There’s been a number of news stories about the BERT update from Google.
These were followed by a slew of other stories about how the previous ones were misleading.
If we go back several years to what was a very big announcement from Google – they turned on something they called RankBrain. At the time it was a new system and approach to search engine optimisation. They were using artificial intelligence to try to read webpages more like a human (actual visitors) would.
It was such a big deal because context suddenly became very important. The days of simply matching how many times you used certain keywords in your content against searches were over – it was crucial to write informative, useful content.
(That seems like a non-brainer anyway – content should always be useful and informative.)
But it was the beginning of the end for the concept of ‘how many keywords you can rank for’, or ‘just say this three times and you’ll rank really highly’.
In the years following Google has made all kinds of similar small updates to improve that system. They’re committed to returning useful well-written, informative results; and they’ve regularly made changes to their algorithm to further that aim.
The BERT SEO update
The BERT update really just pushes that to the next level. ‘Pattern matching’ for specific phrases isn’t enough anymore, not by a long shot.
Fortunately this is all in line with what I’ve been saying for years – don’t just write to specific words (whether they’re ‘long tail’ or something else, the concept of expecting a certain amount of repetition to rock your SEO isn’t valid) – rather write well thought out content that explains what you’re trying to say.
(This is why some of the recent news stories about BERT backtracked about how important it was – because while it is important – it’s just a continuation of the same direction Google’s been going for a long time.)
To give you an example. You’d think the key with my own site is to mention SEO a lot. That’s easy to do – but harder to do in a way that makes it clear to the reader that I’m an authority on the subject, and even harder to impart useful information that might entice people back to my blog.
Simply repeating keywords is essentially keyword stuffing and Google knows it.
My recommendation for writing content hasn’t changed. Write to your audience, not to search engines. If you’re writing an about page then write about what you do and how you help people. Useful, natural words and phrases will come out of that anyway.
Your visitors – and increasingly your search engine ranking – will thank you for it.
Why context matters so much for SEO
As search engines continue to prepare for voice search being used more often (voice searches are usually quite conversational in their wording) context becomes more important.
To give a really basically example, let’s think about a site that may have been a review for a florist. Even if the content said something negative, for example “What a rubbish florist”, previously it would have helped rank for the search query ‘florist’. Increasingly Google can understand the negativity there and is less likely to present that site to someone who clearly wants to find a reputable local florist.
That really is a very basic example, but context is so important.
What needs changing for your WordPress SEO
As a WordPress SEO expert every change and update to SEO algorithms always comes back to the same question, “How does this impact WordPress SEO?” The answer in this case is very little. Unlike structured data or other updates that necessitate coding changes to your site, this really is all about content.
Fortunately WordPress itself is all about content and the ease of editing or creating it – so that’s a real boon. It’s easy to edit your site’s content to make it as contextual, human readable and useful as possible.
But there is no immediate need to jump in add or remove any plugins or systems.