How Google Helped BERT Get RevengeWhen I was a kid, I LOVED Bert and Ernie. Actually, that’s only half-true. I LOVED Ernie…and Bert came along with him.

Most kids loved Grover and, later, Elmo.

Not me.

I loved Ernie.

As an adult, I realized how unfair I was to Bert.

Ernie was the one getting all the laughs, while poor Bert was the butt of his jokes.

And, while I still love Ernie, it seems as if the tables have turned.

The almighty Google has helped BERT get his revenge! 

What the Heck Is BERT?

Before you start to worry that Bert from Sesame Street has come to life and devised an evil plan to destroy us for laughing at him all these years, let me put your mind at ease.

The BERT I’m referring to is Google’s latest algorithm update, and it’s out for revenge on irrelevant, spammy, link-farmy content.

BERT stands for Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers.

Yeah, I have no idea, either.

What those big words mean is that search is now a lot more contextual than ever before. 

So BERT means that Google now understands context, including word order, far better than before. 

According to Search Engine Journal:

It helps a machine to understand what words in a sentence mean, but with all the nuances of context.

Christopher S. Penn gives an interesting example in his article. He says:

Let’s say you have a website about coffee shops in Boston, but the word espresso never appears on the page. If someone asks their voice-activated assistant about the nearest espresso, your site may show up in their search results because BERT understands that a coffee shop would serve espresso.

There are tons of implications.

Local content is going to be even easier for local people to find.

And even insider lingo and jargon are going to be useful, both from SEO and engagement perspectives.

Your Content Should Be Hyper-Focused

I’ve always said your role as a content developer is to create the very best piece of content on the internet for your topic.

If you do that, it won’t matter what Google does—you’ll always be compliant.

Their goal is always to return the very best piece of content on the internet in search—desktop, mobile, and voice.

If your content fits that bill, nothing much changes for you.

But this also means you have to get incredibly focused.

Figure out your target market and focus solely on that.

The content that is far too general and so basic that it fits any audience doesn’t work.

It has to be targeted, focused, in-depth, and, well, the best. 

Creating Content for Humans First

Have you ever tried to ask Alexa a question, only to get a response you weren’t expecting?

The other day I asked her when daylight saving begins.

She gave me a long dissertation about what it is and why it exists.


Don’t be Alexa in your content. Answer the freaking question!

If you do that—and if your content truly is the best on the internet for the topic—BERT will have crazy good implications for you.

We’ve talked a lot recently about artificial intelligence and automation.

This Google update is exactly that in action.

BERT uses deep learning to understand and respond to human language as, well, as humans use it. 

So what does that mean for communicators?

The first thing to remember is that BERT is about analyzing search terms, not your website.

It helps  search engines understand what a person is looking for and then finding the web results that fulfill that search most accurately.

If I Google “when does daylight saving begin?”, the first result I get is March 8 through November 1.

I don’t even have to ask when it ends.

Google knows that’s likely going to be the next question and provides it before I have to ask it.

That means that if the website you provide content for has spent the last couple of decades creating content filled with awkward keywords in the hopes of getting to the coveted first page spot on Google, you’re out of luck.

Is There Content On the Internet Better Than Yours?

BERT is coming to get you, and the creators who have been writing awesome content for humans all along will see (or already have seen) a real jump.

When you think about what that looks like, consider this:

  • Is it highly targeted and focused?
  • Does it answer what, when, where, why, and how?
  • Does it dig deeper and provide more in-depth information?
  • Can you find content on the internet for the topic that’s better than yours?

The aim of a search engine is, and always has been, to give a human user the information they are actually looking for.

BERT makes that even easier and more natural. 

If the answer to “can you find content on the internet for the topic that’s better than yours?” is yes, keep reading.

E-A-T Your Content

The secret to good content for the internet in 2020 is simple. 

You need to eat it. 

E-A-T it.

That’s right… EAT it!

(I’m getting a little Michael Jackson inspiration right now…beat it, beat it, no one wants to be defeated.)

James Kaye, a co-founder of Big Ideas Machine in London, had me on their podcast last week.

