What is the BERT Algorithm (BiDirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers)

bert algorithm explained

What is BERT?

BERT is the newest algorithm by Google to help improve search results.  BERT is a cute and clever name that stands for something incomprehensible, which is ironic given that the algorithm was created to help better understand natural human language and context.  As you saw in the Title Tag and the Title of this page, BERT stands for “Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers”  Its nerd language for being able to understand the context of a sentence.

Do you remember how the Hummingbird algorithm helped Google better understand words, synonyms, and intent?  BERT goes further than Hummingbird where Hummingbird covered synonyms and associated content based on queries – it looks like Bert handles the nuance of language when longer queries or natural language is being used.

I am guessing that voice search will be positively affected and also those sneaky listening devices when you’re not searching.   There is already evidence of major changes in SERPS, specifically, The New York Times suffering an incredible loss of ranking and a decline in search traffic.

What Does The BERT Algorithm Address?

Bert Algorithm addresses longtail search queries written in a natural language type of way.  Understanding the longer queries is a more difficult task since the combination of different keyword phrases can mean so many things.  It might be easy for a human being to make sense of 6-8 words, but a machine?  Not so easy.  Google first launch BERT 1.0 in October, 2019 and it looks like Google has done a decent job of matching longer queries with highly useful pages.  For great examples, check out this post from Search Engine Roundtable.

Does BERT Assign a Value To a Page?

Google’s Representative, Danny Sullivan, has stated there are no values assigned to pages, but it is a better way to understand language.

danny sullivan twitter BERT

Why Should I Care About BERT Algorithm?

The totality of your content will matter when Google attempts to match a query with a website page.  Supposedly, this algorithm does not review your site or page – it is an analysis of the query.  The BERT Algorithm makes sense out of a long-tail query and tries to understand the intention and context of the query – then matching it to the best page or site.  This is important to know because some SEOs will try to alter their pages to match a long-tail query, which is unlikely.

As of now, we have to keep developing the best content, comprehensive content that is structured well.  Same as before.  Lastly, this algorithm is estimated to affect 10% of queries, typically long-tail terms which is 4 or more words strung together in a natural way of speaking.

More like this, “How many people are affected by suicide each year?”   Not so much this, “How Many Suicides 2019?”  People being affected includes dependents, siblings, friends and more.  Quantity of suicides will likely get you a number.


This text was quoted from Search Engine Roundtable @ https://www.seroundtable.com/nytimes-google-bert-28451.html

How Will BERT Make Search Better?

The long lost focus on long-tail keyword phrases has been renewed in a better way.  The important thing to remember is that this algorithm is not just trying to match keywords better with pages, it is attempting to interpret a query that is written in a way that is as close to naturally speaking as possible.  BERT attempts to provide more congruent results based on more accurate interpretations of natural sentences, questions and the like.

Can Anyone Optimize For BERT?

Google says no, but this is false.  Google loathes SEOs, they do not like people trying to address known ranking factors.  Google’s response for more than 8 years has been “Just Create Great Content!”  We know this is bogus.  If there is an algorithm that addresses natural language context and goes after long-tail queries, write your content better, title tags more naturally, H1 tags more naturally and H2 tags more naturally… sort of like how this document is written.

How Does BERT Work with RankBrain?

We do not know how BERT works with RankBrain, if it works at all.  RankBrain helps determine if a specific result was useful to a searcher by measuring whether or not a person clicked on the listing, stayed on the page or adjusted the query to more accurately reflect the result they were actually looking for.  RankBrain measures if a person returns back to Google after visiting a website page and selects a different listing on that page.  In that sense, once BERT selects the type of content on a page it deems congrent with the natural language long-tail query, it can adjust the ranking of those pages.  But this happens no matter what – before and after BERT .

How Does BERT Work with Penguin?

Ranking occurs based on over 100 ranking factors.  Penguin Algorithm seeks unnatural link schemes and patterns.  Enough of these violations and Google will algorithmically degrade the visibility of a page or a site and reduce the ranking of said page or site.  I doubt that Google will place a page high on the SERPS that has penguin violations in the first place.

How Does Bert Work with Panda?

I imagine that pages that rank well for long-tail natural language search queries will have to be high-quality pages that are well-written, comprehensive, low bounce rates, from high authority sites.  We will know more by early 2020.

What Can SEOs Do About BERT Moving Forward?

  1.  Develop comprehensive content that addresses real search queries by searchers
  2. Program the content well including proper Title Tags, Meta Descriptions, H1 tags, Captions, Internal Linking, Fast Loading, Schema-marked up pages (plus more)
  3. Create popular content by contacting similar sites, building links from high quality, authority sites and more.

Basically, if you’re an SEO, keep doing what you’re doing…   Find those long-tail phrases and adjust accordingly.

More to come as smarter people than me (with more time on their hands) conduct research and testing to find out the real scoop on BERT, Google’s New Algorithm.

How Do I Know If My Site Has Been Affected?

BERT affects results mostly for long-tail queries.  Downloading a list of keywords associated with your site from Search Console, SEMrush, or Ahrefs can help determine which phrases over the next 1-4 weeks have increased or decreased in ranking.  Also, which queries with 4 or more words have more impressions and which queries suddenly appear or disappear from the top 100 results.  The easiest way is to wait until November 15th, 2019 and download all the phrases in the past 3 weeks and compare to those phrases in the first 3 weeks of Oct, 2019.

Remember that usually, it is 4 or more keyword phrases in a query that will be affected.




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