At the end of October 2019 there was a huge change to your day to day which you likely didn't notice and didn't know about. Google, the favoured search engine of about 75% of us released it's biggest update in 5 years. It was so big that the notoriously secretive search engine goliath announced it to the world and we're already starting to see it impact the search results being shown.
So what is BERT?
The Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers update (or BERT) is a neural network based technique for natural language processing. Basically it's a form of AI that looks at patterns in language to help the search engine better understand what us crazy humans are really looking for. In the English language we'll use words in very different (and sometimes not obvious) ways. The BERT update tries to make sense of these subtleties in our language. So if you are searching for 'money in the bank', you're now more likely to find information on financial institutions - as opposed to say, riverbanks.
What this means for those of us searching for things (particularly with longer search terms or sentences), is a much improved search experience. The Google search results should be more likely to be helpful in more of our searches. That can only be a good thing, for both customers and businesses alike.
So what about my website?
This change continues the recent trend for smarter and more 'human like' understanding of websites by search engines. It's definitely in keeping with our view that the best approach to search results is to stay relevant to what you do, understand what your customers are searching for, and create content that matches up with that naturally. The days of bombarding sites with external links is quickly fading and a more honest approach to SEO is definitely needed.
My site has dived down the rankings after BERT - what do I do?
It's always possible in a big search engine shake up that sites move up or down the rankings - potentially dramatically. For this update, if you've had a big backwards move our recommendation would just be to get back to doing the basics right. Create good, naturally reading content that your customer will be interested and your site should start performing in the areas it is meant to. If you are dog salesman, there's no point trying to target cats for example (even if it is highly searched). Focus on the customers you want and this update should be more likely to bring those relevant customers to your site.