• Shaun Bateman

Why bother getting to know BERT…

By David Jenkins, co-founder of digital marketing agency Mickey Llew



David Jenkins - Mickey Llew

Businesses seeking to optimise their websites for SEO need to keep their content fresh and up to date to stay ahead of Google’s ever-evolving search algorithms if they want to hold onto their top spot in the snack pack or search engine results page (SERP).


Google’s most recent large algorithm update is based on BERT, or Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers, which simply put, is about how machine learning has evolved sufficiently for search engines to be able to complete natural language processing (NLP) tasks.


Simply put, BERT means that that Google can understand the language that users type into the search bar as if they were human. Well, almost! BERT means that Google can now understand the nuance of language better than before and is even able to predict what words surrounding the search term could be based on a user’s intent.


BERT makes it more possible for Google to understand the behavioural intent of the query, rather than only understanding the word that are typed into the search bar – and this is important for the evolution and increasing use of voice search, made possible by Siri and Alexa.


BERT isn’t quite superhuman – yet – however, as there are some things it can’t do. For example, BERT isn’t good at negation diagnostics, which means that BERT isn’t very good at understanding what things are not. For example, if you type in ‘rottweiler’, Google suggests ‘puppy’, ‘dog’, and ‘attack’, but it doesn’t suggest ‘not a cat’.


So, what does this mean for businesses working hard to stay at the top of their Google game? While Google is working harder than ever to achieve a set of results that make sense for the searcher, there is greater pressure on brands to adjust their content strategies if they want to be top of the SERP or snack pack.


Authorities on the topic of Google and the algorithm changes have said that BERT is the death of SEO, that Google can’t be gamed any more. They maintain that the only way to keep at the top of the page is to write great content, making sure that your content strategy applies the same approach as it always has, because it’s always worked.


When you’re seasoned in search, you can spot incoming trends – even in how Google adapts its algorithms. We anticipated many of the changes that BERT brought about and planned for them by adapting content for one of our clients, an international financial services company. Once BERT was brought into play in October 2019, this company was insulated from changes in the ranking system and maintained its strong search results while other similar organisations fell down the ratings.


Brands wanting to keep those premium search result positions must therefore change their approach, moving away from creating content that they think their clients will fund relevant, to offering content that answers the questions that their potential and existing clients want answered.


Funnily enough, it most often takes an agency with experience in SEO to identify those questions, tracking patterns and search behaviours to align them closely with your content strategy and SEO to hold that top SERP spot! And if that’s not gaming Google with a smart content and SEO strategy, then we’re not sure what is.

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