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Introducing Google’s BERT algorithm update

Giles Guest, director, Enhance Media

Google has introduced the new algorithm BERT, which stands for Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers. It is a significant advancement and the main benefit is that it improves language processing to help Google better understand queries and decipher user intent.

BERT has been introduced by Google due to the increase of voice search, which has resulted in many more searches using multiple words in a phrase (a "long-tail" search). Historically Google has struggled to understand the context of longer voice queries, especially when transition words were used. This is particularly important because small words affect the intent of a query.

This issue is combatted by BERT as it helps Google to understand whole sentences rather than just search queries. One example is when the word 'to' has been used in searches, previously a search for "Assistant to CFO" would return "CFO Jobs" because the priority was placed on 'CFO' and 'jobs'. This was because Google didn't understand the importance of the word "to".

Another example is how using BERT can help Google interpret words such as "server" in a more advanced way. A search for "server jobs in San Jose" would previously prioritise the words 'server' and 'jobs' and return database and technical jobs. However, a number of searchers might actually mean 'service jobs' and now Google looks more closely at the intent and can identify that these searches may be looking for jobs within the service industry for example a barista role as opposed to database and technical jobs.

Google anticipates this will have a significant effect on 'structured snippets'. These are the extra information points we ask Google to show on search results pages. They are essential for recruitment marketing because if we get them right, a fourth place result can generate more traffic than a second place result. This is how we help employers beat job boards in search and is critical to success.

More widely, BERT will affect one in 10 search results. According to Google, BERT is "search's biggest leap forward in the past five years."  In particular, BERT will have a significant impact on searches that include more than three words - which are the majority of searches in recruitment - so our industry will see one of the larger shake-ups.

Finally, BERT impacts how content should be written and it will create a big opportunity for companies who write content correctly and in line with the new update. Overall, it's another big change in the market. You can get ahead by reacting to BERT now before competitors do, or alternatively you may risk falling behind in SEO if you ignore it.

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