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One Year Later: A Look at How Google’s BERT Update Has Impacted Digital Marketing

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One year. If the last 12 months have taught us anything as a society, it’s that a lot can happen in the span of a year. From COVID-19 regulations and rioting to the Presidential elections and more, there’s been no shortage of tumultuous events that have left our country, and our world, in turmoil. 

However, there is at least one event that occurred last year and still remains a shimmer of hope, progress, and growth in the world of digital marketing: Google’s BERT update. Let’s take a look at what BERT is, how it’s still affecting the way were search, create content, and 

What Is BERT? And Where’s Ernie?

For those of you who don’t know, weren’t paying attention, or just plain forgot, the BERT update was unveiled in late October of 2019 (I guess some good things did happen last year). An acronym for “Bidirectional Encoder Representatives From Transformers,” the BERT update was mainly repeated to natural language processing. Not only is it still the most significant update to Google’s algorithm since RankBrain, but it affects at least 10% of all search queries, which means it has probably already impacted the performance of your pages. Not to worry, though — BERT’s main function is to create a better, streamlined, and more accurate experience for users by allowing Google to have a clearer understanding of words and context in search queries. 

How Does BERT Affect Searches?

It’s important to remember that the BERT update isn’t meant to affect websites — its purpose is to increase the quality of a search by improving the interpretation of complicated, long-tail search queries, understanding context, and ultimately, showing more relevant results to users. It does this by using a neural network and natural language processing (NLP) to recognize patterns and better understand how human beings communicate. 

So, instead of merely looking at each word in a search phrase, BERT allows Google to understand the subtle nuances of context and provide a user with more accurate and relevant search results.  For example, if a user is searching for “effective home remedies for the flu,” a content page that shares tips and home remedies for the flu is likely to rank higher than a page that merely sells a product as a home remedy. 

How Does BERT Affect Content Creation?

One of the most significant ways that BERT will impact SEO is through the way it pertains to content. For instance, since the release of the BERT update, low quality, poorly focused, or overly broad content has taken a hit in search results, and truly quality content has become more important than ever. Simply put, sites don’t rank well in SEO unless their content is:

  • High Quality 
  • User-Focused 
  • Intent-Focused  
  • Expert-Oriented 

Additionally, the focus on optimization has shifted to drafting high-quality and relevant content pieces. The key isn’t to optimize for BERT, instead, it is to build awesome content. This also happens to be wonderful and uplifting news for content creators! Now, we’re less concerned about having to write for machines and more focused on writing compelling, creative content that’s useful to searchers. Remember, a user’s needs generally fall into one of four broad categories that can be used as a starting point:


  • Informational 
  • Instructional
  • Navigational
  • Transactional 

BERT has taught us to think about the user’s needs and the best ways to satisfy them through content and functionality. This allows us to ensure that content is written with users in mind — not just inserting SEO keywords within the copy. With BERT, we can consider what users will need next and facilitate those journeys through powerful, well-researched, and engaging content. 

What Does the Future Hold for BERT?

We’re a little more than a year into the BERT update, and there are a few concepts that will continue to ring true in the not-so-distant future. For instance, laser-focused answers to specific queries will become even more crucial; giving users direct and complete answers to their questions and informational searches will continue to be valuable. 

Additionally, more content does not always equal better content. As mentioned in my recent blog, Extreme Makeover: Blog Edition, we are seeing the shift from quantity to quality continue in the form of blog updates. By going through your current blogs, tracking their performance, and refreshing them with keyword-rich, engaging, and compelling content or visual pieces, you can ensure that you’re providing the E-A-T (expertise, authority, and trustworthiness) that Google looks for in content, as well as offering a valuable, remarkable, and extraordinary experience for users and visitors to your site — there’s a reason why we say “Content Is King!”

For more information on how you can stay ahead of Google algorithm updates, SEO trends, or other cutting-edge digital marketing strategies, contact 1SEO Digital Agency today!

About the Author: 

Chris Shirlow is 1SEO’s Director of Content, and a self-proclaimed “Content Assassin.” He’s written international award-winning content and has a penchant for shooting fellow employees with Nerf guns. His favorite dish is porcelain.

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