Hello BERT: Welcoming Google’s algorithm update to natural language processing and what it means
We said hello to BERT (Google’s latest algorithm update) on Friday…and what a great update it is. I took some time over the weekend to reflect on the news and here are my thoughts…
BERT (Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers) is an update to Google’s Natural Language processing in search that follows on from RankBrain, which was announced by Google five years ago. It handles tasks such as entity recognition, part of speech tagging, and question-answering among other natural language processes. BERT is said to be able to better understand search queries through greater comprehension of the context behind a query so that users are provided with a more accurate and relevant SERP (search engine results page).
What is Natural Language Processing?
Before we dive too much into how the BERT algorithm update will affect the SERP, it’s probably worth defining what natural language processing is in the context of Google and search.
Google describes Natural Language processing as follows:
“Google Cloud Natural Language reveals the structure and meaning of text through powerful pretrained machine learning models”.
Essentially, Natural Language processing allows Google to process content a bit like we do.
How does BERT impact the SERP?
Google has provided some examples of how BERT is already impacting the results we are getting through its better understanding of our search queries, particularly the context of the query and nuances included.
Here are some of the examples Google has provided for illustrative purposes:
These improved results come from BERT’s better understanding of longer and more conversational queries such as those that include prepositions e.g. to, from and other linking words which typically a computer wouldn’t recognise or understand. Rather than simply keyword matching which has been the previous level of understanding, BERT now recognises the importance of prepositions and how they change the intent of the search. This greater understanding as seen in the examples above provides more relevant and contextual results.
It won’t only be normal organic listings that will be impacted by BERT, featured snippets will also be impacted as BERT is said to be used in 1 in 10 searches. For featured snippets, I imagine that these will be much more accurate and that to gain a featured snippet you will need to more accurately answer the search query and be even more relevant to what the user is asking.
As always with updates, we won’t know the definitive impact for a while, so it will be interesting to see how this progresses in terms of how the SERP evolves, particularly in relation to featured snippets.
What does that mean for you?
As a user of Google it should mean that you will have better search results and that you will be served with a SERP which is much more relevant. The great thing about this is that you should be able to find what you are looking for much more easily as Google should have a better understanding of what you are actually asking.
For those of us within the digital industry who are thinking about the implication from an SEO and PR perspective, what does this mean for us?
Well, according to Google it doesn’t mean a whole lot as they say that you can’t optimise for this update.
From Journey Further’s point of view, nothing really changes either. We’ve always recommended taking a human first approach to optimisation, meaning that we recommend creating quality content that is relevant and will answer the question that your audience will be asking rather than focusing too much on the search engine.
With the rollout of BERT the only difference is that Google has become even better at understanding how people search and can now provide better results.
However you view the impact of this update, it can’t be denied that this is a really great update which will no doubt improve the quality of the SERP and therefore help to ensure that we are providing our users with the best results.
Let’s see how the SERP evolves in the next couple of weeks and the impact BERT has. If you see anything significant within your SERP we would love to find out about it, so please get in touch.