SEO is Dead: How Will BERT – a New Google Search Algorithm Kill Your Business?
Google is making significant changes to the work of its search engine over the last five years. How will this affect us all?
– how new Google search algorithms will change the Internet;
– why website promotion can become useless;
– what will happen to the SEO industry, and what SEO experts think about it.
Google announced the launch of a new BERT search algorithm, which is supposed to better understand user requests. Experts fear that the new Google search algorithm could adversely affect website promotion and strengthen Google’s monopoly in ranking web pages.
Google is constantly improving its search algorithms. Tens of thousands of employees work on this daily inside the Google fortress.
For an average user, these changes are almost invisible and have a rather cumulative effect. You will hardly come up with what has changed in Google search over the past six months. But if I show you a screenshot of the search results from five years ago, you will immediately tell the difference.
However, people, whose business to this or that extent depends on search traffic, perceive Google’s bold innovations in a slightly different way.
In fact, Google is a monopoly inside the search industry, processing 93% of search queries on the Internet daily. Google Chrome browser is currently installed on 70% of the world’s personal computers. To tell you the truth, on the Internet everything has long become “Google”.
If Google for some reason doesn’t like you, your business won’t thrive on the web. News websites, as well as online stores, retail chains, bloggers, and other web dwellers, depend on search traffic.
The fall in search traffic is very expensive, and can even multiply your business by zero. Hence you get the desire of business owners to pay money (and sometimes a considerable amount of them) to the whole SEO industry.
SEO (search engine optimization) is a set of tools and skills, which let you understand what people are looking for on Google (and other search engines – 7%) and then optimize your site’s content to increase your position in the search results.
Each time Google “twists” something in its search algorithms, website owners clutch their hearts, and SEO experts prepare for sleepless nights searching for new “friendship” methods with search algorithms. What worked yesterday may not be effective today. And sometimes it can even harm.
The new BERT algorithm is exactly the case.
This is the largest modification of the search engine over the years. The system has become so complex that the principles of its operation are difficult to explain without the use of higher mathematics, and its work requires the latest neuro processors. However, this is not what matters most.
The main question is how this new Google search algorithm will change the search results because now the search system must learn to understand the context of information, and not just catch individual words.
Our sources at Google headquarters don’t officially confirm that the company plans to kill the SEO industry and to complicate the process of influencing search results externally.
If Google succeeds, many sites and online businesses could be affected.
Of course, some experts have a different opinion on this, and they say that it’s not that bad.
Let’s figure out what is happening and whether or not the SEO experts of the whole Earth should be looking for a new job.
How Google Changes
In fact, Google launched the new BERT algorithm a few months ago. It was announced last year.
Initially, BERT worked only inside the English-speaking Google. In early December 2019, the company announced the expansion of the new system to 70 of the most popular languages around the world.
So, now BERT has come to the whole world.
BERT or Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers is “an artificial neural network technique for preparing for natural language”. In other words, Google developers have again changed the principles of search results ranking.
This sounds quite unsurprising as Google changes its search algorithms several times a day. Last year, the technical part of the search engine was edited more than 3200 times.
But Google calls the launch of BERT “the biggest achievement in 5 years and one of the biggest achievements in the history of their search engine.”
Portuguese, Punjabi, Romanian, Russian, Serbian, Sinhalese, Slovak, Slovenian, Swahili, Swedish, Tagalog, Tajik, Tamil, Telugu, Thai, Turkish, Ukrainian, Urdu, Uzbek & Vietnamese.
Google SearchLiaison (@searchliaison) December 9, 2019
This is a model that processes words in relation to all other words in a sentence. It doesn’t process words in one by one order. Thanks to this, BERT can take the whole context into account. It can consider the words that come before and after, which is especially useful for understanding the purpose of search queries,
Google Search Vice President Pandu Nayak.
According to Nayak, BERT algorithms will help Google better understand user requests and display what you need in the top search results. If the system works correctly, you no longer have to write “unnatural” requests, such as, “children toys buy Taxes”. Now Google is supposed to understand the requests that you use in colloquial speech.
Nayak cited several examples where, earlier on the request “2019 Brazilian traveler to the USA needs a visa”, Google offered irrelevant websites. On those websites, it was indicated that US citizens do not need a visa to travel to Brazil. After the launch of the BERT system, such requests should immediately be sent to the US Embassy website, which describes the rules for obtaining a visa for Brazilian citizens.
Google Search vice president says “BERT algorithms are so complex that they go beyond the capabilities of traditional hardware.” Therefore, the company, for the first time, will use “the latest cloud TPU (Google tensor neuroprocessor) to provide search results and quickly obtain more relevant information.”
