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Google’s BERT Update Explained and Recovery Strategies

Contrary to what you might first think, Google’s BERT update has nothing to do with a beloved Sesame Street character. BERT: Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers. It’s a mouthful and for a good reason. BERT is Google’s Fall 2019 update, providing the search engine with the most advanced query interpretation on the market. BERT allows web crawlers to provide users with the most accurate and relevant results because the update understands the queries in context with nuance and pinpoint accuracy. BERT’s name is overwhelming, but understanding the update itself doesn’t have to be. We’ve broken it all down so you can understand what it is, what it does, and how to structure your SEO so that BERT works in your favor.

Launch Date: October 21, 2019

A fairly new update to Google’s algorithm, BERT began rolling out in late October for English-language queries.

What Google’s BERT Update Impacted

Google claims that Bert only affects one in ten searches on the engine. But, as a principle, you want to make every search count. BERT’s good thing is that it’s not one of Google’s updates that penalizes sites or pages. However, there are a couple of reasons why you might rank lower than your competitors:

Wrong Keywords

As with all SEO practices, keywords are crucial. If you have a very narrow list of keywords or keyword phrases that you’re ranking for, the BERT update will probably bypass you in favor of sites that have the keyword focuses that Google’s users are searching for.

Unnatural Content

BERT is one of the most advanced and progressive updates to Google’s algorithm. As a result, it’s able to discern both context and user intent better than ever. That means users can enter in a query exactly as they’d ask it, and BERT enables the web crawlers to understand the query and find content that will satisfy the user. If your content is written in an unnatural way or is cumbersome or full of jargon, chances are, you’re not going to like your page ranking.

How The BERT Update Works

BERT is a true revolution in how Google processes language and queries. The update is a neural network-based technique for natural language processing. In laymen’s terms, it gives Google greater ability to determine the context in its user’s queries and provides better interpretation of those queries—and better results.

In the past, Google would interpret a user’s query word by word. With the advent of the BERT update, the search engine can now parse the entire query phrase to provide more accurate search results. BERT reads query text in the same way a human would: as a whole thought, not as individual words. With BERT, context is king, which works out nicely for users because this update understands user intent better than any other update that has come before it.

How to Adjust Your SEO Strategy and Recover

As we said, you’re not going to be penalized with the BERT update. The focus is less on finding “bad” sites and downranking them and is more geared toward understanding user intent more clearly and more nuanced than ever. Still, there are small tweaks you can implement on your site and to your content to give yourself the best chances of ranking high with BERT.

Write Long-form Content

The goal of your SEO for content creation is to answer the questions that your audience is asking and provide the very best solution for their problems. One way to guarantee that you’ll be the best resource for them is to have enough quality long-form content on your page. In other words, have enough words so that your keywords and phrasing match the questions and queries users have.

Determine What is Causing Your Rank to Drop

If you’re taking care of your SEO yourself, you can use Google’s Search Console to see exactly where you’re landing as far as rankings are concerned. Using this tool, you can compare your rankings over time to see what specific keywords or queries are affecting your status.

While this is a helpful tool and practice, it may not necessarily be due to BERT that your rankings have changed. Google has multiple daily updates to its core algorithm because it’s on a constant quest to give users the best experience possible. Your fluctuations in ranking might be part of the natural ebb and flow of the massive—and ever-evolving—search engine that is Google.

Tweak Your Content

If you’re noticing that your rankings aren’t as high as you’d like them to be, try changing up your content. Answer a different question or answer the same question in a different way using different terms. Try addressing queries from a different perspective. Or try utilizing a different content type altogether—images, video, etc.


In short, BERT has made Google smarter and more humanlike. As our desire for and access to information grows and the information available to us is constantly expanding, having the BERT update to interpret our queries will give us the most satisfying results to date.