Have you ever run a Google search and received many results which are irrelevant or don’t match your search intent? If so, you were probably very happy when the Google Bert update was released. At the time, Google said that this update, released in October 2019, would affect about 10% of Google searches.
This estimation has proven to be fairly accurate. While 10% doesn’t sound like a lot (unless you run a search that fell into that category), it reduced a lot of frustration. That’s because Google Bert has dramatically increased the indexing accuracy for certain search queries.
Let’s look at this in more depth.
Google Bert addresses an important problem
Those of us who run searches in niche topics or use queries that may not be easy to understand have probably seen this problem in action. Even very smart computers frequently fail to understand fine nuances in language or search intent. When this happens, computers can produce results that fail to meet human expectations. In other words, sometimes human-machine interactions fall short or get “lost in translation.”
Social media expert Neil Patel gives us an example. In New England, fishermen refer to a large bass as a “cow.” Catching a cow, in this sense, means that you have serious fishing abilities or at least got lucky. But if you looked for the meaning of cow in fishing prior to Google Bert, you would get a bunch of results related to female bovines. Now, the Google Bert update can understand the nuances of language and associates the word cow with fishing. Run that same search now, and you’ll get all kinds of fishing tips.
Why does the Google Bert update work better?
To answer that, let’s look at foreign language learning. Most of us have learned at least some foreign language in school, or we might’ve spoken a different language at home from the local community. However, what most of us learned first in the new language is technical, proper, and basic terminology. We learn the parts of the body, fruits and vegetables, and common household items. What we don’t learn right away is how to find a hidden meaning. Our cows get found in the pasture, not the lake.
Over time, however, a foreign language learner typically masters the informal expressions of their new language. Even more advanced learners can master the art of seeing hidden meanings in openly-stated language. In the translation between humans and machines, that’s how Google Bert is different. It’s like the near-native speaker of a second language, who only makes mistakes occasionally.
How does this affect the way we write our content?
By far, the biggest thing to remember with Google Bert is that it’s more likely to understand our intent. This is true both from the query side, where Bert unpacks what a searcher wishes to know, and the content side by understanding what the writer wants to say.
While there’s a significant debate among experts on whether longer content or shorter content performs better, the consensus is that we should write our content so that it is as clear as possible. We don’t need to insert unnecessary keywords or waste our time worrying about how often we use each one. That’s because the Google Bert update means that the web crawlers don’t count keywords as much as they used to.
Similarly, most people agree that long-tail keywords are more useful with Bert than they ever were. That’s because Bert is better at reading the entire key phrase and incorporating it in ranking decisions. Therefore, we should represent our content as accurately as possible.
Recovering from a Bert strike
One thing that makes the Google Bert update unique is that it doesn’t overtly promote or penalize any content. Rather, it increases the overall accuracy and usefulness of top-ranked content for each query. In other words, Bert won’t penalize you for poorly-written or thin content the way that the Useful Update content does.
If your website isn’t performing as well for a keyword because of the Google Bert update, then you need to think in terms of search intent. It could be that your keywords do not properly reflect the reasons why somebody might want to read your material. Or maybe you threw in keywords that confused Bert because they don’t match your content very well.
If your pre-Bert rankings resulted in the wrong people initially viewing your content, then Bert did you a favor. That’s because people typically are quick to navigate away from the content they consider irrelevant. In turn, that increases your bounce rate. On the other side of the coin, those results would also mean that the right people might not actually see your content.
Google Bert, unlike most other updates, is unique because it introduces more advanced computing technology into search rankings. And at the same time, search results are much more relevant to many audiences than they were before. This is a win-win for everybody involved.