If you don’t know him, his agency, or his podcast, I cannot recommend them more highly.

He’s our kind of people. 

We were talking about this strange phenomenon where people complain about all the crap online or in their inbox…and then they get in front of their computers and they pump out the same ol’ drivel.

Is it because this is what we’re asked to do? We don’t know how to do better? We aren’t paid to do better? 

Whatever the reason, it has to change or you’ll soon start being blamed for not showing up in search at all.

If you produce great content, it will always be EAT-able.

Expertise, Authority, and Trust

EAT stands for expertise, authority, and trust. 

When you create content that is original, informative, targeted, and engaging—in other words, when you write for humans first—you automatically check all the E-A-T boxes. 

Google looooves EAT-able content and will reward you for it with high search rankings and more traffic.

And now that BERT understands context and nuance, you get extra Google love when people search for information that’s related to your topic, even when they don’t use your exact keywords.

If you’re not already producing EAT-able content, how do you get there?

It’s relatively easy!

Think about all the questions your people—your customers, prospects, brand ambassadors, loyalists, colleagues, and even friends—might ask about your topic.

Then answer those questions in your content. 

Remember those words I used a little while ago?

You know: original, informative, targeted, and engaging?

That’s priority number one.

Understand your brand voice. Understand your audience’s avatars. Use personality. Be free with juicy information.

Crafting Great Content from the Mundane

In my opinion, no one is better at this than Ann Handley.

She can take the most mundane topic and make it interesting.

Case in point: one of her most recent newsletters talks about a glass bottle of Dr Pepper she saw at an event she keynoted in Dallas.

Apparently there are numbers—10, 2, and 4—on every bottle and she tells you why.

I won’t spoil the surprise, but I guarantee you’re now intrigued. About a glass bottle of Dr Pepper.

I’m not saying you have to be Ann Handley.

But you do have to find interesting ways to produce content about your topic that is different than everyone else.

This is where thought leadership and authority comes in.

It also requires a bit of risk because you’re going to say things that upset the apple cart…and that’s always a little uncomfortable.

But when you create the very best content on the internet for your topic, you will win.

Every time.

Don’t Forget About the Robots

Now that your content is EAT-able and you understand you can’t get behind your computer screen and pump out the same drivel as everyone else, there are some things you have to do for the robots. 

In our Ultimate Blog Checklist, we talk about the different elements you should include in your web content. You can read it to can get a full assessment of everything to include, but I’ll quickly review a few of the technical elements. 

First, mind your image alt tags.

Make sure your images are labeled with accurate, descriptive words.

Not only does this add context to your content, it has the benefit of making it accessible to people who are using screen reading software.

Next, choose related posts that truly are, well, related.

Whether you use a plugin, or do it manually, taking some time to choose additional content is helpful.

You’re giving human readers the opportunity to learn more and stay invested, and you’re giving the search engine a big neon sign that says “THIS IS RELATED! PAY ATTENTION.”

And lastly, choose your keywords wisely.

Just because the internet is getting smarter, doesn’t mean you should let it make all of the decisions regarding what your content is about.

Help it out and you’ll win lots faster.

Doing SEO research, and choosing a relevant keyword is still a worthwhile use of your time.

Context is great, but clarity is still better.

BERT’s Revenge

The good news is this: if you create content that people actually read, watch, or listen to—and share—the Google changes, including BERT, won’t hurt you.

You also don’t need to stress every time there is an algorithm update. 

However, if you’ve been naughty… and by naughty, I mean that you’ve been spewing out low value, spammy content, only focusing on keyword density and backlinks, or creating the same drivel as everyone else, you’d do well to get that under control. 

Image by Karsten Paulick from Pixabay

Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder, CEO, and author of Spin Sucks, host of the Spin Sucks podcast, and author of Spin Sucks (the book). She is the creator of the PESO Model and has crafted a certification for it in partnership with Syracuse University. She has run and grown an agency for the past 15 years. She is co-author of Marketing in the Round, co-host of Inside PR, and co-host of The Agency Leadership podcast.

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