Google's most recent large algorithm update is based on BERT: Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers. Simply put, the algorithm shows how machine learning has evolved sufficiently for search engines to be able to complete natural language processing tasks.

BERT means that Google can understand the language that users type into the search bar as if it was human. Well, almost! BERT means that Google can now understand the nuance of language better than before. It is able to predict the words surrounding the search term, which is what depicts a user's intent.

BERT makes it more possible for Google to understand the behavioural intent of the query, rather than only understanding the word that is typed into the search bar. This is important for the evolution and increasing use of voice search, which is made possible by Siri and Alexa.

BERT isn't quite superhuman; there are some things it can't yet do. For example, BERT isn't good at negation diagnostics, which means that it is not very good at understanding what things are not. For example, if you type in 'rottweiler', Google suggests 'puppy', 'dog', and 'attack', but it doesn't suggest 'not a cat'. 

So what does this mean for businesses working hard to stay at the top of their Google game? Well, while Google is working harder than ever to achieve a set of results that make sense for the searcher, there is greater pressure on brands to adjust their content strategies if they want to be top of the SERP or snack pack.

Authorities on the topic of Google and the algorithm changes have said that BERT is the death of SEO and that Google can’t be gamed any more. They maintain that the only way to keep at the top of the page is to write great content; you need to make sure that your content strategy applies the same approach as it always has because it's always worked.

When you're seasoned in search, you can spot incoming trends — even in how Google adapts its algorithms. Mickey Llew anticipated many of the changes that BERT brought about and planned for them by adapting content for one of its clients.

Once BERT was brought into play in October 2019, this client was insulated from changes in the ranking system and maintained its strong search results, while other similar organisations fell down the ratings.

Brands wanting to keep those premium search result positions must therefore change their approach, moving away from creating content that they think their clients will find relevant. They need to offer content that answers the questions that their potential and existing clients want answered. It most often takes an agency with experience in SEO to identify those questions, who are able to track patterns and search behaviours to align themselves.

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