How SEO Has Evolved
Just like with anything, the world of SEO is constantly evolving, so it’s essential to stay up-to-date with the latest trends to make sure you aren’t being left in the dust. Coined in 1997, the term “search engine optimization” (or SEO) is not a new concept by any means, but the way we use it today is definitely different.
Over the last several decades, search engines have become exponentially smarter — their algorithms have been improved upon time and time again so that they are delivering the most accurate results possible in relation to a user’s search.
The user experience (UX) is now more important than ever. Though basic SEO practices (like keyword implementation and perfectly-crafted meta description tags) are still the building blocks of good SEO, search engines are looking for something a little bit more intuitive — they’ve shifted the focus towards making sure the user finds exactly what they’re looking for quickly and easily. To ensure that you’re optimizing your websites and keeping up with the competition in 2020, you should first understand BERT.
Note: there are many search engines you can use to find the answers you’re looking for — Google, Yahoo, Bing, Ask, AOL, to name a few — but since Google owns about 90% of the market share, we’ll mainly be referring to them in this blog.
The latest Google breakthrough
Google’s latest algorithm (released in late 2019), Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers (BERT), is a network-based technique that helps the search engine to better understand Natural Language Processing (NLP), or the way we speak. In layman’s terms? This new technique makes it easier for the search engines to determine the context of your search and to give you more specific results. As of right now, BERT only applies to about 10% of Google searches, but when you take into account that there is an average of 63,000 searches being conducted every single second, this adds up. While we’ve only seen this algorithm in use for a few months, we’ve already seen improvements in their results!
For example, in the past, you may have googled “Do cops work long hours?” and the first results would have most likely been web pages about applying to become a law enforcement officer. This is because their previous algorithms processed the words “cops” and “work” without analyzing the context of your question, so they showed you results that a cop searching for a job might want.
With BERT, however, Google is able to process your natural language patterns more easily and provide you with an exact answer to that specific question. They aren’t just looking at “cops” and “work” but stringing together the entire sentence and allowing the user to type as they would speak — naturally. Thus, instead of the first results consisting of job applications, you should see more web pages consisting of people answering what their hours are like as a cop.
In essence, BERT allows the user to search queries that feel natural to their language patterns. Instead of googling “oil change charlotte nc” you can now type “where can I get my oil changed in Charlotte, NC?” and it will recognize what you’re trying to say.
How does BERT relate to SEO?
Unfortunately, there are no tips or tricks on how to optimize for BERT, because you can’t. It wasn’t designed to be worked around. Danny Sullivan, a Google search liaison, tweeted out “There’s nothing to optimize for with BERT, nor anything for anyone to be rethinking. The fundamentals of us seeking to reward great content remain unchanged.”
Because this program was created to provide searchers with the most relevant, informative content relating to their query, it’s crucial that you are producing quality content. You need to make sure your on-page SEO is kick-ass. Before you worry about getting too technical, focus on what you’re actually posting to your site. Optimizing your own web pages is crucial to search engine rankings — it helps them to identify that your site holds applicable information for the users.
And while you can’t necessarily optimize for BERT, you can optimize for Natural Language Processing (NLP).
Improving your NLP for SEO purposes
In case we haven’t made ourselves clear yet, content is the most important part of your website moving forward. To remain relevant in this new decade, optimizing your content to give users the smoothest experience possible is your best bet. Because BERT was designed to reward the best content, improving your Natural Language Processing (NLP) can give you the boost you need to rank higher. Natural language is pretty much what it sounds like: typing what you would say aloud. It’s more conversational and easier to read.
Keep these tips in mind to improve your natural language and grab BERT’s attention:
1. Provide clear answers to questions
When someone types a question into Google, they are obviously looking for an answer. If your site isn’t clearly providing it, they’ll look elsewhere. Frame your sentences to answer questions so that people can quickly find the answers they seek. For example, if someone searches “How many children does Kim Kardashian have?” your article should say “Kim Kardashian has four children.” There’s no need to go into detail separately about each child until their main question has been answered.
2. Make your antecedents clear
Quick grammar refresher! An antecedent is a noun that is represented by a pronoun.
“The watch was in the purse, but it’s gone.”
The watch (noun) is the antecedent of it (pronoun).
What gets tricky sometimes is determining what the “it” is referring to. Is “it” the watch? Or is “it” the purse? What’s gone? This is why you should make your antecedents extremely clear — Google is a robot and won’t be able to identify which one you mean when all you say is “it”. BERT may look over your site because it failed to connect your sentences to find an answer to the search query.
3. Use structure to organize your content
Take advantage of headings, subheadings, subtopics, and lists. These help Google read your site and convey context. These also help you to organize the content so that users can find what they’re looking for faster (improving the UX!) and helping you to rank higher.
Need help catching up?
It can be overwhelming to constantly have to freshen up your SEO knowledge — but we’re here to help. At Pinckney Marketing, our team of passionate, talented marketers has a deep understanding of the best SEO practices to help your website’s rankings. Feel free to contact us!
If you’re looking to learn more about this topic on your own, check out our free, downloadable SEO Guidebook for tips on how to drive quality traffic to your site.