What does BERT Mean For Your SEO and Content Marketing Strategy?
As we enter a new decade, Google algorithm updates are pushing us towards a new age of insightful and informative content that is optimized to the needs and preferences of searchers.
The BERT update is the latest in a long line of Google updates to improve natural language processing and increase search accuracy.
What should you be doing to improve your search ranking?
Long-tail keywords are more critical than ever in creating quality content. And quality content is going to be more critical than ever in improving rankings in 2020 and beyond.
But before we get into BERT optimization, let’s have a quick rundown of what's changed with the latest Google update.
What is BERT?
BERT stands for Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers and is an update to Google’s natural language processing.
It’s the most significant Google update since RankBrain, affecting around 10% of all search queries.
At its base level, the BERT update is focused on improving how Google interprets the intent behind a search query.
Rather than interpreting a search query word by word, Google can now look at the entire search query to determine which results provide the best answer to the intent behind the user's search.
A small change or modification to the wording can completely change the intent behind a search. BERT helps Google to determine precisely what a user is looking for when they conduct a search.
Here’s a great example of a search result before and after the BERT update:
The results after the BERT update are much more relevant to the intent of the search query.
While every significant update to Google’s algorithm can send SEOs into panic mode, BERT is just a continuation of the 2012 Hummingbird update, and the drive to provide more accurate results for conversational search queries.
Hummingbird helped Google understand the meaning of individual words in a search query.
RankBrain improved Google’s ability to understand more complex search queries and the use of negatives.
BERT enables Google to understand the intent behind a search by processing combinations of words used in a particular order.
How to Optimize Your Content Strategy for BERT
BERT and Voice Search
Google is improving its algorithm to understand how people naturally speak. Around 20% of all Google searches are now conducted by voice. With the BERT update, Google is prioritizing voice search as voice-activated devices become more embraced into the mainstream.
The way people type a query into search engines is very different from how they conduct a voice search. When people utilize voice search, they use complete phrases, ask questions, and look for specific answers.
For your SEO strategy, this means moving away from keyword density and focusing more on the questions and long-tail keyword phrases that are relevant to your company and your products.
Laser-Focused Answers to Search Queries
Your content needs to provide concise and direct answers to the questions and informational search queries related to your products and services.
For example, if a user searches for “should you put social media on business cards?” the featured snippet directly answers the question:
Google is a user-focused platform, and they want to provide searchers with the most relevant results as fast as possible. That’s why page speed is an essential factor in search ranking, and why focused and high-quality content achieves better ranking.
Build your editorial calendar around specific questions and queries related to your business.
Aim to provide concise and focused answers to search queries.
When you conduct a search looking for a specific answer, you don’t want to scan through thousands of words to find the information you are looking for.
You want concise high-quality content that offers a direct answer to your search query.
Long-Form Content isn’t Always Better
There’s a misconception around SEO that longer content is always better for search ranking - the average length of a first page Google result is 1,890 words.
But longer content doesn’t always achieve a higher ranking, and the BERT update is another step away from this view of SEO content.
For example, a Google search for the specific question “what is a do-follow link?” returns the following results:
The top-ranking result is only 242 words in length.
The optimum length for SEO blog posts depends on the search query.
For a super-specific search query like “what is a do-follow link?” the user wants a short and concise answer.
A broader search query like “how to improve the SEO of my website?” is going to require a lot more information and in-depth blog posts to provide a solid answer.
The key to increasing your search ranking is to create blog posts that provide the searcher with a concise but comprehensive answer.
Can the query be answered comprehensively in a few hundred words of high-quality content, or is it a broader search that requires an in-depth blog post of thousands of words?
Utilize Long-tail Keywords
Google strives to provide users with the most relevant information for the intent behind a search query. Every algorithm update is aiming to increase the relevance of the information they provide in search results.
By increasing its ability to process natural language, Google is placing increasing importance on long-tail keywords. These longer search queries are how people actually use search engines.
Let’s say you want to find out specific information to inform your social media strategy. You are already knowledgeable about digital marketing, and won’t be looking for basic information.
Instead of searching for a keyword like “social media”, You would search for long-tail keywords like “social media trends,” “social media strategy for 2020”, and “ social media brand success stories.”
Not only are these long-tail keywords the terms that people actually search for, but they also have less competition than basic keywords and are easier to rank for in search results.
By creating high quality blog posts that answer specific long-tail search queries and questions, you can also increase the chances of your website visitors actually purchasing your products and services.
Rather than ranking for a general keyword that attracts a broad base of web traffic from search engines, specific long-tail keyword queries attract the people that are actually interested in your business and what you have to offer.
Here’s an example:
If you were looking for vacation accommodation in Florida, you might start your Google search with the keyword “vacation Florida.” You check out some of the broader information on vacation spots and decide that you want to stay in the Everglades and would prefer to stay in a holiday home rather than a hotel.
You conduct a new Google search using the long-tail keyword “self-catering accommodation Everglades.” The new search will provide different results that are more relevant to the type of accommodation you are looking for, and you would be more likely to make a booking.
That’s why long-tail keywords are vital to your SEO strategy.
2020 is a big year for SEO, and updates to search engines algorithms can strike fear into digital marketers and business owners, but the rules of SEO remain the same: focus on creating high-quality content that is highly relevant and valuable to your unique audience.
To future-proof your content strategy to be robust to ever-evolving algorithm updates, you should always keep this at the heart of your SEO efforts.
If you are already producing great blog posts that helps your target audience understand their problems and answers their questions, you need to keep on doing what you're doing.
If you’re not, the BERT update is another wake-up call to update your SEO strategy and start creating high quality content that aligns with how people search online.