Why I love BERT, and you should too.
I think it’s safe to assume that all of us use Google, and many of us have probably heard about BERT, the new Google algorithm update. An algorithm update just means that there will be changes to search results based on what you type into the Google search bar.
(If you haven’t heard about BERT and want to know the details, read this article, come back and we’ll chat about why BERT is actually pretty awesome.)
Google’s Been Getting Smarter
Now, I don’t know your vintage but if you’re old like me (in developer terms) you might remember back in the day when we used to use Boolean in Google. Boolean is searching with operators, like AND, OR, or NOT. The idea was to help Google understand what we wanted, because it was a little…dumb. We had to tell Google what we wanted in its terms.
But as Google and other search engines started improving, it became less necessary to write queries using Boolean operators.Have you ever watched younger Google users? They search weird.
It used to actually frustrate me to watch younger users search. I’d say: “Dude…”
(Yes, I actually talk this way.)
“Dude, you’re talking to Google like it’s your best friend. Google’s not your friend. It’s a search engine. You have to be strategic and specific when you search.”
But to these younger users, they were groomed to find what they wanted without a technical search. Most of the time.
Google still has its quirks, so–don’t tell anyone, but I still use operators in my searches at times because Google just doesn’t get what I’m trying to find. For example, if I’m looking for decorating ideas, I always add -pinterest in my search because I want to exclude those results. Or I use the operator define: when searching for word definitions. (Told you: old.)
But, in general, Google searches ain’t what they used to be. In a good way…. And it’s getting better.
Enter BERT: Google Ups Its Game
In general, the cool thing about BERT is that we can now use natural language instead of us, the searcher, having to be super technical.
Natural language is a fancy way of saying you can talk to Google and it will be able to understand your true meaning and provide you the answers you’re really looking for (hopefully).
What Does BERT Mean for SEO?
If we do a quick history back to when SEO first started, everyone was looking for very short keywords. Car. Buy car. Buy car Seattle.
So, as content developers, we would jam as many keywords as we could into our content without it sounding spammy.Searching has become a lot more sophisticated over the years.
Now it’s not just about really simple search terms. Instead, we have long-tail search terms. Instead of Buy car, we might search more specifically: Buy the best fuel-efficient car in 2019 near Ballard.
From really simple searches and single keywords to long-tail terms, we are now able to focus on natural language searches. We can actually start thinking about how can we cater to people looking for the answer to a very specific question.
Content Development Will Change
In terms of content development, we can be a little bit less sophisticated as Google gets smarter. We don’t have to worry as much about keyword density, writing longer and longer articles that pick up on hundreds of keywords, or other strategies to rank on Google.
Many of those layers of abstraction can come off. We can peel a search back and get down to the real core goal of a search function: give results that the user is looking for.
That’s it. Super simple.
In theory, as long as we answer common user questions well, we’ll rank well.
Find Common Questions to Answer
If you have a customer service chat, mine it for questions that users typically ask about your product.
If you have a help desk or emails or even just face-to-face contact with your clients, start taking notes about what questions people who would use your website would actually ask and answer them.
And answer them well.
What About SEO for Transactional Searches (AKA Makin’ Money)?
By its very nature, BERT will mostly affect informational searches, when users are looking for answers to questions. But BERT will not necessarily navigational or transactional searches.
Navigational searches are often branded, so there won’t be much change in SEO strategy there. Build buzz around your brand.
Transactional searches will still likely leverage highly competitive search terms, like Buy a Honda Civic in Seattle. For these terms, tried-and-true SEO strategies will likely still apply.
So How Does BERT Change How I Sell Stuff Online?
SEO is fast becoming a CRO game.
Conversion rate optimization (CRO) means money.
If you can answer questions well, and rank highly for informational searches, then focus on making sure your landing pages actually convert. Getting eyeballs on the page isn’t enough–you have to get them on the right page.
That’s where CRO comes in. It helps users find and take the actions you’d like them to, including from your informational pages that BERT will support.
BERT Is Intuitive. Your Content Should Be, Too.
In short, BERT makes searching more intuitive. To rank well, you should provide thoughtful answers to common user questions. And then optimize conversion on your info pages to build brand awareness (for future navigational searches) and sell (for future transactional searches).
What do you think about BERT?
Photo credits: Benjamin Dada, Owen Beard, lalo Hernandez, Harli Marten, Artem Maltsev, Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash