What Google's BERT update means for finance marketers

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Hey Bert..
By Annabel Hodges, contributor. 12 November, 2019
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On 24 Oct 2019, Google announced that it was rolling out its latest algorithm update, known as BERT. This update adds AI into the algorithm with the aim of helping the search giant better understand the intent behind users’ search queries and so return more relevant results. Google’s BERT update is said to be the most significant Google update in the last 5 years; but how will it affect finance marketers?

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What is Google BERT?

BERT stands for Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers, it is a natural-language processing system designed to help Google improve its understanding of the context of words in search queries. With BERT, Google is able to better understand the nuances and context of words in searches and match those queries with more relevant results.

With BERT, Google is able to better understand the nuances and context of words in searches and match those queries with more relevant results.

Although Google announced the update on 24 October 2019, the company confirmed that the roll-out had started from the week of October 21 and is now live in the USA for English-language search queries and featured snippets. BERT is now impacting 1 in 10 search queries in the US. This will continue to roll out across other countries and languages, although there is no definitive calendar on when this will happen as yet.

Why is Google’s BERT update so major?

While traditional SEO has been reliant on understanding ‘keywords’, BERT is all about understanding more conversational search queries. As the official Google post explains:

“Particularly for longer, more conversational queries, or searches where prepositions like “for” and “to” matter a lot to the meaning, Search will be able to understand the context of the words in your query. You can search in a way that feels natural for you.”

Being bidirectional means BERT helps Google read the entire search query as a single entity, understanding the context of the keywords based on the entire phrase (so taking into account both left and right of the keyword).

Google is yet to provide any finance-specific examples but you can see from the more general examples they have provided that these context nuances can have a significant impact on the search results returned:

What Google’s BERT update means for finance marketers

What Google’s BERT update means for finance marketers

How can finance marketers optimise content for Google's BERT update?

Unlike other core algorithm updates, there is no ‘penalty’ aspect to the BERT update, rather it is only designed to better understand search queries and user intent. The impact of BERT on search queries will also likely be unpredictable as it is focused on user interactions; which are difficult to pre-empt. Therefore it is not possible to ‘optimise’ for this update per se. However, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be taking BERT into account across your financial content marketing. When producing content:

  1. Write with your target audience in mind. Natural and relevant language, limited jargon, appropriate research and strong knowledge of both your topic and your audience are as vital as ever. Financial content, in particular, can be jargon-heavy, so understanding how your audience searches your topic is crucial.
  2. BERT affects both standard search results and featured snippets so ensure your content takes both into consideration.
  3. Pay attention to the ‘People also ask’ section of the search results. It’s a great way to better understand the context around your key search phrases, and the related content you should ensure you are also covering.

Being so recent an update it’s hard to gauge the full impact of BERT. But in our minds, anything that encourages finance brands to communicate with customers in a natural and human way, keeping audience intent front of mind, is undeniably a good thing. Beyond optimisation, focus on answering your users’ questions, and give your audience the content they are looking for. Unsure who exactly your audience is and how you should be communicating with them? We can help, get in touch.

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Annabel is a digital marketer and seasoned writer with 15 years' experience working with global agencies and finance brands. With a particular love for SEO, analytics and all things data; Annabel draws on her industry experience and enjoys writing about growth and marketing solutions that tackle the challenges of finance marketing in a holistic manner.