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Google’s Latest Algorithm Update: BERT

Google’s Latest Algorithm Update: BERT

Image credit: Search Engine Round Table

What’s the BERT Update All About?

The Google BERT Update is the largest change to Google’s search system since the introduction of RankBrain in 2015. Its purpose is to help Google Bots better understand natural human language, and therefore deliver better results to users.

BERT has helped us grasp the subtle nuances of language that computers don’t quite understand the way humans do… [It can] consider the full context of a word by looking at the words that come before and after it—particularly useful for understanding the intent behind search queries.


Google also makes a special mention of affecting the results of Featured Snippets.

When Will the Update Be Fully Rolled Out?

According to Search Engine Land, BERT started rolling out earlier this week and will be fully live shortly.

For now, the update will affect one in 10 search queries in the U.S. in English, and therefore, the rankings for these queries. They plan to bring this to more languages and locales over time.

Why start with just one in ten? Search Engine Land explains that BERT is so complex that it pushes the limits of Google’s hardware. Which is why, they speculate, this update will take some time.

Though not all sites have felt its affects yet (pay attention these next few weeks!) Clayton Johnson from The Hoth says that one of his team’s clients have already seen a big spike in traffic.

traffic increase after google bert update
Source: The Hoth

Should I Be Freaking Out?

In a word, no. Google emphasized that this update is neither meant to reward or penalize websites. It is only meant to improve its bots’ language understanding capabilities – rather than us having to rely on “keyword-ese” to get the results we want.

While we’ve continued to improve our language understanding capabilities over the years, we sometimes still don’t quite get it right, particularly with complex or conversational queries. In fact, that’s one of the reasons why people often use “keyword-ese,” typing strings of words that they think we’ll understand, but aren’t actually how they’d naturally ask a question.


That said, if you or your client’s site HAS already seen negative impacts from the update, Johnson provides great recommendations on what to do next. (#1 is to chill out until the dust has settled in a few weeks). Check it out his recommendations here.

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BERT In Action

Example 2 Query: “Can you get medicine for someone pharmacy”. Google can now better understand this query like a human would, and show a more relevant result on a search.

Example 2 Query: “Parking on a hill with no curb”.

In the past, a query like this would confuse Google’s systems. Google said, “We placed too much importance on the word “curb” and ignored the word “no”, not understanding how critical that word was to appropriately responding to this query. So we’d return results for parking on a hill with a curb.”

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