BERT sounds like the name of a dull cousin with a stamp collection and a job at a car wash, so you might be surprised to hear that the name could actually mean a lot to your digital marketing strategy.
For many business owners and marketers, a Google update from last year might not sound that important, but as it changed the entire content writing game, you need to not only be aware of it but also understand how it works and how it affects you.
To help, I’ve put together an introductory piece to teach you what BERT is and how it will influence your digital marketing strategy now and in the future.
What Does BERT Stand For?
As you might have already guessed, BERT is an acronym. It stands for Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers.
That’s a bit of a mouthful, so Google and pretty much everyone else just calls it BERT. It is designed to help Google with natural language processing (NLP).
NLP is an AI solution that gives search engines like Google the chance to understand the nuances of language.
So, the example that Google gives is a search for: ‘2019 Brazil traveller to USA need a visa’.
Before BERT, Google would have been confused by the poor grammar and would have taken the keywords at face value –
As a result, it might have provided a result that doesn’t reflect the true intention of the user; in this case, an article about US travellers going to Brazil.
After BERT, the search engine can understand the subtleties of language and can derive the intention of the search. It can then direct users towards content that is relevant, such as the website of a US consulate in Brazil.
BERT also allows the search engine to understand slang terms and colloquialisms, and better answer questions from users around the world. Search Engine Journal used the example of searching for the phrase ‘how to catch a cow fishing’.
A cow in fishing is an American slang term for a large striped bass, but before BERT, Google would have shown users content on the cows that go moo.
Now, thanks to BERT, Google can accurately direct users towards the fishing content that they want, and help them to quickly find what they need without adjusting their language and dropping the slang.
Why Has Google Done This?
Google created and implemented BERT to ensure that it provides users with the reliable information that they need.
After all, that is the search engine’s primary function, as emphasised by its mission statement:
Our mission is to organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.
Accessibility is the most important word here: Google wants you to be able to access the information you want, in one search, without having to adjust your language to suit its algorithm.
The search engine understands that not everyone uses language perfectly and that in most languages, there is more than one way to phrase a query or question.
That’s why it introduced NLP into its approach and created BERT to help its automated system to process queries and direct users to the most relevant content.
Why Does Anyone Care?
All of this is all very well and good, but you might be wondering what it means for you and your website.
As BERT wasn’t the only Google update to come out in 2019, and there have been even more in 2020, you might wonder how much relevance we should place on this particular update.
While other updates have changed the way Google works, BERT is significant because it affects the way in which the algorithm understands the meaning of both searches and content.
While you might not have noticed an immediate change in your website’s rankings if it is well-written, in the future, you’ll need to focus even more on creating quality content and working to optimise it both for SEO and usability.
That means ensuring that your content meets users’ needs, and isn’t just waffle designed to trick the algorithm.
Google’s wise to SEOs and businesses that try to game the system, and it isn’t here for it. That’s why it introduced BERT- to help it to find content that meets the needs of users, rather than content that has been created to fool the algorithm.
The smarter the AI gets, the more you need to focus on ensuring that you give it what it wants. And what it wants is quality content that is relevant and satisfies user intentions.
At the end of the day, BERT isn’t something definitive that you can adapt around. If your website is well-written, and SEO optimised for common search terms and queries in your chosen niche, then you just need to keep doing what you’re doing.
For websites that haven’t invested in professional, quality content that is well-written and accurate, then now is the time to invest time, energy or money, depending on your in-house capabilities.
Research the questions that users are asking around your chosen topics so that you can try to answer these questions in your content.
When you’re writing for your website, don’t focus on word count- just write as much as you need to get your point across. Many people claim that Google only indexes pages with X number of words on them, but that’s simply not true.
Google wants your webpage to have as many words as it needs on it. Someone searching for a phone number isn’t going to want to see a contact page with a 2000 word essay on it.
Equally, someone who wants to learn how to establish a successful Magento store online is going to need an in-depth guide, which could be as many as 6000 words or more.
Make sure that you create enough content to give your readers the information they need, and not a word more.
By improving the algorithm’s understanding of your web pages and what the search queries that they answer, you’ll raise your chances of getting your content noticed by your target audience, which is the whole point of digital marketing in the first place.