The Google BERT Update Felt Small But Was Big

Oct 29, 2019 • 8:24 am | comments (15) by | Filed Under Google Search Engine Optimization

Bert Ernie

As you know, I watch the SEO community closely. I also watch Google algorithm update chatter and signals closely. When I was reporting about those Google updates last week, they seemed on the weaker side, but then Google announced BERT rolled out throughout last week and it was a massive update.

The question is how? How could Google say this was a significant update impacting about 10% of all searches when this update felt smaller than a core update or Penguin or Panda update? I got into this question in my story at Search Engine Land named Why you may not have noticed the Google BERT update.

In short - Google updates like core updates and Panda, Penguins and the like, are specifically designed to improve search quality and go after methods that try to abuse search quality. Penguin went after link manipulation efforts, Panda went after content manipulation efforts and core updates look at quality issues overall.

BERT is more about understanding more longer tail, natural language queries. These longer tail queries are queries that SEOs don't target as much in a heavy way. Longer tail queries send less traffic to sites when compared to short-tail queries and SEOs generally track them less. So if you drop in rankings for a long tail query that sends you 10 visits per day from Google search, it is a lot less noticeable than dropping in rankings for a short tail query that sends you 1,000 visits per day from Google search.

In addition to that, many keyword tracking tools, like Moz, track shorter keywords. And since BERT was focused on longer queries, these tools didn't really pick up on it as much as Dr. Pete Meyers said on Twitter:

Put the two together - (1) traffic not dropping or rising much with this BERT update and (2) keyword trackers not looking at the longer tail keywords and you don't see much of an update.

But Google says 10%, and I suspect this means searchers are searching in a more long tail manner. Especially via Google Assistant I would assume. Is it 10%? Do you type in long keyword phrases? I don't. But I suspect many do now?

Again, if you look at the tracking tools and the chatter from my previous two posts - you would not see significant chatter or tool volatility and I believe it is the long tail vs short tail that explains it.

Forum discussion at Twitter.

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