Last month, Google announced that BERT will be joining their team. 

Short for something long and complicated, BERT is basically artificial intelligence (AI) integrated into Google’s search algorithm.

If you’re not familiar with AI or how it works, it’s simply a term to describe the intelligence of machines. Programmed with certain algorithms, a computer system can “learn” by analysing mass amounts of data.

In Google’s case, BERT can analyse how people search and “learn” the words people use to describe a topic.

BERT is still in testing phase, but it won’t be long before it (he?) rules the search domain.  

What this change means for you

How many times have you heard the word “keyword” when it comes to content?

For years, keywords have been the primary focus of search engine optimisation (SEO) efforts, because that’s how Google’s search algorithm worked.

Let’s use a law firm in Canberra as an example. The managing partner calls me and says they’re re-doing their website and want to “rank well on search engines”.

I start by researching what words (aka keywords) people use when they search online for a law firm in Canberra. I might find:

  • law firm Canberra
  • Canberra law firms
  • lawyers Canberra
  • Canberra lawyers
  • Best lawyers in Canberra
  • Legal firms Canberra
  • I want to find a lawyer in Canberra
  • I need a lawyer in the ACT
  • Who is the best lawyer in the ACT?

And probably many more. But we’d choose the keywords that give us the best value (highest number of searches relative to the amount of competition for the keyword) and then use those keywords on select pages.

Ideally each page would maximise 1-2 keywords by including them in the title tag, meta description, headings and content.

Unfortunately up till now, the choice and placement of each word mattered a lot. You may rank first for “law firm Canberra” but on page 2 for “Canberra lawyers”.

This level of specificity has been a thorn in the backside of SEO companies for years, as they attempted to get their clients to page 1 for every keyword variation – usually with keyword-specific landing pages. These are pages that may not even be visible from a website’s navigation, but hone in on specific keywords so they turn up in search.

This approach is also expensive for clients, because they need to pay for all these extra web pages (and the content to go on them).   

The list of law firm search terms is also just a drop in the ocean. When you add suburbs to target location-specific search, or people use ACT instead of Canberra, or (worse) the company has a national presence, it gets ridiculously complex.

How BERT removes keyword obsession

BERT uses machine learning to understand the intent behind a user’s search.

So if I say “law firm Canberra” I could also mean “lawyers Canberra”, “ACT lawyers”, or even “legal help Canberra”. BERT understands this. It understands synonyms.

This is a huge leap forward and a big change to how many websites should approach their digital marketing.

Gone are the days when keywords reign supreme.

It’s all about topics now.

To stay relevant and be chosen in the new AI-powered search world, you must build valuable content around topics that align with your services.

The only time we want to use the word “keyword” is when we mean “the natural words my customers use to describe my service”. There will always be value in understanding these because when you use them in your content, your audience knows they’re in the right place at the right time. They can see that you offer what they need, which is essential to keeping them on the page long enough to learn your story.

The transition to BERT will also mean the way you write web copy is incredibly important.

Want to know why?

Contact me to learn more or find out how I can help your business in a post-BERT world.

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