BERT is here: Google’s latest search algorithm can better understand natural language
A new article on Marketing Land reports on the arrival of BERT, which is Google’s neural network-based technique for natural language processing (NLP) pre-training. BERT stands for Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers.
BERT is kind of a big deal. This is the biggest change to Google’s search engine system since RankBrain, which happened nearly five years ago. The company says BERT will impact about one in every ten queries and influence how results rank.
BERT is already here, working quietly in the background. It started rolling out this week and will be going fully live soon. So far, the rollout is for English language queries, but that will be expanding to other languages in the future.
There is more detail about Bert – which was open-sourced last year - on the Google AI Blog. Put simply, BERT is designed to help computers understand language in a way more akin to humans. It does this by having an improved understanding of the nuances and contexts connected with written language, and the idea is to come up with more relevant search results.
The following screenshots illustrate what BERT does. In the below example, the technique displays an improved understanding of the word ‘stand’ in this context.
Below, Google better understands: “Can you get medicine for someone pharmacy.” The results displayed are closer to how a human might answer the same question.
In the case of a query which asks about, “Parking on a hill with no curb.” Google says BERT helps it understand the importance of the word ‘no’ within the text, saying that in the past, “We placed too much importance on the word “curb” and ignored the word “no,” not understanding how critical that word was to appropriately responding to this query. So we’d return results for parking on a hill with a curb.”
BERT won’t be replacing RankBrain, but it will be improving the way the search engine works. RankBrain will continue to be employed for some queries and BERT will kick in when Google sees fit.
So, for Warrior Forum members who work with optimization, the burning question will be: “Can I optimize for BERT?” Google says no. However, it is going to be well worth you checking on the flow of your search engine traffic next week – just in case you notice pages which may have been affected by the change.