Google is rolling out a new neural network-based search ranking system. That’s right – Google. The technology giant so big that its name has become synonymous with internet searches. (“Hang on honey, I’ll Google it.”) The update is called BERT, and it’s designed to better process natural language and return, of course, more relevant results for the searcher.
So what does this mean for you as a content writer? Does it mean that you have to rewrite every word on your website, and update it to the next generation of SEO optimisation? Fortunately, as with the rollout of their previous language processing engine, RankBrain, before this, that does not seem to be the case.
What about it, then? Can you optimise for BERT? Of course, Google gives us a hard “No.” This was the same response Google gave for RankBrain, when content writers were worried about how that would affect their placement on search lists.
It used to be the case when writers had to worry about the different way that a search engine would see something. You worried about searchers looking for “no frills solutions” missing your marketing site and getting bogged down in pictures of frill-less doilies. Well, to put it frankly, that was so two thousand and noughts. The days of tags and keywords are long gone.
Is this a bad thing? Maybe, for content writers, it isn’t. It means less wasting time worrying about SEO optimisation when writing, and instead, as Google has said for RandBrain, working on optimising content for users.
All that BERT will do is help people find what they’re actually looking for. How many electric cars would be sold if your site advertises “No gas needed to pass every car in the fast lane,” and someone gets there by querying “I’m passing a lot of gas.” Purely word-based search engines won’t understand the difference. BERT will.
So, let’s try to understand a little better how BERT works. On its site, Google gives the example of the query “Brazil traveller to USA need visa.” Now, no human is going to misunderstand this. Even though it’s written in English, the writer is obviously not American. The searcher is from Brazil.
Before BERT, this would have flagged keywords like “Brazil,” “USA,” and “traveller,” and returned, as the first result, a page about whether an American traveller needs a visa to go to Brazil. Not at all what the searcher was looking for! Google’s pride in BERT is that it can notice the subtleties of language, like the placement of the little word “to” in the above phrase, and understand how it completely changes the meaning of what’s being requested.
Great, you’re thinking. How does this affect me? The main way it will probably affect content writers is, perhaps ironically for an update to the world’s largest search engine, a shift away from the focus on searching and SEO optimisation that currently dominates the marketing and content writing fields. With technology like Bert, searchers won’t have to worry as much about keyword-based searches, or learn, as many of us did in the nineties, how to speak “keyboard-ese.” Rather than search for “Cawker City, Kansas really world’s biggest ball of twine,” searchers can use something much more natural, such as “Is the ball of twine in Cawker City, Kansas really the world’s biggest?”
So, is this the end of internet optimisation? Of course not! It may start a slow decline in search engine optimisation, but that only makes user optimisation so much more critical. Technology like Bert is going to help searchers find what they’re actually looking for. And, if your product or service fits that bill, then you’re going to want to be noticed. After all, isn’t that best for everyone involved? How many electric cars are sold to someone who really just wants an antacid?
As with all updates in technology, Google’s latest language-processing engine changes the way that content writers operate. But it doesn’t necessarily change it for the worse. Sure, gone are the days when simply knowing some tips and tricks for SEO could land you a cushy spot on the payroll. But here’s the good news. Less quirks of search engines means less quirks in your web content, words or paragraphs added just for your Google ranking, having little to do with what your company actually does. Say goodbye to those little flourishes!
Let’s try to envision the website of the future. Not just BERT, but other natural language processing has enabled machines to parse a query pretty much like a real human would. There are no shortcuts – no cheats.
So web content becomes, suddenly, a lot more compact. More direct. More to the point. Rather than writing for a search engine, content writers are starting a dialogue directly with the end user. The website will say, this is my product, and these are the advantages over other, similar players in the field. It won’t worry so much about how Google will rank it. Because, if the end user wants a product like yours, they will find it.
What this may ultimately herald in is a world where the content of websites doesn’t have to be altered with each update of our search engines. The search engines, and their place in web optimisation, disappear. BERT is helping with this. It’s helping usher in a brave new world where SEO isn’t the trademark of writing web content, and the word, “SEO,” maybe even ceases to exits. The best content writers won’t be the ones who write best for the search engines. They’ll be the ones who write best for the end users who are employing their products.
Is this a bad thing? Absolutely not! There’s still plenty of optimisation – making sure that users best understand what you offer, and how it can fit into their goals. But take out the middleman! Rather than design websites based on search engines and rankings, content writers will find ways to deliver material in ways that are direct and clear. How can this be a problem for content writers?