Have you heard about the new Google algorithm affecting 10 percent of search queries? It’s called BERT, and it stands for Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers. 

Essentially, BERT helps computers understand natural language or the language humans use to communicate. By doing so, it may show new results for some search queries, which Google estimates will be 1 in 10 searches—a number that has marketers paying attention.

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How BERT Works

With its ability to process natural language, BERT better understands the nuances and context of words in searches—similar to how humans pick up on these informational clues during a conversation.

For example, take a look at the before-and-after for the search query “2019 brazil traveler to the USA needs a visa”:



Before BERT, the Google search algorithm ignored the word “to” and showed results for a U.S. citizen traveling to Brazil. Now, BERT takes a word like “to” into context, and Google can deliver more accurate search results.

Is BERT Replacing RankBrain?

You may remember when Google introduced RankBrain a few years ago. RankBrain was Google’s first artificial intelligence machine that processed new search terms and learned the intent behind search queries. 

The goal of RankBrain is the same as BERT: to better understand search queries as a natural language process and deliver more accurate search results.

However, BERT is not replacing RankBrain, but rather working alongside it to improve the user experience.

How Will BERT Affect You? 

The new search algorithm from Google focuses on better answers for search queries. If you have already been writing your content for the user – and not search engines – then you don’t need to do anything differently. BERT will pick up your content if and when it feels it provides the best answer for a search query.

There isn’t anything you can do to optimize for BERT. However, if it’s been a while since you have looked back at your content, then you may want to do a content audit. Perhaps there are ways you can better answer your customer’s questions, or even find opportunities for Featured Snippets.  

If you monitor your website analytics, you may have also noticed some page rankings have increased or decreased. This is likely the result of the new Google algorithm, and this data can give you clues as to which content you might want to take a look at now.

What Does This Mean for Users and Marketers?

BERT signals to search users it’s time to use Google in a more natural way: by asking questions the way someone would in real life. 

For example, instead of searching the term “allergy treatment,” users can type or verbally ask, “what is the treatment for allergies.” 

With these advances in machine learning, marketers should also be aware of the work ahead of them—mainly, developing content that answers these types of search queries.

As time marches on, search algorithms will only become more sophisticated, so it’s critical for marketers to anticipate how user behaviors might evolve as they become more comfortable using natural language to search for information. 

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