** This article is updated regularly. It was last updated in April 2021 **
It’s been two years since Google BERT was integrated into search engine algorithms, in November of 2019. Since then, it’s been understanding searches through a vigorous crawling process, and integration of Google spiders and bots. This made it more capable of “reading” and “understanding” website content almost like humans.
BERT stands for Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers and it has revolutionized searches online, translation and will soon reach directly into the realm of websites. SEO experts have changed their methods before and after BERT was implemented, allowing for the increased changes in Google’s SEO algorithms.
With BERT’s increased understanding, you can look to translation to understand the changes BERT has brought about, especially in terms of machine and human translation, and certain sectors as translation services. This article takes a look at that.
Google BERT and Its Background in Translation
BERT is built on the back of the transformer, which is a neural network architecture created for NLP or natural language processing. BERT has thoroughly beaten more traditional NLP models in both English to French and English to German translation tasks.
One additional standard is the Stanford Question Answering Dataset (SquAD) which is made up of questions to determine the NLP capacity, BERT even surpassed human accuracy rates, scoring 93.2% accuracy where human translations scored 91.2%.
Does this mean that human translators or translation services will soon be left by the wayside? While that day may eventually come around, at present translation by machine is still severely restricted, most notably in areas like figurative speech and localized vernacular and expressions.
While it presently works very well for translating large volumes of data, machine post editing, or more specifically, human translators from translation services are still necessary to finalize the translation.
BERT was released as open-source long before it was introduced into the actual search engines. While there has been amazing progress in some areas by such prestigious Ivy League universities as Cornell, at the end of the day, humans still seem far more capable of providing translation services, which revitalizes machine learning with language acquisition,that are more accurate and complete. In terms of search engine optimization, however, as may have been noted during the May 2020 Google updates, BERT will soon revolutionize search engine optimization or SEO and the approach to small business marketing online.
Google Bert and Its Impact on SEO
Google has estimated that the BERT updates will directly impact 10% of all search engine results, and while important, that is only a part of the outcome that is relevant to small businesses and SEO experts. The latest Google updates have caused many SEO professionals to reconsider how they do business and website owners to rethink their content marketing campaigns.
BERT is exceptionally adept at “understanding” language more similar to humans and as such, makes it much more capable in determining the search intent of people using the search engine. Google was quick to take advantage of this, not only in terms of the actual search results but also through the inclusion of additional “features” on the search page.
Among the many features of Google are paid advertisements, of course, reviews, featured snippets, the knowledge panel, related questions and other inclusions that make it substantially more busy for the searchers, and also more competition even for the top ranking websites.
There were some types of websites that have experienced more radical results from the BERT implementation. There is a complete list on the Search Engine Journal website where it notes that among them were sites focusing on history, natural and traditional medicine, news, music and entertainment; and perhaps most notably here, for small businesses and local business websites.
What Google BERT Means for Small Business
There is a page called SE Roundtable that lists all of the ongoing Google Updates and reports extensively on their impact on various websites. Of particular interest is one conversation pertaining to the May 2020 update and the apparent presence of a “bug” in the update that created adverse results for many local small businesses.
There seems to have been some speculation that this bug was specifically limited to local car dealerships, though further testimony from numerous SEO experts clearly showed that this bug was in fact not ultimately a bug and proved detrimental to a great many local business interests.
While this has been largely sorted out, it would appear that the stabilization of localized search results was as much a result of continued and deeper integration of BERT into the search engine algorithms and others were the result of changes in the practices of SEO for many of these local small businesses.
The Future of BERT and Small Business SEO
Many people have questioned how they can optimize their website content in order to maximize the benefits from the Google BERT updates. Perhaps one of the most wonderful things about the future of SEO and local business content marketing online, is that there is no need to optimize content for BERT.
Small businesses and SEO experts alike need to rethink their content marketing but for their readers and not for the search engines. If there is any tactic that would benefit in terms of SEO, it would be query-related content.
Search engine queries are the actual words, phrases, and questions being asked on the search engines. For the sake of brevity, the results from Ahrefs will be considered, where they list four different and distinct types of search engine queries.
What Are The Different Types of Search Engine Queries?
- Navigational search engine queries
- Informational search engine queries
- Commercial Investigative search engine queries
- Transactional search engine queries
Navigational search engine queries are where the searcher is merely looking for a URL or universal request location, more commonly known as a website address. These should not be mistaken for transactional search queries where the searcher is seeking out directions to a particular store in order to make their final purchase. These results should also be fairly common to the website and not require any specific focus by either SEO experts or the small business online operations.
Informational search engine queries are just that, used by viewers who are seeking out specific information. Some of these informational queries will be immediately answered in one of the many search engine features that were noted before.
If someone searches for the current time in New York City, for example, the answer will come up immediately on the SERP and there is no reason for the search to progress any further. These types of informational queries have a very low click-through rate and focusing on these types of queries is not likely to result in any increased website traffic.
The SEO expert should determine what the common and relevant queries are being searched in any given area, and the small business should focus on an international, multilingual approach to providing answers to those queries in their content marketing campaigns.
The content should then focus on providing meaningful and relevant resolutions for these queries. Ideally, the content should point to the fact that their product or service offers a viable answer to the question being asked. This process should ultimately direct the potential customer into a sales funnel.
Commercial investigative search engine queries are those where the searcher needs to find a particular service or product but have not yet determined the best products or services to meet their needs. This is where queries such as “what are the best translation services online” and similar questions will be asked of the search engines. These types of queries are why the SEO experts and small businesses may want to focus on “listicles” and other review type content for their site.
These types of viewers are the ones that are ready to purchase and who can be more easily directed to a well-planned sales funnel on the website. Look for this type of content to become increasingly popular and common for increasing rankings on the SERP, especially if it keeps the readers on the page long enough to read the entire article. This on-page time will be an increasingly important part of the new ranking factors by Google. SEO experts and small business owners should focus this content on overcoming any objections and leading the reader and soon-to-be consumer to the sales page or the buy now buttons.
Transactional search engine queries are those where the viewer knows the product or service they will be purchasing and are looking for the best price or location to purchase that product or service.
In the near future, look for the quality of content and the ability of content to directly answer search queries to become increasingly important as opposed to a focus on keyword content. On a side note, albeit a very important one; look for translation services and other services to expand as we expand into a more global digital environment and people recognize the ability to gain tens of millions of viewers with very little direct competition.