Google just announced a major algorithm update—one that will impact 10% of all searches. The update involves a language processing technology called BERT, which can assess the way words in a search query relate to each other, and should give Google a more nuanced understanding of a searcher’s intent. 

It’s one of the most impactful algorithm updates in recent years, but what exactly does mean for you? Here’s what you need to know:

What does BERT stand for? 

BERT stands for Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers. 

What was the BERT update?

  • With the BERT update, Google improved its understanding of natural language.
  • Google described BERT as its “biggest leap forward in the past five years.”
  • BERT was a ‘query understanding’ update. This means Google got better at identifying nuances and context in a search and surfacing the most relevant results.
  • BERT is most likely to affect longtail searches. Google provided these examples to illustrate BERT’s impact:
    • 2019 brazil traveler to usa need a visa
    • do estheticians stand a lot at work
    • Can you get medicine for someone pharmacy
  • BERT is expected to impact 10% of all searches when it is rolled out globally. It will also have a significant impact on featured snippets across multiple languages.
  • BERT is NOT replacing RankBrain or other elements of the search algorithm that focus on language—it will be used in conjunction with those elements.

What does BERT mean for SEOs and marketers?

  •  You can’t optimize for BERT. So, what can you do?
    • Focus on writing better content for your users
    • Focus on responding to the intent of a searcher
    • Focus on satisfying the specific motivation of a searcher 
    • Focus on creating incredible experiences for your audience

Is BERT going to hurt my SEO performance?

  • Current industry chatter says the impact of BERT has been minimal (though there are mitigating circumstances). It’s worth paying close attention to:
    • Longtail keyword ranking performance
    • Organic acquisition performance for top of funnel/awareness content
    • Featured snippet ownership
    • Positive competitor movements across any of the above

For a collection of resources, articles, and webinars on the most recent Google Algorithm updates, check out our Google Core Algorithm Resource Hub.

For more information on tailoring your SEO strategies for the way Google crawls, indexes, and ranks websites, check out Conductor’s Learning Center

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