By now, you have probably heard about Google’s BERT, and if you are like most of the people calling our office, you are concerned about what the October 24 update means for you and your website. The world of digital marketing is ever-changing and can throw your website on its backside in a hot second, so most Google updates are considered treasonous acts of villainy (and perhaps, at times, rightfully so.)
This time, however, I’ll tell you what I have been telling everyone: rest easy, friends — BERT’s fine.
Google’s BERT is one of hundreds or even thousands of algorithms used to return search results, using Natural Language Processing (NLP) to better understand search terms. BERT stands for Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers and is a neutral network-based technique for NLP.
Unlike directional models, which read the text input sequentially (left to right or right to left), the Transformer encoder reads the entire sequence of words at once. This characteristic allows the model to learn the context of a word based on all of its surroundings.
In essence, BERT looks at a whole sentence or phrase and considers the context of words rather than words individually, producing better, more intelligent search results for the user.
Google realized that a high percentage of results were being affected by the lack of context being considered in the search algorithms.
The update is aimed, at least in a small part, at voice and zero-click searches, which are increasing significantly because of home and mobile voice assistants. The algorithm takes into consideration that an individual using connected voice command devices such as Alexa will phrase their search query differently than when they type into a search bar.
As an example, it could help deliver the right and more specific search results for “security automation” versus “business automation” when the searcher’s intent is to find commercial security products that can be automated. It takes into consideration that not every person searching for security industry related products and services knows the best way to formulate a query.
The best part is that optimizing your content for BERT is fairly simple. In addition to all of the technicalities of SEO, it has also become important to focus on the “naturalness” of your content. To satisfy BERT you must provide content that is simple and succinct.
Often the act of simplifying and making web content succinct actually elevates it in the process. As an example, Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea — arguably one of the greatest works of the modern era — has a Flesch-Kincaid grade level of 4 and a readability score of 95.
The point is that complex content does not necessarily equal good content, and it certainly does not translate to searchable content. In the security industry, we deal with sophisticated technologies and concepts on a daily basis, and the temptation to demonstrate our knowledge in a way that escapes the reader can be strong. But now, with Google BERT, if it escapes the reader, it may very well escape the searches.
To boost your searchability, it is critical that you add content that avoids highfalutin language and consider the customer’s content consumption needs. Keep blogs straightforward and conversational; provide content that answers common search questions; and create topic clusters that signal to search engines you are authoritative on a topic that encompasses a wide range of long-tail keywords.
If this advice sounds familiar, it should. By definition, the goal of content marketing is creating valuable, relevant, consistent and readable content to attract a defined audience. If you create that kind of content, then you are likely creating content that complies with BERT’s understanding of search queries.