Image of a person on a smartphone conducting a Google search on a phone in front of a computer showing Google on screen.Their words, not mine. To be more specific, Google VP, Pandu Nayak went on to call a recent update to their search technology their “biggest leap forward in the past five years.” They do this so rarely, as SEO’s we are often surprised whenever Google makes an announcement about technology changes that affect their search results. Even more interesting is Google’s claim of just how important BERT will be.

BERT (Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers) is a form of artificial intelligence enabling the search engine to better understand the relationships between elements of a language in a search term. Simply stated: BERT is designed to return more accurate results for conversational search queries. Users have become more comfortable using voice search on their mobile phones and smart speakers. Queries are increasingly different when submitted by voice as compared to being typed manually. For example, when using voice search while traveling last week, I asked for a “pharmacy between Terrace airport and the Holiday Inn.” Had I been searching on my laptop I would’ve typed, “pharmacy” and Google would then finish the query by prompting me to include, “near me” (and I would have). That’s a relatively straightforward query and it’s likely Google had the answer before I hit the return key. These are two ways users arrive at the same result but each requires a different process by Google. Since Google introduced the Knowledge Graph system in 2012, the Hummingbird algorithm update in 2013, and RankBrain in 2015 they have been preparing for the moment when the combination of smartphone penetration and voice search hit a tipping point. It is no surprise comScore estimates voice search will represent 50% of all queries in 2020.

We are just a week from the announcement and only a small percent of queries have been impacted, 1 in 10 by Google’s estimate. We have not seen unusual volatility in our client’s SERPs and I don’t predict we will. We have been focused on helping our clients increase the pace of high-quality content on their websites. Understanding the intent of our client’s website visitors, predicting the answers they are seeking with useful, unique and engaging content is critical. This announcement does not require a departure from the work we are already doing as SEOs helping our clients maximize their visibility in the search results. It simply means we need to do more of it.

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