How does Google BERT work, and should it shift your SEO Approach?


Google is frequently coming up with new updates, and in 2019, they launched BERT, which stands for Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers. So how different is this algorithm from all the rest they have introduced? Well, Google confirmed that in five years, the most significant update they have come up with is BERT. It affects one in ten queries asked by users.

 So BERT vows to answer the queries that you have on the search engine. The term BERT sounds complex, right. But it’s merely a way that Google uses to understand the finer details of the natural way we engage in conversations and ask questions. Therefore, we will delve into looking at how this model works and to what extent it affects your SEO strategy.

What is BERT, and how does it work? 

Google BERT

Before launching BERT as its primary algorithm, it was first used as an open neural network. Whereby any tech-savvy person could use it to come up with their customized question answering system. It was possible to determine the market trends, recognize patterns, and categorize image content using this neural network. That sounds like an exciting thing to do. But first, let’s look at how BERT works.

Google hasn’t always been the best at getting complicated search queries. And people who key in different words assume that Google will understand. However, Google misses out on some words in most cases. For example, before introducing BERT, one would type in the keywords “Jamaican traveler to Canada need a visa,” and Google would interpret it the other way round that the person wants to go to Jamaica. Thus, the result page would have guidelines on obtaining a Jamaican visa which, of course, does not answer the searchers’ query. So if you have experienced such, don’t fault them. They were still figuring out how to impress you, and now we are in a better place.

Using keywords to search for things on Google is known as keyword-ese, which for a long time Google has struggled to understand and deliver relevant results. Therefore, through natural language processing, BERT gathers the full language context of a word from a question asked by the user. After which, it looks at the terms present before or after it instead of focusing on one word at a time.

Natural language processing involves dealing with linguistics which enables the engine to understand how humans communicate.

Before adopting BERT as an algorithm, several tests were carried out. Primarily, check whether there was an improvement from before when they were using other models. For example, Google has used the phrase “math book for adults” to indicate the positive changes. Initially, the results would be math grade six or eight books. But currently, the result that appears at the top of the page is “math for grownups.” These search results indicate the strides Google has made by aligning the searcher’s intent with the results.

How did Google shift from matching keywords to keyword intent matching? 

For a long time, Google has been focusing on giving its users quality content. And in 2013, they introduced the refurbished hummingbird. Before it, Google’s determination of a quality page that deserved higher rankings depended on proper keyword optimization. If you had placed keywords on your topics, subheadings, and the body of the article, you would get higher rankings.

Hummingbird was adopted to give meaning to keywords and understand the context in which they were being used. Later in 2015, Google introduced a new algorithm known as the Rankbrain, their first artificial intelligence model. However, most people think BERT is a replacement for Rankbrain, which is not the case. The two supplement each other to meet the expectations of the users when they ask questions.   

Look at the trends of Google algorithm adoption. You will realize that they gradually shift from essential keyword matching to identifying the user’s intention when searching for information using keywords. Therefore it is safe to say that keyword intent matching is becoming a necessary part of modern-day SEO. Hence it would help if you kept up with these trends to ensure you are not left behind.

Should BERT change your SEO Outlook? 

SEO Outlook
Image by: Pxhere

No, not really. Google has for a long time been insisting that content creators should focus on their users, and then other things will fall into place. From hummingbird, rank brain, and now BERT, it is clear that Google focuses on giving its users a smooth experience. They have done so by creating inventions that read their users’ intent and gives them precisely what they want.

 The components of a modern-day SEO include both keyword matching and keyword intent matching. To produce relevant content that will rank higher, you need this two. Therefore, to succeed in your SEO, you need to follow in Google’s footsteps of putting your audience first before anything else.

You don’t need to go overboard with the optimization of your content. All you need is for Google and the users who visit your page to understand the content you have put out. 

Below are slight adjustments that will make your content in line with BERT;

  • Using proper grammar
  • Appropriate head formatting
  • Wire your questions to answers
  • Use short sentences to avoid being vague and wordy

Noteworthy, as you write your content, focus on the user intent. If an article is general, chances are it will not be helpful and will be ranked lowly.


The adoption of BERT will have an overall effect on search engine optimization. However, its main focus is to help Google understand the complex human language. Google has come up with these inventions to meet their user’s expectations. So it would be best if you also did the same to gain more traffic and rank better. You will not need to overhaul your whole website to get in line with BERT. You only have to make slight adjustments that will make your content more understandable.

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