All You Need to Know about Google’s BERT Update

A Complete Guide to Google’s BERT Update

Google BERT Update
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In view of the fact that Google is considering the BERT update as one of the biggest leaps forward in the history of Search, let’s see what it is and whether we need to optimize for BERT.

Also, know how it is different from RankBrain as well as its importance.

BERT: An Intro

Google regards the integration of BERT algorithm as a major Search update since it will help Google better understand the objective behind user-specific search queries. This is important as it could lead to more relevant results. The technology giant said that the new search update will affect 10% of Search queries, which means, it will change the ranking of the results for them. This further indicate that it may impact the traffic and organic visibility of your brand.

Google itself is touting it as “one of the biggest leaps forward in the history of Search” since the launch of RankBrain in early 2015. So, let’s delve a little deeper into the BERT update to understand its significance.

 BERT Launch

The BERT update was launched during the week of 21st Oct. 2019 for English language-based queries, which includes featured snippets. The algorithm will expand to all languages in which Google provides search results. A model based on BERT is also in use to enhance feature snippets in over 20 countries.

What’s BERT?

Expanded as Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers, BERT is a neural network-based technique for natural language processing pre-training. Simply put, it will help Google to better understand the context of text in Search queries.

For example, in the phrase “a quarter to five” or “nine to five,” the word “to” has two different meanings, which can be easily comprehended by humans, but might be not that easy for search engines to understand. Here, BERT comes into play as it is designed to let search engines understand such subtle differences, eventually resulting in more relevant search results.

BERT was open-sourced by Google in November 2018, meaning people can make use of BERT to train their language processing system to answer questions and other similar tasks. Since the BERT update is closely related natural language processing and neural network, let’s understand these concepts before exploring different aspects of this update.

Natural Language Processing and Neural Network

As a branch of artificial intelligence, natural language processing (NLP) deals with linguistics, aimed at enabling computers systems to understand how humans communicate naturally. Popular examples of NLP-backed technologies include chatbots, word suggestions and social listening tools.

The task of neural networks is to recognize patterns. Recognizing handwriting, classifying images and predict trends in financial markets are to name a few practical applications of neural networks.

Does Bert Apply to All Google Searches?

Not really! BERT will boost Google’s understanding of queries for about one in 10 searches in English language in the U.S. Google said that for longer conversational queries – where prepositions such as “to” and “for” are critical with respect to the meaning – Google Search will now be able to understand the word-specific context.

Having said that, not all queries include prepositions or are conversational in nature. So, shorter phrases and branded searches, among several other types of queries, might not require BERT’s advanced NLP.

Will BERT Impact Featured Snippets?

BERT will likely impact the results, appearing in featured snippets when applied. Comparing the featured snippets for the query “parking on a hill with no curb,” Google explained that earlier such queries used to confuse our systems as too much importance was given to the word ‘curb’ while ignoring the word ‘no.’ As a result, Google was earlier unable to understand the criticality of ‘no’ in offering appropriate results for the same, leading to inappropriate results for “parking on a hill with a curb.”

Difference between BERT and RankBrain

A few of BERT features might appear similar to that of RankBrain – Google’s 1st artificial intelligence system to understand queries. However, in reality they both are two different algorithms, used to enhance search results.

RankBrain fine-tune results by observing the present query and finding similar past queries. It further assess the search result performance for those previous queries – on the basis of which, it may calibrate the search result output of the conventional organic search ranking algorithms. It also aids Google in interpreting search queries and showcasing results that don’t include the exact words in the query.

As far as BERT is concerned, it functions in a totally different way. The bidirectional element of BERT is what makes it unique. BERT observes the content after and before a word to convey its understanding of the relevance and meaning of the word. Google considers it as an important enhancement in NLP since human conversation is naturally complex and layered.

As a matter of fact, Google uses both RankBrain and BERT to process web page content as well as queries for a better understanding of the meaning of the words in question. This means that BERT hasn’t been introduced to replace RankBrain. It is likely that Google will make use of multiple techniques to understand queries – BERT might be used alone, with other search algorithms, or in conjunction with RankBrain – depending on the terms in a search query.

 Other Google Products that Might be Affected by BERT?

As per Google, BERT is related to Search only. But, Google Assistant will be impacted a little by BERT. Particularly, in situations wherein queries made on Assistant will prompt it to generate web results from Search or featured snippets, BERT may influence the results.

 Do You Need to Optimise for BERT?

According to Google, there’s nothing to optimise for with BERT update and its basics of rewarding good content will continue to be the same. For ranking, Google still suggests to focus on the users and develop content that truly fulfills their search objectives. And because BERT is all about understanding those objectives in a better way, any SEO expert or digital marketer out there should now focus even more on giving users what they exactly want.

In a nutshell, ‘optimizing’ post BERT is about focusing more on creating great and clearly understandable content and less on struggling to maintain a balance between the linear phrasing construction for machines and developing content for the audience.

Is BERT Worth Your While?

BERT is worth considering – not because it is Google’s biggest leap forward in the history of its search, but due to the fact that it will impact at least 10% of all Search queries. Thus, it is truly a sea change.

It is suggested keep an eye on your search traffic results in the coming weeks and check if BERT has affected your site. If you find so, explore a little more to see which landing pages were affected and for which queries. Incidentally, chances are high that you may find that those pages didn’t convert and the search traffic – sent to those pages by Google – didn’t respond as expected.

Well, no matter how crazy this may sound to you, a drop in search traffic as a consequence of BERT update can work in favor of you! Let’s understand this with an example. For instance, if anyone types in the query, “how to shed weight without using diet pills” and they land on your content about “how diet pills are great”, they are likely to click the back button to go back to Search result page.

This means, that kind of traffic is not at all useful for you with respect to conversion. Surely, the BERT update will make you lose some traffic initially, but you should understand that such traffic, before the BERT Update, was actually hampering your user metrics and increasing your bounce rate.

The BERT change should be taken as an opportunity to create super-focused content. Fine-tune your content or create new that is perfectly in line with what people look for via their Search queries.

At Alchemy Interactive, our digital marketing experts are keen on keeping themselves fully aware on all sorts of updates within the digital world – so that they don’t miss out on anything major or trivial while strengthening your digital presence.

Weather it is about creating powerful content, designing a highly functional website or running a successful digital marketing campaign, you can always count on us!


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