BERT SEO Strategies
If you’ve been keeping up with the world of SEO and Google, you may have heard about this “BERT” update Google rolled out in late 2019.
Because Google is constantly updating its algorithms, the thing shouldn’t come as a surprise, but BERT is something new compared to previous updates as it relates to a machine’s understanding of human language.
But let’s see the details of it and why it matters to SEO.
What Is BERT?
BERT is an algorithm update that Google introduced in October 2019. The name is an acronym that stands for Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers and Google uses it to better understand human language and the contextual use of terms in content.
That means that the BERT update affects both web search and voice search, as understanding context and the intent of both words in content and voice queries is at the core of it.
Note that when we talk about context here, we refer to the text surrounding target words.
For a more technical overview of BERT, watch DeepCrawl’s 2019 webinar on Understanding Natural Language Processing and BERT for Search.
Can You Optimize for BERT? (Yes, in 9 Ways)
In other words, given the nature of this update, does it make sense to speak of ‘BERT SEO’?
The short answer is YES — there are areas where you can make improvements for BERT to better understand your content.
We’ll explore these areas in 9 points, some of which come from the expertise of a number of SEO professionals we interviewed through HelpAReporter.com.
1. Good Grammar and Sentence Construction
Because BERT helps Google to understand the meaning of words in queries (intent) and content based on context, it’s critical to be as precise as possible in sentence construction in your content and to review your grammar to perfection.
It may help to have someone else review your content, as it’s hard for the one who writes to catch every typo and awkward sentence construction.
2. A New Way to Look at Keywords
With the introduction of BERT, keywords stay relevant but they’re no longer to be taken as exact-match terms to be found in the text. Rather, they can and should be seen as topics that your text is built around.
This doesn’t change things in practice: you will still use keywords in your content, but you no longer have to worry to reach a certain density or to use the keywords “as is”.
Something to pay attention to is the context around your keywords. Alex Kehoe, Co-Founder & Operations Director at Caveni Digital Solutions, says:
“Position keywords with high context sentences that are historically associated with your desired keyword. For example, if you wanted to target, “Jogging in Minnesota” you may also include sentences about miles, kilometres, or running shoes. All of these phrases and discussions about them will increase the contextual relevance of your, “Jogging in Minnesota” keyword phrase. Topic and associative relevance is the best way to use BERT to your advantage.”
Using specific words for your topic in a certain frequency is also another BERT SEO best practice, as Karolina Gawron, Head of Marketing at Surfer, explains:
“To help Google understand your answer is the best in SERP, you have to use specific words in a specific frequency. Smart usage of entities (nouns like people and places) from Google NLP (Natural Language Processing) API is the best guarantee your content is the most relevant to the main keyword.
For example, if you write for the “tasty breakfast”, phrases like “morning”, “coffee”, “fried eggs” will be highly relevant to the query. Words like “evening”, “dinner”, “potato chips” will not be relevant to the topic.”
How to figure out which phrases are relevant to your topic? Gawron says you can “analyze top-performing pages in SERP with Google demo API or use on-page optimization tools to get the phrases picked by their algorithm with the right density.”
Image kindly contributed by Karolina Gawron
Girdharee Saran, Head of Digital Marketing at MyAdvo Techserve Private Limited, says:
“[Use the] “People also ask” section because these are all long sentence queries and coming directly from people, you can get better results by answering these queries directly in your content. If you include a well-thought answer to these queries and also add FAQ schema, it will add to the understanding of the search engine. Not sure if this can be categorized as a BERT update but using this strategy, we are able to gain more visibility to our content. Also for a few questions, Google picked up our newly written answers.”
As Stacy Caprio, Marketing for AcneScar.org, says:
“These keywords are generated using Google’s semantic algorithms as related to your target keyword and you should include them in your content so Google’s BERT algorithm recognizes your content as inclusive and complete.”
3. Focus On Users Rather Than On Search Engines
With BERT, you can focus on answering your audience’s problems more than having a good number of keyword repetitions in your content.
That results in a switch of focus from optimizing for the search engine to optimizing for users.
