BERT is Google’s latest search algorithm. It is a neural network-based technique aimed to get a much thorough understanding of natural language.
Rolled out in 2019, BERT is the single biggest change in search since RankBrain.
BERT is here to search the web even further and ever wider for all queries, especially long-tail keywords that often give out vague results. It’s also here to make keyword stuffing obsolete, along with many other spammy approaches that have worked in SEO in the past.
Out With the Old Tricks
Long gone are the days when using a keyword in every single paragraph would guarantee you a spot on the first page in search (Thank you, Hummingbird!), but keyword stuffing has remained a sensitive topic in SEO over the years. While the meaning of what makes for keyword stuffing has changed drastically over the years, the long tail conundrum has drawn lines in the SEO community.
If you want to rank for a keyword, you have to use it on the page quite a bit, and you should have it in the title, the first paragraph, in some headlines, the last paragraph, and it should be evenly distributed throughout the text, not to mention the “metas.” This is more or less the generally-accepted “basic recipe” of writing for SEO.
Content writers have struggled to abide by it, and they’ve racked their brains trying to come up with ways to use keywords in these designated places in the article that would get the job done, all while sounding natural (Yeah, thank you, Hummingbird!).
How awesome would it be to be able to use natural language instead of keyword stencils? Every single content writer who attempted writing for SEO must have thought this, and it seems Google has heard their calling. With BERT, Google will understand natural language, synonyms, informal language, and most importantly, the nuances and context of the content, which will grant content writers their wish.
And Along Came BERT
BERT will make for better content, surely, but it will require a holistic approach to SEO and marketing. Why? Because every single piece of content associated with a brand will influence rankings. SEOs should prepare to further their knowledge. Taking marketing courses will be paramount for what 2021 brings. SEO will be about customer engagement on the full spectrum of channels. Google search will remain on top, but the SERPs are going to change even further.
As Rand Fishkin pointed out, the number of zero-click searches will continue to increase as Google extends further into many other markets. Featured snippets will become more and more complex, and they will take more and more space in the SERPs, making organic search results infinitely more competitive.
A year after BERT was rolled out, in October 2020, this algorithm update promises to revolutionize rankings by changing the process altogether. Up until now, Google ranked a page with a keyword. Via BERT, Google will roll out Passage Raking, and it will rank and show a specific passage of the page for that keyword.
In 2019, BERT was used for 10% of queries, but one year later, it powers almost all the queries in the English language. Undoubtedly, 2021 will see BERT expand through many other languages and change the face of Google search as we know it.