In the final week of October, announced on Oct 24 2019, Google rolled out an entirely new algorithm update to their organic search engine, called BERT.
Though similar to many of their other core updates with cute names like Panda and Penguin, BERT differs in a few fundamental ways and it’s extremely important for website owners and digital marketers to be aware of the changes and signs of the new core Google update.
Though it will only affect about 10% of all organic search queries, that would actually make BERT one of the most significant updates in about 5 years.
BERT has been in development since 2018 and stands for Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers — which essentially means it’s a natural language processor, or in other words, a form of artificial language creation and understanding.
It’s easy to see where this is going. The main change is that Google will try to understand the intent of the search based on the entire phrase, not just the individual word for word keywords.
This is a major step in applying machine learning and A.I. principles to organic search, something Google has been pushing for years, and user “search intent” is in many ways the final piece of the puzzle.
The best way to protect against any BERT penalties or changes is to have long, well-written content with a variety of synonyms and expressions of the targeted content and keywords the content aims to discuss and add information to.
Google and users have long been aware that longer content is king, and BERT will not only reinforce that but also help with a focus on great, informative, complete writing and editing on websites with informational content.
What if my site loses organic traffic from BERT?
Some large sites, specifically large sites with lots of content that see lots of long-tail searches, will see drops in traffic. A full data audit to determine which pages lost the traffic, and the long tail keywords necessary to regain it, will be required to recover lost web visits.
Monitoring your site’s total traffic (organic) and not just keyword ranking tools will be the best measure of how your site responds to BERT. Keyword tools usually aggregate the most searched terms, and therefore they might miss any slight changes on long-tail keywords that are likely to be targeted by the BERT update.
If your site has seen a large shift, be sure to wait until everything seems to level off or return to a normal pace of traffic. Google has often in the past rolled out changes that move things around, but settle back into place or end up having no effect after a few turbulent days of changes.
Keep an eye on your total traffic, or hire analytics or SEO consulting firm to take a look and perform an audit — they may find other things that need fixing or improving as well.