Everything You Need to Know About Google’s BERT Update

Stephanie Castillo
November 7, 2019

On October 27th, 2019, Google rolled out a new technology called BERT— a change to Search, it claims, is one of the most significant algorithm updates made by Google ever.

The goal of the BERT algorithm is to help Google better understand the intent behind users’ search queries, which should yield more relevant results.

What is BERT?

BERT, which stands for Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers, is a neural network-based technique for natural language processing pre-training. BERT is designed to help Google better determine the context of words in search queries.

Here’s a search for “2019 brazil traveler to usa need a visa”. You can see how BERT helped Google understand that the query is about a Brazilian traveling to the USA, not the other way around.

SERP before and after 2019 brazil traveler

When did BERT roll out in Google Search?

BERT began rolling out in Google’s search system the week of October 21, 2019 for English-language queries, including featured snippets.

According to Google, the algorithm will expand to all languages in which Google offers Search, but there is no set timeline. A BERT model is also being used to improve featured snippets in two dozen countries.

What Does This Mean for SEOs and Site Owners?

BERT will enhance Google’s understanding of about one in ten searches in English in the U.S. for longer, more conversational queries—or searches where prepositions (‘for’, ‘to’, etc.) matter to the meaning.

This does not apply to all searches as not all queries are conversational or include prepositions. Google did not say to what extent this change will affect search rankings. Given that BERT is only being used on 10% of English queries in the US, the impact should be minimal compared to a full-scale algorithm update.

How can I optimize for BERT?

Short answer: you can’t.

According to Google, there is nothing specifically to optimize with BERT.

What you can do, however, is continue to create content that keeps the user in mind and considers your target audience’s search intent. Following best practices for SEO, keeping Google’s E.A.T. guidelines in mind, and focusing on clear writing that puts humans first.

Looking for more info on SEO tools, tips, and tricks? Take a look at this blog post that catalogs our favorite softwares.

Worried that BERT has affected your site? Contact us, we’re the experts and we’re happy to help!

Stephanie Castillo
Senior Manager, SEO & Content

Stephanie Castillo is a true Wisconsinite at heart. She’s from Milwaukee (#BrewCrewForLife), attended the University of Wisconsin – Madison, and loves anything with cheese. She was also a competitive Irish dancer for 10 years.

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