In addition to this, Google announced that BERT will also improve Google Snippets – information blocks or widgets that appear when searching for popular queries. For example, if you write the name of a popular artist or actor in the search bar, the majority of the page will be occupied by Google thematic snippets with links to other stories about these people in Google News, similar queries, films/clips with their participation on YouTube, Apple Music, pages on social networks, etc.
Thanks to snippets, Google gains an advantage over all sites as it combines information from different sources into compact blocks. It immediately provides users with everything they need. No need to click on links. And, of course, you don’t have to leave the cozy world of Google.
The company informally labeled this “the ideology of Zero-Click”. It’s meant to help Google get and retain users on its platforms as long as possible.
Google has already gone quite far in this direction. According to some reports, in the summer of 2019, the company passed an important psychological barrier – more than 50% of Google searches in browsers involved the user viewing the search results page only.
This situation is quite depressing for news portals, which have always fought for a higher place in search results. This higher place ensured them an increase in traffic (and consequently an increase in audience and income). In fact, the harsh realities of the media are a separate issue. More on this below.
How Will BERT and Zero-Click Affect the Popularity of Websites?
Google algorithms are intended to provide users with more relevant information. We’ve just seen how the new Google search algorithm can instead strengthen the monopoly of Google, and make online businesses less likely to promote their websites to reach top search results.
Experts believe that new algorithms can make search engine optimization (SEO) less effective. In fact, the main SEO tools used to promote web pages in Google search results haven’t changed. They’re still popular keywords and queries.
Using the so-called “meta-titles” and “meta-descriptions” you can predefine how any webpage will be called on Google. This SEO strategy lets you, in a nutshell, “impose” your interpretation of the page content on the search engine.
Let’s say, skillfully arranging words such as “shuttlecocks”, “badminton”, “racket” in content and meta titles, you can help your website get higher in the search results for “buy shuttlecocks for badminton” query. As a result, you’ll get more clicks to your website selling shuttlecocks.
Playing the same way with keywords, such as “exchange rate”, “dollar exchange rate”, “change dollars to euros”, etc., you can get a stream of search traffic to your site with exchange rates.
At least that’s how it used to be.
Content Marketing Manager at SimilarWeb IT company, Daniel Sevitt explains that technologies such as Zero-Click allow Google to automatically respond to user requests using snippets. With informative snippets right in front of their eyes, users don’t have to go to other websites.
The simplest example of snippets will be the dollar exchange rate displayed right at the top of the Google search results page.
If you google “weather in New York”, atop of all the weather forecast websites that invest a lot in SEO-promotion, you’ll see a Google snippet. Just check this snippet out and, most likely, you won’t click anywhere else.
The next question is how Google now treats commercial pages. Google can skyrocket to the top positions those commercial websites, which generate income for Google with every click or sale.
“Knowing which keywords will generate clicks on your site is the main tool for optimizing your keyword strategy,”Sevitt explains.
In his opinion, keywords that were high in weight may become less effective, as queries increasingly end within the search engine.
Sevitt further explains that, for websites driven by traffic and ad revenue, a huge amount of content may be less successful in search traffic, even if the search volume on a specific topic remains the same or even grows.
So far, we don’t know how BERT algorithms will affect SEO and website promotion. However, it’s pretty evident that Google is increasingly moving towards becoming a huge aggregator of information. It wants to independently rank websites and use them as a data source. In particular, this process is already unfolding in Google News and on the Android Start Page (as Google controls this mobile operating system).
Not surprisingly, many media platforms are making their content paid. The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Economist, The Wall Street Journal and others are switching to using the paywall. As a result, they exclude their high-quality content from the “hodgepodge” offered by Google.
Due to such a “toxic relationship” with Google, many websites will be forced to abandon search traffic and create new ecosystems with a direct audience.
It’s already quite obvious that this strategy is very risky. Your success depends on your ability to create unique content. The New York Times, with colossal experience and a huge loyal audience surely do have a chance.
Unfortunately, many young media platforms, which don’t have large budgets and editorial offices, find it very difficult to play such high-stake games, experts say. By taking traffic away from them, Google actually pulls a loop around their necks.
How Does Google Comment on Recent Changes?
According to our anonymous sources in Google, the company has been actively moving towards the destruction of SEO as such.
Google wants to develop the indexing system to such a degree of understanding the content and evaluating its relevance that all the tools of SEO will have no effect at all.
In recent years, SEO professionals are increasingly aware of the shift. First, they’ve cast away keywords. Now, they stop using meta descriptions, as Google algorithms no longer take them into account. Quite soon, we’ll probably see that meta titles will be completely passe as well.
Google wants to achieve a simple result: no one will be able to influence their website’s position in search results. Google alone will be able to get the most relevant results to the top. Of course, higher accuracy, with which the algorithms can process both user requests and website content, should be achieved for this.
There is also a rather curious, although also not officially confirmed, piece of information about keywords.
