Google BERT Update – What is it and what does it mean?

Today Google announced a major update to the way they return search queries to users that depend on context.  They have stated that this update is their most important update in five years, since RankBrain was utilised within Google’s Core Algorithm.  Google have said that this could impact up to 10% of all search queries and is being rolled out just now across all English language countries, with further languages to follow in the near future.  However, what is BERT and how does it impact SEO?

BERT is a big Google Update

RankBrain was launched to use machine learning to determine the most relevant results to a search engine query.  BERT now takes these most relevant queries and allows for a better understanding of the nuance and context of the words in the query to better match these queries to more helpful results.  This is highly important for more conversational queries, or searches where words such as ‘for’ and ‘to’ are fundamental to the meaning of the query.  Where previously, Google’s algorithm focused on the main aspects of the search query, BERT allows for more relevant results to be returned to the user based on a more natural search. 

The BERT update is an algorithm that is related to natural language processing.  It allows machines to understand what words in a sentence mean, but will all the nuances and conversational aspects of the content of the query.

BERT Examples

With Google’s previous algorithm, preference and importance was placed on the keyword ‘curb’ and ignored the word ‘no’, not understanding just how critical that was to return the correct result.  Therefore Google would return results with ‘curb’ in the copy, however, with the BERT update more relevant content is returned to the user that better matches their query. 


With the new update, Google can now better understand that ‘for someone’ is the main element of the query, whereas previously they missed the meaning returning general results about filling a prescription and how to get your own medicine. 


This will place more emphasis on ‘On-Page SEO’ with content having to be clearer and the meaning of the page being established throughout.  If a website’s content is poorly written then a site is highly likely to be penalised by the BERT update, where search engines can’t extract the meaning of the page from the content.  This update will likely promote well-written content where the meaning of the text is clear.  This change is likely to result in an opportunity to bring more traffic to your website by providing content that is more focused and well organised to your audience’s intent.  You may notice over the next couple of weeks that your traffic has fluctuated from previous weeks, this could mean that you have been impacted by the BERT update and further investigation may be required. 

If you feel your website has been impacted by this new update and are wondering how to resolve this issue, please feel free to browse our SEO offering or get in touch with us.

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