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Google announced what they called the most important update in five years. The BERT update affects 10% of search queries.
Google is making the biggest change to its search system since the company introduced RankBrain nearly five years ago. The company said this will affect 1 in 10 queries in terms of changing the results that are ranked for those queries.
BERT is a major update from Google
BERT is Google’s neural network-based technique for training prior to natural language processing (NLP).
According to Google, this update will affect complicated search queries that are context-dependent.
“These enhancements are aimed at improving language understanding, particularly for more natural/conversational language queries, as BERT is able to help Search better understand the nuances and context of words in Searches and better match those queries with useful results.”
Particularly for longer or long tail, more conversational queries, or searches where prepositions like “for” and “to” matter a lot to the meaning, Google will be able to understand the context of the words in your query. You can search in a way that “feels natural” to you.
What is the BERT algorithm
The expert in patent search algorithms Bill Slawski described the Bert algorithm thus:
“Bert is a pre-training approach to natural language processing that can be used on large text. It handles tasks such as entity recognition, part of speech tagging, and question-answering among other natural language processing. Bert helps Google understand natural language text on the Web. Google has opened up this technology, and others have created variations of BERT.”
The BERT (Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers) algorithm is a deep learning algorithm related to natural language processing. It helps a machine understand what the words in a sentence mean, but with all the nuances of context.
BERT improves the understanding of search queries
Google’s BERT update improves the way Google understands search queries. BERT analyzes search queries, not web pages. Now SEO becomes more important in terms of using words in precise ways. Google’s BERT update may not help poorly maintained content.
It’s already deployed: BERT went live this week and will be available shortly. It is being developed for English queries now and will be expanded to other languages in the future.
Eye on featured snippets: This will also affect featured snippets. Google said BERT is being used globally, in all languages, in featured snippets.
When does Google use BERT?
Google said BERT helps better understand the nuances and context of words in searches and better match those queries with more relevant results. It is also used for featured snippets, as described earlier.
RankBrain is not dead
RankBrain was Google’s first artificial intelligence method for understanding queries in 2015. It examines both queries and the content of the web pages in Google’s index to better understand the meaning of words.
BERT does not replace RankBrain, it is an additional method for understanding content and queries. It is an additive to Google’s ranking system. RankBrain can and will still be used for some queries.
But when Google thinks a query can be better understood with the help of BERT, it will use it. In fact, a single query can use multiple methods, including BERT, to understand the query.
Google explained that there are many ways it can understand what the query language means and how it relates to the web content. For example, if you misspell something, Google’s spelling systems can help you find the right word to get what you need.”
And/or if you use a word that is synonymous with the actual word that’s in the relevant documents, Google can match them.
BERT is another signal that Google uses to understand language. Depending on what you’re looking for, any one of these signals or a combination of them could be used more to understand your query and provide a relevant result.
Can it be optimized for BERT?
It’s unlikely, at the moment. Google has told us that we SEOs can’t really optimize for RankBrain. But it does mean that Google is getting better at understanding natural language.
Just write content for users, like you always do. It’s all about Google’s efforts to better understand the searcher’s query and better match it to the most relevant results.
Why we care. We care, not just because Google said this change “represents the biggest leap forward in the last five years, and one of the biggest leaps forward in the history of search.”
It’s also interesting to us because 10% of all queries were affected by this update. That’s a big change. We’ve seen unconfirmed reports of algorithm updates mid-week and earlier this week, which may be related to this change.