Perhaps, with the help of BERT, Google wants to accustom users to search not by keywords, but by colloquial phrases.
Sooner or later, people will stop writing requests like “apartment New York rent”. Instead, they will start writing “I want to rent an apartment in New York”. They won’t even write it. They’ll say it to Google’s voice assistant on their smartphone or to their home smart speaker.
At the same time, all the efforts of webmasters to “squeeze” the keywords “apartment”, “New York” and “buy” to the content will be meaningless. The algorithm will be able to understand the essence of the text written on the website and evaluate how its content matches the request. Instead of the content that often mentions the words “apartment” and “buy,” the system will give preference to the content with a lot of useful information, such as real estate prices, agencies, etc.
Google supporters say that these changes are purely positive. They say that the Internet is now clogged with SEO texts, which (for the most part) are just dummies well wrapped in keywords. If Google succeeds, its search will become more productive. It will be easier for users to find websites with content that matches their needs.
Google opponents traditionally complain that the company does not disclose algorithms. Therefore, it’s not transparent how Google gets its top search results. Its choices may be not accurate or nonobjective. And since no one can influence search results, Google will gradually become the master of the Internet.
At Google, they claim to do everything for the audience’s convenience. An insider at the company’s headquarters confirms that many employees support the changes as these changes “make life easier for users” and make users more loyal to Google and its services.
“No one complains about Apple, which has created such a pleasant and perfect ecosystem that people completely surround themselves with their devices! What is strange is that Google wants to be the same phenomenon on the Internet,” our Google insider says. However, even anonymously, Google employees won’t disclose the details of how this strategy will work and when it will be implemented.
Will SEO Become Useless? How to Promote Sites Now?
Experts say that people fear “SEO death” after each new big search algorithm update. However, search optimization tools would become completely useless only if the search engines or people disappeared.
SEO is constantly transforming to go in line with modern trends and search engine updates. You shouldn’t also forget about an integrated approach to web promotion when several channels and tools of promotion are used at once. Well, the time of half-measures has already passed.
With the introduction of BERT algorithms, the loss of traffic will primarily threaten various small online stores, as the number of low-frequency queries will decrease. Large aggregators and marketplaces will take these queries for themselves. Small players will be pushed down the search results pages.
At the same time, niche online stores, as a rule, feature more relevant information and useful content for users. That’s why Google should now rank them better.
E-stores that want to compete with Amazon or eBay madly increase the number of categories in their stores to cover all niches. Such sellers often end up disregarding the quality and range of products available in each category of their e-store. As a result, they’re doomed to lose traffic and their position on search result pages. In turn, niche stores that constantly develop and improve their inventory and website quality (speed + usability) are likely to score better and grow faster.
Experts also predict a decrease in traffic for news portals, as the new Google algorithms will value the meaning of the content more than just the keywords it contains.
Taking recent Google innovations into account, you should strive to create the most useful and informative page for the user. You are supposed to write texts, focusing on the audience, and not on the search engine. All recent trends indicate that, in the future, it will be increasingly difficult to manipulate search results.
With BERT advent, the standard SEO elements like meta titles, internal links, images, etc. will still be effective. At the same time, web stores should pay attention to new information blocks, such as price tables, product lists, Q&A sections and other similar tools that used to be unpopular.
Small niche online stores will benefit when larger websites will start to shed not-so-relevant queries. Moreover, it’s always easier for niche web pages to monitor their content and optimization. On the other hand, launching a full-scale project will now be more difficult. The market’s big cheeses will become even stronger, and the struggle for a place in search results will require more investment.
Other experts say that BERT algorithms are good news for e-commerce companies. BERT will help any category and product pages rank higher. The position of an online store on search result pages will depend entirely on the quality of the content that they offer.
People make online purchase decisions based on what they read and see. Therefore, everything written on the pages of an online store should bring useful information to potential consumers.
BERT will also take into account prepositions and context. So, it’s extremely important to provide the most accurate information about your products. For example, the queries “red sneakers with fastener” and “red sneakers without fastener” are different for BERT. The engine will rank higher those offers that more accurately describe the product. So, now it’s even more important to write unique and relevant content for all of your products, keeping it informative and simple.
To increase your website’s search rating, optimize the descriptions of your top-selling pages using unique content. When adding attributes such as color, provide visual cues to customers and text labels for search engines. You should also use long targeted queries and have a well-thought “Search” form on your website.
Anyway, experts seem to agree that search engine optimization per se will not disappear, at least in the near future. No matter how smart Google’s new search algorithms are, they will still remain a system, with its own rules and principles.
It’s quite possible that understanding and learning to adapt to these principles is only a matter of time, especially for SEO experts, whose work has a huge share of the world market.
So even if Google intends to behead SEO, they should keep in mind that two more heads can grow in the place of just one.