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BERT & SEO: How Google’s AI-powered search works

With artificial intelligence integrating into every facet of technology, Google has unsurprisingly stepped into the arena with an update that’s changing the search engine game. BERT, which stands for ‘Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers,’ is a revolution in how search queries are processed.

This change really shakes things up for search queries that rely on the subtle aspects of language, affecting a good chunk of searches — about 1 in every 10. So, let’s unpack what BERT entails for SEO and how you can fine-tune your content for this dynamic new phase.

Understanding the BERT algorithm: What is it?

BERT is a significant leap forward for Google, designed to decipher the nuances of language in search queries. Think of it as a sophisticated system that understands language much like we do — by looking at the words before and after a keyword. It’s a big deal, and its implications for accuracy in language cannot be ignored.

This context awareness allows BERT to grasp the intent behind your searches, making Google’s search engine more intuitive than ever. What this means for computational comprehension is earth-shattering, to say the least. With BERT, Google will better understand your needs and intentions.

Illustration of a flow chart indicating complex queries

BERT’s impact on complex queries

Google’s BERT update shines when it comes to complicated, conversational queries. In particular, it is useful in searches where every preposition can alter the meaning of the query. 

For example, there’s a world of difference between “car insurance to buy” and “car insurance buy.” BERT is engineered to understand these differences, improving how users find the most relevant results to their queries.

Likewise, the technology is excellent for local SEO, as BERT can easily clump together neighborhood names, products, and intent, while providing the desired results in a matter of seconds.  

BERT and on-page SEO

For SEO specialists, the rise of BERT signals the end of an era where poorly written content could rank well. Now, the focus shifts to clarity and the quality of information presented. Clear structures and emphasis on important content are crucial.

In particular, SEOs need to turn unstructured data into semi-structured data, guide Google through our content with internal linking, and provide cues on pages where text is sparse.

However, this also means that content creators must now be more precise with language. BERT isn’t here to fix content that lacks a clear focus  — it instead elevates content that’s already well-written. 

Context around key terms becomes critical, and content that can clearly answer user questions will come out on top. Remember, BERT is here to aid Google in understanding natural language, not to interpret vague content.

How BERT is refining search queries

Imagine you’re searching for “best seats for evening games.” Before BERT, search engines might have shown you results for buying seats or choosing the best games. 

With BERT, the search engine understands that “evening games” likely refer to sports events, and “best seats” relate to the viewer’s experience in the stadium during these times, potentially considering the sun’s position and the likelihood of glare. 

It’s a subtle difference. However, it significantly refines the search results to match the user’s actual intent. There are virtually endless examples just like this one that you can think of. With BERT, you’ll wrestle less with your search parameters, getting results that actually matter to you and what you’re looking for at that moment.

What BERT does is almost human-like, using the surrounding words to understand the intent behind a single word within a query. 

This has vast implications for content creators: we must ensure that the context we provide is clear and relevant as Google becomes increasingly adept at picking up on these nuances.

Illustration of possible good and bad queries using BERT

Optimizing for BERT: Do’s and don’ts

In the era of BERT, the spotlight is firmly on content clarity and user-focused optimization. Here’s how you can ensure your content strategy is aligned with this new norm:

Understanding the user’s intent

The core of BERT’s functionality lies in grasping the nuances of language and the intent behind search queries. For content creators, this translates to an emphasis on precision.

It’s about understanding what the user is truly seeking and crafting content that hits the mark. This means moving beyond keyword-centric strategies to a more intent-oriented approach.

Content quality over quantity

Gone are the days when a scattergun approach to keywords might have reaped rewards. With BERT, content needs to be focused and relevant. It’s not about covering all bases but rather about delivering top-notch responses to particular queries.

Your content should serve as a reservoir of deep insights, offering substantial and relevant information that aligns closely with what your audience is seeking.

Incorporating structured data

Structured data becomes your silent ambassador to search engines. And with schema markup, search engines have an in-depth understanding of your site’s content. It allows them to rapidly pinpoint and grasp the different components.

This streamlined organization helps BERT to decode how various content pieces interlink, boosting both the clarity and the findability of your information.

The importance of internal linking

Internal linking does more than shepherd visitors through your website — it’s a powerful tool to bolster the thematic structure of your content. Thoughtful internal links can enhance user experience and provide clear pathways for BERT to ascertain the hierarchy and interconnectivity of your pages.

Think of it as creating a roadmap that guides both users and search engines through your site’s landscape, underlining the pertinence of each page.

Preparing for the future of AI in SEO

BERT is just the beginning. With AI advancing rapidly, Google’s understanding of search queries is only going to get more nuanced. This evolution could lead to more significant segmentation in search results, especially in local SEO. 

In the future, Google’s AI will also be able to segment search results more effectively, especially when it comes to local SEO. Even with all its advancements, BERT still has a tendency to post irrelevant content just because it was fooled by SEO trickery. In the future, for instance, even if a restaurant chain has purchased local links, they’ll still drop down in SERPs because they’re not local.

Anticipating the next steps

As AI strides forward with determination, it becomes increasingly essential for SEO strategies to keep pace. This change is quite significant, especially when you consider that the worldwide AI market is expected to balloon to around $740 billion by 2030. And SEO is at the forefront, precisely because of the amount of raw data AI can crunch.

Content must be honed with precision — every paragraph, sentence, and word is carefully chosen for clarity and purpose. A well-structured piece is no longer just about aesthetics; it’s about making content comprehensible for both AI and the end-user. The need for contextually rich content steps into the spotlight, as well. 

AI algorithms like BERT aren’t satisfied with the mere sprinkling of keywords. They’re looking for depth, the subtext beneath the main message. It’s about anticipating the user’s journey — understanding that every search term is part of a larger conversation.

Small businesses benefit from understanding Google’s BERT 

As we stand at the cusp of a new era in search engine optimization, it’s time to embrace the changes brought on by BERT. Keeping our content crisp, well-organized, and in tune with the intricate ways users search helps us stay ahead of the game, ensuring our websites keep their top spots and stay pertinent in a future steered by AI.

Remember, this is just one step in the ongoing journey of SEO — a quantum leap, indeed. But it’s one that signals a more intuitive, more ethical, human-like understanding from the world’s most powerful search engine. Prepare your content to meet these new standards, and the rewards will be well worth the effort.

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Gary Stevens avatar

Gary Stevens

Gary Stevens is a web developer and technology writer. He's a part-time blockchain geek and a volunteer working for the Ethereum foundation as well as an active Github contributor. More articles written by Gary.

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