Google’s BERT Update – Easy Explanation and Myths about BERT

On 24 October 2019, Google officially announced their BERT (Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers) algorithm update.

And, Pandu Nayak, the VP at Google Search wrote a post on their official Blog on the next day explaining the BERT update and how it would make searches better than ever before.

So, BERT update is about making language understanding better and improve the search.

As per Google,

  • BERT is one of the biggest updates in the past 5 years. It’s the latest and largest algorithm update since RankBrain.
  • This update will affect context-based complicated search queries.
  • Almost 10% of search queries (1 in 10 search queries) will be affected by this update.

So, what is BERT update in simpler terms?

BERT update focuses on understanding the search intent rather than looking at the search query word by word.

Actually, Google had been planning to officially roll out an algorithm update sometime in 2019 to better serve context-based searches. The company produced and then open-sourced the BERT natural language processing (NLP) framework back in October 2018.

And, their search team took nearly a year to roll out BERT as an update to their search algorithm.

Pandu Nayak’s Google blog post reads,

“Last year, we introduced and open-sourced a neural network-based technique for natural language processing (NLP) pre-training called Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers, or as we call it–BERT, for short. This technology enables anyone to train their own state-of-the-art question answering system.”

With the BERT update, Google search now processes each word as the searcher types in, understands its intent in relation to the entire query, phrase or sentence, and provides the best results answering the context.

So, NO one-by-one word processing in the order they are typed in as Google was doing before it started focusing on search intent rather than search words.

With BERT, Google search expects to affect 1 in 10 complicated searches, most likely long-tail and more conversational search queries, where searchers use prepositions like ‘for’ and ‘to’. Google illustrated 3 examples showing how long-tail search queries are affected by the BERT update.

The 3 search queries they used as examples were:

  1. 2019 brazil traveler to usa need a visa
  2. do estheticians stand a lot at work
  3. Can you get medicine for someone pharmacy

Google suggests its users to type their searches in a way that feels natural for them, and it will be able to find the most relevant results. There is no need for humans to adjust their natural language with the machine learning language or compromise on the words they speak and use.


Now, let’s talk about how BERT is affecting your rankings and traffic, and how you can optimize your pages post BERT.

First, here’s what Danny Sullivan, Google’s public Search Liaison tweeted,

“There’s nothing to optimize for with BERT, nor anything for anyone to be rethinking. The fundamentals of us seeking to reward great content remain unchanged.”

Google’s John Mueller first justified Danny’s suggestion and expanded by saying,

“I would primarily recommend taking a look at the blog post that we did around this particular change. In particular, what we’re trying to do with these changes is to better understand text, which on the one hand means better understanding the questions or the queries that people send us, and on the other hand better understanding the text on a page. So instead of stuffing keywords as much as possible, kind of write naturally.”

So, there’s basically nothing to worry about what you need to do in order to optimize, because BERT update is not going to penalize your pages. The queries are not really something that you can influence that much as an SEO.

But, here’s what you as an SEO need to do:

  • Focus on writing the best content on your page that is 100% relevant to the queries searched by your users.
  • Study, understand and respond to the intent of the searchers.
  • Offer wonderful experience to your users.

Now, let’s discuss some of the trending myths about the BERT update, 3 of those actually.

Myth 1: BERT is the biggest Google algorithm update of all time

According to Google’s press release about BERT update, with the update they are making a significant improvement on understanding search queries. This represents the biggest leap forward in the last five years, and one the biggest leaps forward in the history of SEO.

This is clear that BERT is only amongst the biggest updates in the history of Search. It’s not the BIGGEST update ever.

Myth 2: BERT has made prepositions or stop words important

Yes, the BERT update focuses more on prepositions or stop words like ‘to’ and ‘for’ to better understand the searcher’s language and produce the most relevant search results.

But, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you would stuff your content with lots of those to get it ranked.

That won’t help.

Myth 3: BERT wants you to optimize for longer keywords

The truth is that BERT doesn’t tell you anything about optimizing your site for long tail or short tail keywords. It simply helps Google to understand a human query just like another human would understand and provide the best answer or result.

Nobody is telling you to remove all your short tail keywords and add a lot of long tail keywords all over your content that are not relevant to the context.

Your words, sentences and language all need to look natural and sound natural. Your content has to look fresh, clear and reader-friendly. Plus, it must provide the best answer to a particular question. Be specific.

Hope you enjoyed this detailed post about Google’s BERT update. Please let us know what your take on BERT is. Please share this post if you think it’s worth it.

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