In late October, Google released one of its largest search algorithm changes to date. We’re going to refer to it as BERT. It’s estimated that one in ten queries will be affected by this update. So what does BERT do? At its core, it helps Google figure out the complexities of language.
Think to yourself the following word: LIVE
How did you pronounce that in your head, /lɪv/ or /laɪv/?
Consider the following two sentences:
The band can live in the basement.
The band is live in the basement.
In English live is a heteronym, each of two or more words that are spelled identically but have different sounds and meanings. One is a verb and refers to the habitation of a band, the other is an adjective and refers to the active state of a band.
Our brains are able to quickly parse out the meaning of the sentence without conscious thought based on the surrounding information. Google has a bit harder of a time with that, historically relying on words designated as keywords. Going forward, giving meaning to words with multiple definitions isn’t the only trick in Google’s bag thanks to BERT. A large portion of searches entered every day have their meaning changed depending on prepositions such as “for” or “to”. Let’s take a look at an example provided by Google for how this update changes searching.
“2019 brazil traveler to usa need a visa”
Without BERT, Google was ignoring the impact the preposition “to” had on the query. Such a common word was not included in the keyword list Google would return. Which unfortunately for the person entering the search, had entirely changed the meaning of the query. “Brazil traveler usa need visa” is vague enough that you will get search results about someone from the United States going to Brazil.
With BERT, Google is able to pick up that “to” changes the meaning of this query to something more along the lines of what the original search was actually looking for: a traveler from Brazil going to the United States.
In the end, the important question is, “How does this affect me?” As this update was aimed at helping end-users find relevant content, it might not help you in the way you expect. You might not see any changes to your search console stats if you don’t have much unique content on your site. However, if your content is well written and unique, then we would expect that you’ll place in search results for these grammatically intensive searches that BERT is trying to cover. As always, consider what your clients might be searching for as you’re not going to be returned in a search result for content you haven’t written. While you might service Boston exclusively, you’re not going to show up in a search for “live in Boston” if you don’t have content that talks about it. Then again, maybe it’s time to get into the music industry for 2020. Don’t get it? Try googling both “live in Boston” and “live in Boston 2020.”