine matches based on user intent, not on an algorithm.  BERT is designed to take user information and connect it with more relevant searches that serve users’ specific needs. Its strength is in its ability to understand context and meaning of words and phrases, like the natural language queries users often type into search engines.  BERT is, in essence, the latest development in machine learning that breaks down the way in which we communicate with Google.

How BERT Works

In the past, users would carefully form search queries using keywords in short phrases to try to gain their intended results.  Now, machine learning and their natural language processing systems have evolved to understand our more natural, conversational search queries, specifically honing in on things like ambiguity, reference, context, spellings, and speech patterns, all of which have resulted in BERT (Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers).  BERT has the ability to track words both in front of and after traditionally categorized keywords to gain valuable context clues for more accurate results. This system can identify ambiguous words, shift focus, and decipher the correct, intended meaning of a sentence based on all other words found in a query.  

BERT is an incredibly valuable system, particularly when it comes to longer, more conversational queries and specific, long tail keywords.  Other advantages include the system’s ability to learn by adjusting for language eccentricities and idioms, its ability to be used without supervision within plain text, and its ability to use masking tools to prevent target terms from passing through that could skew rank scores.  But, what does all this mean for SEO?  


Because BERT has nothing to do with any algorithm, as it’s not tasked with assessing and ranking websites, it can’t be optimized in the traditional SEO sense.  Rather, it’s a method for processing queries so that Google can better understand and provide more accurate results based on obscure or specific searches. In fact, BERT is only estimated to affect a small percentage of search results, so its impact on standard SEO practices won’t really be seen.  As website content in this day and age should already be driven by strong SEO practices, BERT will simply enhance its ability to be found. The language processing system allows for further analysis into the intent that drives web searches for better results. The only real difference that may be noticed could be seen in the rich snippet display.  Because BERT operates by gaining and understanding more detail, Google may show different snippet results, in which case a business or website will simply need to monitor results, and evaluate snippet visibility.  

When all is said and done, results and their impact on your website getting picked up for results comes down to what it has always come down to – writing content for people, not an algorithm.  Now, more than ever, query results are all about understanding what a target audience seeks and optimizing for that intent. BERT understands the context of natural language, so continue creating content that can answer those types of searches instead of catering to an ever-changing algorithm, and you can’t go wrong.

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