It’s nothing new at its core, as websites are built for users and not for search engines, but having to rely less on keywords actually frees up your resources to give more to users and spend less on On-Page SEO.
4. Use a Table of Contents
John Matyasovsky, Digital Marketing Specialist at Roofing SEO Webmasters, says:
“Including a linkable TOC helps define the entities (i.e.: topics instead of exact match queries). Since each topic has sub-topics, the organized TOC helps define the context of the language. It also exists for user navigation, which indicates a user-focus.”
There are a number of TOC plugins you can use if your website runs on WordPress, a handy and easy-to-install example being LuckyWP Table of Contents.
5. Use Topic Clusters
International SEO consultant, speaker, blogger Milosz Krasiński explains in detail:
“A Topic Cluster refers to multiple pieces of content which are lumped together by way of a shared topic or sub-topic. These pieces of content will, together, form a comprehensive overview of that particular topic and will provide more than enough to satisfy searches.”
An example of this is a long-form content piece containing several sub-topics of the same topic, in the effort to provide a comprehensive guide for the user to read and put to use.
Krasiński explains how Topic Clusters can help you optimize for BERT:
“It’s a known fact that being visible for an actual topic is much more effective than being visible for just a keyword or phrase. As BERT is all about the context, therefore, it makes perfect sense that by using these clusters, you can create signals for search engines and optimise your SEO – even when it comes to the mega-fussy BERT.”
The way you present content to your users users can make or miss your content performance in the SERPs.
Niles Koenigsberg, Digital Marketing Specialist at FiG Advertising + Marketing, explains:
“As voice search has steadily risen over the past decade, it has become clear that this trend will be sticking around. BERT is just one of the ways that Google is working to capitalize upon voice search by honing in on the complex details of conversational language. For that reason, it would be wise to slightly adjust the content on your site to sound more natural and organic.
It would also be wise of you to rework your content and make it more simple and succinct. The BERT update is designed to help Google focus on the context of the words used inside of the sentences in your content. That means you shouldn’t beat around the bush with your blogs and site content, and instead focus on being straightforward, direct, and insightful. Try to avoid using unnecessary words that just fluff up your content and increases the reading difficulty. Word count is still important for ranking metrics, but it’s not as important as providing new and useful information.”
In other words, get to the point with your content, using as many relevant words as the topic necessitates.
7. Have an FAQ section on your website
This optimization was proposed by Tarun Gurang, Sr. Digital Marketer at iFour Technolab Pvt. Ltd. who says an FAQ section on your website is “helpful for the users and generate traffic to the website. Also, the FAQ section consists of all three sections grammar, sentence construction, and the keywords as topics with the form of LSI.”
“And the major benefit of using the FAQ is to provide appealing content for your targeted audience which they want or are looking for. I am sure by doing this, you will see a significant improvement in terms of traffic and keywords ranking for any website.”
8. Pay Attention to User Intent
User intent is “what a user is looking for when they conduct a search query”, says Riddhi Khatri, SEO Executive at Elsner Technologies Pvt. Ltd.
“Google’s BERT is itself an AI framework. It will learn every new information that it gets. The main purpose of BERT is to help google to understand user search intent and the other way to optimize for BERT is optimizing for user intent.
To optimize your website for user intent, identify the user queries that they are searching for, understand those queries and then research your targeted keywords.
Focus on the user before generating content that they want to see or read when they search for their queries. When you write content ask yourself, “Can my readers find what they are looking for in my content?””
9. Contextual Backlinks
Backlinks may be another area where you can optimize for BERT, according to Subro Chakraborty, Co-founder at InfluRocket:
“Topical backlinks are essential from a BERT perspective. If your page has anchor texts that are irrelevant to your topic or the backlinking page doesn’t have contextual content, that backlink might even hurt you as google will consider it spam.”
Conclusion on BERT SEO
According to Google there isn’t much to optimize for BERT, but as we saw in this article, there are actually a few things you can optimize can make your content perform better in Google.
The key takeaway is that BERT SEO is all about On-Page SEO, specifically about the quality of your content and how much effort you put forward to make sure it’s easy to read, conversational, grammatically correct and on-point with the topic you’re tackling.
How has your content been performing since BERT?