Latest Major Google Algorithm Update: BERT

Spoiler Alert: This is meant to be an “executive summary” designed to explain why the latest major Google algorithm update may be affecting your rankings. However, we in the SEO industry have seen wide fluctuations in rankings. So far, all of our rankings have come back at least once, but we continue to see volatility in rankings and traffic.

My Best Advice is to review your content and wait it out!

What is the BERT Algorithm?

Google has open sourced this technology, and others have created variations of BERT.”

The BERT algorithm (Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers) is a deep learning algorithm related to natural language processing. It helps a machine to understand what words in a sentence mean, but with all the nuances of context. In other words, it is evaluating text for better responses to search for words that sound the same but have different meanings (ie. Too and Two) or words that are the same but have different meanings (ie. Sand (the substance) and Sand (the verb)). This is clearly applicable to improving voice search and therefore, impacts not only core keywords, but also long-tailed keywords in SEO.

BERT And On Page SEO

BERT will certainly not help sites with poorly defined or poorly written content. Again, another sign that in the eyes of Google, “content is King”. Google’s BERT Update improves how Google understands search queries. BERT analyzes search queries, not web pages. On Page SEO becomes more important in terms of using words in precise ways. Poorly organized and written content may not be helped by the Google BERT update.

You Cannot Optimize For BERT

Danny Sullivan of Google, who used to and SEO expert in the private sector and seems to be a pretty straight shooter is quoted as follows:

“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.”

Conclusion: BERT is an extremely complex and advanced piece of machine learning. I would not presume to be able to describe it in anything but the most broad of terms, and that is what I have done here.


  1.  Most, if not all, of the websites that we work on are experiencing fluctuations, if not major fluctuations, in rankings over the past couple of weeks. All have returned to former rankings at least temporarily during this time. All of them have custom content.
  2. Google will continue to take steps to ensure that websites that have great rankings also possess great content. This is nothing new in policy, but may be raising the bar in standards.
  3. I have rarely seen a client who did not gain the rewards of an improved content strategy. Those rewards come in terms of search engine placement, increased traffic, increased engagement and increased conversion. There is no practical reason to try to outsmart an algorithm-provide unique and valuable content to your users.

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