BERT Update

Google claim that advances in their ability to understand language within queries represents “the biggest leap forward in the past five years, and one of the biggest leaps forward in the history of Search”. This is in reference to the BERT Update, with Google announcing the roll-out on 25th October 2019.

What is the BERT Update?

Glad you asked.

BERT stands for Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers. In other words, the geekiest acronym/name Google could come up with. In even more words, it’s an update that allows Google to better understand language through an open-sourced “neural-network based technique for natural language processing (NLP)”.

Still don’t know what BERT is? You would be forgiven.

Google has essentially managed to become better at understanding how us humans speak in our normal habitat. They even reference how we use “keyword-ese” type searches when we’re not entirely sure if Google will understand our normal questions. Well everything is about to change.

SEOs out there will be asking themselves something along the lines of “I thought that was what Latent Semantic Indexing did, then the Hummingbird Update, followed by Rankbrain?”. Sort of, and by sort of I mean that I also struggle to get my head around the nuances between all of these, but it is important to note that they all likely work together. Maybe Donald Trump can use his mastery of the English language to help us understand:

Even after Rankbrain, Google wasn’t perfect in its ability to understand queries. BERT is another update to help them in this area. It’s a big one though, supposedly affecting 10% of all queries they see in U.S English. They intend on rolling this out to other languages as well.


The SEO community appear to agree that this isn’t really going to result in drastic changes to SEO tactics. The user comes first and this only reinforces this.

BERT is designed to improve search results… is pretty much every Google update. SEOs are there to help prove that we deserve to be in the top results. Sure, this may affect featured snippets which have become a fan favourite amongst SEOs and John Lincoln at Ignite Visibility mentioned that this could impact FAQs. Generally though, if you have been structuring your SEO campaign around properly satisfying searcher intent, it’s pretty much business as usual. Make your content as easy to understand as possible and it will pay dividends.

Interestingly, at the end of Google’s post on BERT they mention that perhaps we can stop using these keyword-ese searches. They want us as searchers to feel confident enough to treat Google like a real human….like Hummingbird and Rankbrain did. If there’s anything to take out of this, it’s that understanding nuances within language is difficult for a human, let alone a machine.

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