Those of you who keep your finger on the SEO pulse may already be aware of Google’s latest algorithm update: BERT.

Towards the end of last year, the company announced significant changes to the way it indexes and categorises publishers’ content – and, true to form, the digital marketing space erupted with questions as to what this would mean for the future of search.


What is BERT?

It’s a form of artificial intelligence (AI) released into Google’s algorithm that helps it understand our natural language. Engineers are calling it a machine learning natural language processing framework, which is a bit of a mouthful – but it’s essentially been released to help Google’s computers better understand human conversations in the context of conversational search.

According to Search Engine Land:

“Google said BERT helps better understand the nuances and context of words in searches and better match those queries with more relevant results.”

(For the tech geeks amongst you, BERT actually stands for Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers. Catchy. It’s also the subject of an open-source research project and academic paper that was first published in 2018, so it’s been floating around for a while.)


Will it affect your search engine positions?

Probably! BERT has affected, or will affect, 1 in 10 organic search queries. This means that, if you’re running an SEO campaign, you have a 10% chance of experiencing positive or negative position changes. The algorithm update is also having an impact on the information displayed in featured snippets.

However, if you’ve designed your content to address customer pain points or answer commonly asked questions, your content may well perform better than before.

This is because BERT enables Google to better comprehend what the user is asking for from their search query. In theory, the algorithm should now be returning more accurate results. And if your content fits the bill for a particular search, it’s more likely to rank well because it meets the needs of the user.


What do you need to do about it?

Google’s official line is that publishers and webmasters don’t need to do anything specific to ensure what they’re producing meets the demands of the algorithm. They just need to continue releasing useful, well-written content.

If you see your search exposure or traffic dip as a result of BERT, identify the pages that are not performing as well and review the content you’ve produced to see if it’s really of value to your audience.

If you need a hand working out which of your pages need improving, or just don’t have the time to trawl through your analytics data, remember we offer content audits to help you tidy up your content strategy.