The BERT Update: What Did Google Do This Time?

Meet BERT, the new Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers algorithm update from Google. Like all significant Google updates, BERT will have a direct impact on search engine optimization (SEO), so it pays to know as much as possible about this change.

In fact, Google is on the record stating that BERT will directly affect roughly 10 percent of all searches conducted in the U.S., or over 30 million searches per day.

All of which begs the obvious question: what even is BERT?

BERT

Essentially, BERT is a deep learning algorithm focused on improving language understanding in search. Specifically, BERT helps refine search in two key areas: nuance and context.

What does that look like? Well, think of the word “boat” showing up in both of these search terms: “boatload” and “boat prices.” The difference is obvious to us. To a machine lacking contextual differentiation, it’s not so clear. Or, consider the nuances of prepositions like “to,” “for,” and “from” (think “nine to five” versus “a quarter to three”).

The key here is defining user intent, which BERT achieves by understanding certain search terms within the context of the total query. In other words, Search will generate results based on a better understanding of what’s actually being asked rather than just web pages that correspond to keywords.

We’ve talked about this before in regards to voice search and how it will impact everything from optimization to reputation management. With BERT, the focus of search continues to shift toward user intent, which is great news for those who use Google (i.e. everyone) but also raises some questions for your dealership’s marketing.

What Does it Mean for You?

Namely, what impact will BERT have on your SEO? A lot depends on if you’re adhering to existing best practices for SEO already.

Without getting too deep in the weeds, we know that BERT has the most direct impact on what’s called on-page SEO. There are three basic components to on-page SEO: the content of a web page (including any alternate text you supply for images), title tags, and the page’s URL or web address.

We can focus on just one of these aspects: your web page’s content. Why? Remember, BERT is looking to better understand total queries and match users with relevant results.

What that means is web pages that rely on keyword stuffing but that don’t have a clear focus or structure to them will be penalized more than ever – but, that’s not necessarily new advice. Keyword stuffing never worked well as a long-term strategy.

In other words, BERT isn’t an earth-shattering update demanding new approaches to SEO so much as it is a wake-up call for marketers to revisit their existing SEO practices. Those who have managed to skate by with thin, poor, irrelevant content up to now might find that their luck has run out.

This obviously matters for dealers who face fierce local competition and have every reason to make sure their websites are full of clean, useful, relevant, and unique content to snag the best possible spot in those search results.

Perform an SEO Checkup

For that reason, now would be a great time to perform an SEO checkup for your dealership and make sure you’re utilizing best practices wherever possible.

How much of the following are you doing?

  • Elevating your site in search results with unique, updated, and keyword-targeted website content
  • Keeping your fresh content in front of customers and search engines with a dealership blog and posts on national automotive blogs
  • Accurately describing your site’s content to readers and search engines with ongoing meta title, description, and keyword management and revision
  • Utilizing site indexing with navigation management and sitemap customization

Honestly, this is only scratching the surface, but using these tips as measures of how your SEO is doing will certainly put you on the right track. It’ll also help prevent your web pages from becoming BERT casualties as Search continues to refine its understanding of user intent.

Don’t believe the hype that BERT is about to completely upend your SEO, but don’t write it off as insignificant, either. Like any major Search update, it pays to know as much as possible about the shift, but ultimately sticking to time-tested best practices still wins the day.

Do that, and let the experts help so you don’t get bogged down, and your marketing will be just fine.

Want more SEO info? Check out LEVEL UP! A Holistic Guide to Modern SEO.