The Google BERT Update

“What do you mean?” This is Google’s ultimate and fundamental question. They want to answer your question. They want to provide the resource you need. They want to know what you really mean. The Google BERT update began the week of 28 October 2019 and is intended to answer that question.

Welcome “BERT”

The acronym stands for “Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers”. This update from Google is about understanding human language. It began to roll out last week. It uses A.I. (artificial intelligence) on a neural network powered by machine learning. Google already knows perfect grammar, spelling, and punctuation, but it needs to know lingo, intention, and meaning. That is what BERT studies and interprets.

“Bass” can mean the lowest male singing voice or a fish.
“Rose” can mean a flower, a color, a wine, or a cut.
BERT uses context to understand meaning.

The Impact of Google BERT

Instead of just trying to match keywords from the search to a website, BERT is trying to match your intent to a web result that gives the most relevant answer.

This is a big change! Google has said it is their biggest update of the last five years and will impact 10% of all searches in the English language. (Other major updates affected 2% – 5%.) The goal is to understand the meaning of longer, conversational queries such as:
“cost of a college degree in a job interview”
“credit report needed for car financing”
“2019 brazil traveler to usa need a visa”
“sale commission to real estate agent”
“do estheticians stand a lot at work”

This will impact:

Your SEO and BERT

Nathan Greenberg runs our SEO strategies and in his opinion BERT is going to negatively impact websites that employ “keyword stuffing”. He also believes it is going to impact image and video search as more ADA-compliant content is created utilizing ALT tags. For Arkside clients, no strategy change is necessary. We have not observed any negative impact on any client websites at this point from Google BERT!

Bottom line: It reinforces the need to write website copy for human readers instead of search engine bots.


Promises to Rank on Page 1 of Google

How to rank on the page 1 of Google is one of the most coveted and misunderstood business goals of the 21st century. The holy first page. 93% of the eyeballs never go to page 2. Business managers and owners understand its value. This has opened a huge market for disreputable companies to make false promises we see every day. They usually arrive via email and look something like this:

“We can put you on the first page of Google!”
“Our program will have you ranked on page 1!”
“This patented system guarantees you will be #1 on Google!”
“You will rank #1 on Google within 30 days!”

As a company that offers and specializes in digital marketing, we fully understand the importance of appearing on page 1 of Google. It can boost website traffic, enhance reputation, and improve sales. But it can be done in two very different ways: right or wrong. The right way is worth an investment. The wrong way should be avoided at all costs. This false “Page 1 Promise” can cost you dearly.

Continue reading and you will learn why any company (with one exception) is lying when they make this promise.

How Google Calculates Rank

Google has confirmed that there are approximately 200 ranking factors in the calculation of a page’s rank. This is a major reason reaching page 1 of Google isn’t easy. Once they are evaluated and broken down, there are perhaps 10,000 variations that are included in the Google ranking algorithm. Thankfully, Google has been kind enough earlier in 2016 to confirm it’s top three ranking factors:

1 & 2. Inbound links and content
3. RankBrain

Links and content are listed together because Google has never confirmed which is more important. Those two elements are vital but bad links or content can also result in penalties. We’ll cover those later in this post. They are directly related to the false promises of Google rankings.

RankBrain is a machine learning artificial intelligence program which evaluates searches and the results they generate. In 2013, Google stated that approximately 15% of the 3.3 billion searches it handles every day are something it has never seen before. RankBrain evaluates those searches and the results produced. Always keep in mind that Google’s top priority is to serve the most relevant results possible. RankBrain helps Google efficiently learn about new searches and better understand what the user is searching for.

What is the Google Algorithm?

The recipe for Coca-Cola.
The formula for WD-40.
The Google algorithm. (It is called “Hummingbird“.)
The calculation of a FICO score.

These are all highly coveted targets of corporate espionage. They are secrets. Only a select group of people in the world know any one of them. That secrecy is the primary reason any company (with one exception) claiming to know the Google algorithm is lying. That one exception is Google. Much like FICO is the only company that knows the full and accurate way a credit score is calculated, Google is the only company that knows every ranking factor and their importance. It is rumored that less than 10 people at Google actually have this information. The rest of us are making educated guesses – some more educated than others.

Millions of dollars are spent every year by companies around the world trying to determine how to rank a webpage. The entire search engine optimization (SEO) industry is devoted almost entirely to this pursuit. For any company to claim they can guarantee first page ranking, they would need to know the algorithm.

They don’t.

An important element of the Google ranking system is called PageRank. It is an algorithm within the algorithm that ranks webpages within the search results. Its primary factor are inbound links to a site. As mentioned above, links are one of the top two ranking factors so the PageRank algorithm is vital to a site’s appearance on page one of Google. PageRank is also a primary means of dishing out penalties from Google.

Google Penalties

BMW logoBeyond the secrecy surrounding their algorithm, Google is very serious when it comes to people who try to “game the system”. Remember Google’s top priority? They don’t take kindly to people who intentionally manipulate the organic search results to circumvent search results. Such efforts have a material impact on Google’s quality. They publish Webmaster Guidelines which, when violated, can result in serious damage to a webpage’s ranking.

Google’s most notable penalty is a loss of PageRank. When Google discovers “black hat” SEO techniques such as artificial blog networks or paid links, it usually responds with a corresponding loss of PageRank. This has happened to companies such as BMW and even Google’s own Chrome browser website. The loss of PageRank -which, in some cases, goes to zero- can be coupled with the complete removal from search results of the offending blog network or site with paid links.

Companies that suffer Google penalties have reported loss of website traffic, loss of revenue, and a long climb back to page 1 of Google. Companies like BeatTheQuote.com, JCPenney, and Rap Genius (lost 700,000 visitors a day!) have all had to endure Google penalties.

SEO Best Practices

Obviously, you should not be buying links, using black hat blog networks, or keyword stuffing your webpages.

Focus on creating content that is valuable to your audience(s). Educate and entertain to earn visits and time. Doing so requires a deep understanding of your market.  The best SEO is organic value in the content you create. Blogs are an excellent means of regularly updating your website while providing educational or entertaining information. Pages (along with your blog posts) should be updated when needed, consist mostly of text, and include images as visual support or illustration for the material presented.

Google has a guide: ask yourself “would I do this if search engines didn’t exist?” While this shouldn’t be taken literally, it should be considered whenever an SEO strategy is proposed.

Next Step to Reach Page 1 of Google

If you would like to have your current website analyzed and SEO strategy created or evaluated, contact an Arkside specialist today. Our team can provide you with objective insight, identify unrealized opportunities, and present effective strategies that maximize your search engine presence.