Ok, so we have had our share of updates over the years. You have heard the names: Penguin, Panda, Hummingbird, Fred, etc. These updates have been for a variety of items, all designed to make the search experience better. On October 25th, Google announced the BERT Update. BERT is an acronym for Bidirectional Encoder Representations From Transformers. If you want to get the full technical understanding, Google has a blog post all about it – you can read it at the link below.
For those of you that want a more straightforward explanation, you have come to the right place. This update is huge and may get labeled as monumental in the years to come. Google has stated that the update will affect 10% of all queries and is one of the biggest steps in the history of search. Sounds significant, right?
Before BERT, Google would look at the words in a search query one by one and in the order typed. With the BERT update, Google now allows the words in the query to be processed in relation to every other word in the query. Let me show you some examples that Google shared:
You can see the result received before BERT was a medical encyclopedia site. The article was about getting a prescription filled and most likely was very informative, but what it was missing was the question the query was actually asking, “for someone else”. The answer BERT now provides answers the query more closely to the intent.
Google’s VP of Search, Pandu Nayak, gave another example. Before BERT, the query “How old was Taylor Swift when Kanye went on stage?” would bring up the video from the MTV Awards, in which Kanye interrupted Swift’s acceptance speech. After BERT, Google presents as its first result a snippet from a BBC article, which states: “A 19-year-old Swift had just defeated Beyoncé to win Best Female Video for her country-pop teen anthem You Belong With Me.” Google’s search returns automatically highlighted “19-year-old” for emphasis. This shows the full understanding of the actual question being asked, and not just the connection between the two celebrities.
Your takeaway from all of this is that your website needs to focus on two things, long-tail keyword phrases and Voice Search. Your content should be driven around answering questions. Your optimization strategy needs to incorporate Voice Search. This update is leading to a “Voice Search First” world, the same way that Google eventually had to go “Mobile First”, to keep up with the behavior of its users.