Google announced a change to its search algorithm earlier this week that shows how much better the search engine is getting at understanding searchers’ queries. The good news is that it’s not associated with any type of penalty—instead, Google BERT improves the ways in which Google processes natural language, including the context associated with keywords. While this is a significant update in some ways, it does not mean you should expect to see it cause a steep drop in your most important metrics.
Here’s what we see as the important takeaways for our clients:
1. It’s about understanding natural language.
As Google puts it in its blog post about the BERT update, it helps the search engine “grasp the subtle nuances of language that computers don’t quite understand the way humans do.” In a practical example Google offers, the query “Can you get medicine for someone pharmacy” used to return a result about getting a prescription filled; after the BERT update, the result shows the answer to “Can a patient have a friend or family member pick up a prescription …” Google now better understands the nuance or context of queries such as this.
2. It won’t affect all search queries.
Google says BERT will “help Search better understand one in 10 searches in the U.S.” and will likely apply more to longer, more conversational queries, such as the one above.
The vast majority of SEO work rightly focuses on the shorter queries/phrases that send visitors to websites, such as “Jacksonville car repair.” As Barry Schwartz of Search Engine Land noted in his post on why you may not have noticed the Google BERT update, site owners are more likely to be tracking “queries that send higher volumes of traffic to your website, and those tend to be short-tail queries.”
3. Drops in traffic may not be cause for alarm.
If the Google BERT update does appear to be causing a drop in traffic, dig deeper into the data to find out which specific pages have dropped in organic traffic to better understand if you’ve been affected by BERT. My take is that a BERT-related drop in traffic will most likely affect blog articles that tend to appear more frequently for longer-tail search queries.
4. Keep optimizing for people instead of machines.
At DAGMAR, we’ve been focused on quality content for a long time. That means creating blog posts, web pages and other pieces that do a great job of educating and informing readers, helping them solve problems, and positioning our clients as authorities in their industries. We highly recommend well-written, long-form content that allows in-depth exploration of a particular topic, which is rewarded not only with higher rankings, but also with better connections with our clients’ most important audiences.
So, what does the Google BERT update mean from an optimization perspective? I’ll give Google’s Danny Sullivan the last word on that:
If you have questions about this update, please let me know in the comment section below or drop me a line. In the meantime, here’s some additional recommended reading on the update:
Neil Patel on How Google’s BERT Update Will Affect Content Marketing