Photo by Anna Auza on Unsplash

Years ago, I was training judges and lawyers how to use something brand-new. It was called Quick Law. A search engine for legal research. It was an exciting time and we felt like we were in the Jetson universe.

All you needed to do was type in a few words, click enter and magically all sorts of case law would appear to skim through. 

However, success only happened when the ‘right’ search terms were used.

These were the days of keyword, Boolean searches, and quotation marks, and you still needed to know your subject in order to find it.

The biggest challenge people faced was understanding how the search engine processed the requests.  Once someone ‘got it,’ their life was simpler.

And now, years later, the world has BERT – Google’s newest algorithm changing how Google reads search questions. Released October 25 2019, BERT’s about to celebrate turning three months old.

And, if you’ve not decided to use it or haven’t adapted to it, it’s time you pay attention.

“BERT will impact around 10% of queries. It will also impact organic rankings and featured snippets. So, this is no small change!”

(SEJ Search Engine Journal, November 26, 2019)

Why this matters to you and to any copywriter you’re working with

The algorithm Google has designed is using something called NLP – natural language processing. What it means to you is BERT recognizes the subtleties of your client’s query.

BERT can translate the series of words a client is using as a query into more than a series of characters to match to a website. It recognizes the meaning behind the words. And, even better BERT appears to work best with complicated queries (the long-tail stuff).

Long-tail inquires are specific, in fact they can very specific.  

An example could be the query “Best hotel in Cuba?”  A simple search.  A long-tail search can be “what is the best 3-star hotel near the beach in Cuba?”

And this can grow into a longer query with more details “What is the average price for a family friendly hotel on the beach near Havana in September?” You get the idea, right.

BERT is showing itself to be pretty good at handling long-tail queries.

When you’re developing your keywords for your content, it’s practical to look at the long-tail searches to help you understand how your clients are thinking about their questions.

One example is how BERT recognizes prepositions (i.e. to, for, in etc.).  Previously, prepositions were overlooked by Google which messed up the response to the query.  Now, BERT can integrate prepositions properly into the search with better results.

So, BERT is understanding language as humans use it.  This is also found in improvements to voice and visual searching.

What you need to know is how BERT can bring joy to your clients. It means your clients can type in queries using everyday language. BERT’s better at recognizing the purpose of the question.

Who doesn’t like BERT?

At first glance, it seems the use of natural language is a bonus for any business and their clients.

But there are businesses who aren’t liking BERT – yet.  Those businesses are reporting their search ranking is dropping.

The reason? Most of these businesses are continuing to use the old method of SEO searching.  Their content and copy is overflowing with keywords and key phrases.  

Why is that bad?  It’s aimed at rankings more than at the client/user.  Their content is only focused on rankings without regard to the quality of the content.

BERT is the change agent.  BERT is aiming it’s search engine to meet how real people search. That’s why the use of natural language is so important.

Your content and SEO

There’s a lot of freedom for creative expression in your content and copy.  Because BERT is better able to read like a human, your copy can sound more natural – more conversational.

BERT looks for links to similar words, too. So, rather than having to load your headline, or subject line or first page of your website with the same keywords over and over, and over. You can mix it up a little.

As a result, your copy and content can be more natural sounding, more fluid, and more elegant.

The words you use to connect to your clients can be personable and still hit the search terms to bring your content to your clients. It lets your unique and authentic voice shine through.

The big idea that’s now real?

BERT lets you write you copy not to a search engine, but to a human who is looking for an answer.

The best  way to work with BERT is to keep writing high-quality, informative, helpful content that answers your client’s questions.  

Remember, your content needs EAT – expertise, authority and trustworthiness.

“Focus on the core problem your business solves and put out lots of content and enthusiasm and ideas about how to solve that problem.” – Laura Fitton

What to do?

If you’re not comfortable with SEO and all of its seemingly complicated strategies, don’t worry too much. It isn’t going to matter as much in the future as BERT continues developing.

However, today it’s useful to have a basic understanding.  A good place to start is by reviewing Google’s SEO search guidelines.

The old SEO strategies of stuffing keywords became unpopular with Google some time ago. It’s worth reminding yourself of the SEO guidelines. You can quickly read them here.

“Target the topic, not just the keyphrase.”

Andy Crestodina, Co-Founder, Orbit Media

At the end of the day – be buddies with BERT

You need to know how your client thinks and searches. 

You can easily do this by noticing their words, add to those words look for synonyms and build your keyword list.

Then, with BERT working to help you find your client, write in conversational language, integrating keywords as part of normal conversation.

Always aim for high-quality content that makes you client feel relief, satisfaction, hope, and excitement that they have found their answer with your website.

BERT helps you show yourself as the warm, caring expert your clients are looking for.