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Google's BERT - how will this change SEO?

Who’s BERT and why do I care?

BERT is the banana-looking guy on Sesame Street, but for our purposes, he is new math from Google. You care because Google's BERT is making search results more accurate. One of the most important benefits from BERT is that meaningful content that may live further down your web page, inside your third or fourth paragraph, might actually pop up in search results in response to a user query.

Not just the title, or a sub-head, or a keyword, but some formerly obscure sentence that deals specifically with a user question, that you would have NEVER put in as a heading because you didn’t think anyone would ever search for it.

BERT is an algorithm

It’s a result of the AI (Artificial Intelligence) work being done by Google, in their efforts to make the search process more accurate. It’s basically the thing that allowed Google to start looking at words in context, or in relationships with each other, instead of just one word at a time. They have stated they are now indexing phrases. That's a big step forward, because they mean so much more than a single word ever could.

How does this change SEO?

BERT might impact how websites should be written. It’s a little early to tell, but we don’t think the change will be that big, at least for now. Google says it will only impact about 7% of queries on launch, but that will increase with time. However, it might mean we have to dig a little more in our research, going deeper into understanding what people are searching for as phrases. And maybe, not hesitating to include more detail for fear no one will ever read it, because BERT probably will.

Content Structure

We still see content structures as we have, in “silos” or buckets related to a single subject, or closely related subjects, because that’s what makes the most sense to a reader. If we want to know more about hex nuts, don’t clutter our thinking with bolts. Just the nuts, please. But, because BERT will be able to use phrases from deep in the page to respond to a query, pages could be built with more factual detail to answer more meaningful or exact queries.


Google has stated they will utilize phrases as snippets, which would save time for a lot of user queries. The possible downside to that is that users may be happy enough with the snippet that they don't click on the web page to read further. This potential negative, which is something Google has been doing for a few years already, has already been documented. Here's one example from AHREFS.

Web pages full of marketing fluff, no matter how well tagged and keyword-packed, won’t be able to keep up with a more focused, informative page of content, even if it’s long. So the folks that have always said “just write good content” will become a little more right.


Reliance on keywords may change, but I wouldn’t risk that yet. It’s too soon. They still work, although titles and headings may decrease in importance.

Overall, we think traditional SEO will be around quite a while. A few techniques may change, but good writing, good imagination, originality, fully addressing your subject matter, with unique content and a level of detail previously thought as burdensome, might actually win out.

I’m good with that.

If you want this level of thoughtfulness in your own content, with an eye towards how your site will perform in the future, call Big Pig.


Bill tracks news and changes in SEO as it affects site design and content development. Follow this blog if you're a business or agency owner that needs basic info to help with your own projects!