In October, 2019, Google rolled out their most important search functionality update in five years – Bidirectional Encoder Representations From Transformers or, as it’s better known, BERT. While Google is continuously enhancing their search algorithms, this latest enhancement is truly significant and the effect it will have on consumers’ search results is so great that brands and retailers need to understand what’s changed – and how to respond to that change so that they can benefit as much as their customers.
Here’s a simple introduction for trading partners to their new friend, BERT.
BERT is different. Very different.
Prior to the update, Google would hone in rather narrowly on keywords identified in a user’s search and, as a result of this singular focus, often deliver results that were less than optimal. Now, as a deep learning algorithm system that employs natural language processing, BERT will not just search words. Rather, it will be analyzing search queries to understand the context of the words and, by deciphering the “intent” of the query, it will deliver better results and provide a better user experience.
According to Pandu Nayak, Google Fellow and VP Search, “Particularly for longer, more conversational queries, or searches where prepositions like ‘for’ and ‘to’ matter a lot to the meaning, Search will be able to understand the context of the words in your query. You can search in a way that feels natural for you.”
You can see from the example below, that instead of using the word “stand” by itself in the search, BERT now recognizes that the phrase “stand a lot” is an important factor in the query. It understands that the user is seeking information regarding the physical demands placed on estheticians and delivers a result that provides the exact information that the user was seeking.
Quality websites will benefit the most.
While there’s high confidence that BERT will deliver much more satisfying search results to Google users and, by doing so, generate additional searches, there’s no guarantee that this improved functionality will directly translate into increased website visits by those same users.
Still, it’s not unreasonable to think that users, after finding an online source providing the specific information they’re seeking, would visit that site for additional data and insights. Therefore, if brands and retailers are to benefit from any BERT-driven traffic increase, their sites must be properly populated so as to increase the likelihood that their online content is found by this new, contextual search. That, of course, means trading partners must optimize their website for search engines – particularly as it relates to content.
SEO has never been more critical.
Google’s BERT update analyzes search queries to deliver improved results; it does not analyze web pages. And, while it will help a lot of content providers and users, it will not help sites with poor or incomplete page content, those lacking clear, contextual presentation of materials, or those with incorrect grammar, missing words, or misspellings.
With BERT in place, on-page SEO should be all about using words precisely and correctly so that meanings are exact and subjects clearly presented. Everything should be written with a purpose and targeted to an identified audience. It’s about delivering clear, relevant content to real people. It’s not about writing for the bots. BERT doesn’t care what they want.
As content is (still) king, the focus should remain on quality over quantity. Grammar, phrasing, and context matter more now than ever. SEO can be complicated but continued adherence to SEO best practices is critical.
Creating a richer, more replete online experience for shoppers has become an essential component of omni-channel engagement and the benefits from well-executed digital delivery are already being felt by those trading partners who have made the investment. With the deployment of Google’s contextual search capability, those benefits have the potential to grow but only if trading partners commit to optimizing their content – and making friends with BERT.
Inmar helps leading Fortune 500 companies and emerging brands stay relevant and propel growth while providing their consumers with personalized and precision-driven tools to save money, improve health and safety, and more conveniently go about their lives. Inmar’s holistic portfolio of media products enables advertisers to access a variety of intelligent tools, including its influencer media platform, conversational commerce (chat-based media), audience extension and on-site digital media for retail. As a trusted intermediary for over 35 years, Inmar has served retailers, manufacturers, healthcare providers, government and employers as their trusted intermediary and helped them redefine innovation.
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SVP, Corporate Marketing