Google’s BERT Algorithm Update: How Does This Affect Searches and SEO?

If you’re an “SEO Guy” you already know, but if not, here’s what you need to know about Google’s latest update.


Just “Google” It!

The phrase “Google it” has become so common in our society. In a matter of seconds, we pull out our phone, tablet, or laptop and type a question into Google to get an answer. But what do we type into the search bar? Often times we are typing a short phrase posed as a question looking to get an answer as quickly as possible. Google’s new algorithm aims to take into account natural language and the context of words to better answer these queries.


In October of 2019, Google announced its latest algorithm update: Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers, or “BERT.” This new algorithm pushes the limits when it comes to search by allowing Google to better understand searches. Rather than trying to find your answer based on a few keywords used in the search, the BERT algorithm tries to understand what the user is actually trying to ask by utilizing the natural language we speak. By putting more emphasis on context words and less on keywords, BERT is able to deliver more accurate search results.   Here are some examples Google gave: BERT looks at context words before and after keywords to deliver a more accurate search result. For example, the preposition “to.”
An example of Google's latest update BERT.
Image Courtesy of Google
The screenshot above depicts a search where the user is looking if a traveler from Brazil to the U.S. needs a visa. Before BERT, Google would deliver results based on the keywords “U.S.,” “to,” and “Brazil,” not taking the preposition into context. Therefore, the user got a website referring to someone from the U.S. traveling to Brazil rather than someone from Brazil looking to travel to the U.S. When using the BERT algorithm, Google took the word into context and delivered a more relevant result.   In this example, Google depicts how BERT changes the relevance of featured snippets. 
An example of Google's latest update BERT.
Image Courtesy of Google
  The user is trying to quickly learn the best way to park on a hill. In the past, Google would put emphasis on the keywords parking, hill, and curb. Not taking into account the word “no,” therefore the user received information on how to park on a hill with a curb. With BERT Google can now take the word “no” into context and deliver the result the user was looking for which is how to park on a hill with no curb.

What does this mean for the future of search

From a user perspective, BERT is a major advancement. This update will allow users to search more naturally while receiving accurate and relevant results. And with so many users now searching using a voice assistant, it has become necessary for Google to be able to understand the context of the question to deliver more accurate information on the first result. From an SEO standpoint, this opens a door for a whole new strategy…or does it? In their announcement, Google stated that BERT would help to improve 10% of all searches. This means that for now only one in one in 10 searches will be affected by BERT. With that being said, if your search is affected by BERT odds are the user wasn’t seeking out your content to begin with.


As we all begin to navigate the new BERT update, the jury is still out on how it will affect overall SEO in the future. For now, if you see a drop in your search it’s not necessarily a bad thing, because BERT is designed to offer the user the most relevant content by focusing less on keywords and more on context. As this new algorithm continues to evolve, I predict that we will likely see a shift in the way we optimize content. But for now, us “SEO Guys” should continue to focus more on the quality and value our content drives, while keeping a close eye on what the future of language understanding holds.  


ryan_peplowski_photoRyan Peplowski is a Digital Integration Specialist at 898 Marketing.  Ryan implements web, search engine optimization, and content strategies throughout various internet and social media channels for 898 Marketing and it’s clients. Ryan is a native of Youngstown, Ohio, and a graduate of Youngstown State University with a Bachelor of Arts in Communications and a minor in Business Marketing.