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BERT, SEO, and Marketing Research

Google announced last week a new search algorithm that took the SEO world by surprise — and that might change the direction of SEO specialists towards marketing research. The main goal of BERT, or Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers, is to help Google understand how people search in a more nuanced way.

BERT was created to consider search queries in their semantic context, in a way that gets closer to natural language. This strategy means that BERT interprets not only the main content keywords of a search query but also the words that come before and after it, like prepositions and adverbs.

Google explains BERT with the following example: 2019 brazil traveler to usa need a visa. The preposition to is essential in the comprehension that the question refers to someone from Brazil traveling to the USA. Before BERT, that meaning would not be grasped by the algorithm, and the top results would be about US travelers going to Brazil. With BERT, this context is understood correctly by the search engine.

What does BERT mean to SEO marketers?

BERT should impact one in every ten search queries — it is the most significant change in the Search world in the last five years. And while BERT is only one of the various signals that Google uses to calculate ranking in the search results page, it represents a shift away from the content strategy and towards the user. 

Unlike Google’s other algorithms, which focus on web pages and meta tags, BERT looks at the behavior from the person searching. For SEO marketers, the main difference is that you cannot work on optimization specific for BERT. Fundamentally, the only way of doing SEO for BERT is to write for humans, and not for Google’s crawlers, and to understand your audience. How can SEO marketers get better at that? Enters marketing research.

Marketing research and the world of SEO

Marketing research provides marketers with information that links them to customers and leads to informed decisions. In the world of BERT, the insights from this knowledge can be a competitive advantage to make you rank better than your competitors in a Search Results Page.

Here is how: primary data sources, such as interviews, surveys, and focus groups, can provide insights on how the audience thinks. You can use them to understand the words, actions, and needs the target audience associates with your market, as well as their search behavior.

On the other hand, secondary data sources, such as data from websites like SEMRush and Alexa, can help understand how competitors are positioned and learn from their strategy, identifying gaps. The Keywords Planner from Google Ads is also a good source of secondary data with numbers showing search volume and a list of associated keywords.

SEO marketers everywhere are holding their breaths to see how BERT — which started to roll out this week — will affect organic ranking and organic traffic to their websites. To stay ahead of surprises, they need to focus less on algorithm updates and more on knowing their audience. 

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