In October 2019, Google rolled out BERT (Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers), a complex new update to their search algorithm that flipped the traditional understanding of SEO writing on its head.
If you’re unfamiliar with BERT, we highly suggest delving into our informative blog series that explores this technology’s development and what it means for digital marketers, search engine optimization (SEO) gurus, and content strategists looking forward. There’s a lot to unpack.
So, roughly one year after Google released BERT into the wild, just how drastically has the SEO and digital marketing ecosystem been altered?
Time for “Old Dogs” to Learn New Tricks
Google’s most significant algorithm update of 2019 delivered a knockout blow and rendered old content writing tricks, like “SEO copywriting,” obsolete. The days of packing your web copy, marketing landing pages, and blog posts to the brim with meta tags, keywords, and other devious tricks to manipulate the search algorithms are over.
One way to think about this is through keyword density. Having too high of a keyword density score might indicate that your great content is not so great.
This does not mean that SEO in general and using keywords are obsolete. At the end of the day, when it comes to attaining real success in the SERPs, content writers and marketers need to shift from keywords to a focus keyword, or a “key word” and its relevant touchpoints critical to a given topic.
So why is this the case?
Well, as a machine learning technology, BERT is able to learn common uses of language by focusing on semantics, which means that is able to understand the meaning of phrases and relationships between words far better than ever before. It can also do this in over 70 languages.
This means that it’s now even easier for Google to prioritize qualified, relevant search query results based on even vague search terms.
Enter in the Pivot
So, on that note, should SEO agencies be counting their days? Not necessarily.
We think it’s a tad dramatic to say SEO itself is dead. Perhaps, it’s more accurate to say that SEO tactics as we knew them are dead.
Content writers and aggressive content marketing firms in the past have tried to trick Google algorithms into ranking their content higher based on strategic SEO plays. Technically – they were cheating.
So, with the shift in how Google reads search queries and provides results, content marketing agencies actually want to play to our natural understandings of language use and communication. This means that keyword stuffing is, naturally, out, and speaking to relevant key points is in.
That said, it’s still a good idea to understand how technical SEO like off-page SEO works so that your page headers and metadata supply Google with relevant terms. This best practice, among others, remains unchanged.
Looking to the continually evolving future of SEO in content writing, we should all take a moment to consider the wise words of Jedi Master Yoda, who so eloquently said: “You must unlearn what you have learned.”
Quality over Quantity
One knee jerk reaction might be to start doubling down on the sheer volume of published content in an attempt to offer BERT a slew of relevant topics and usurp the SERPs.
But before anyone tries to coin the phrase “topic-bombing,” an approach like this is not likely to bear fruit. The old SEO tricks are indeed dead. Tom Elgar, the co-founder of Passle, explains:
“With no central algorithm, it will become extremely difficult, if not impossible, to game this process. And in any case, if the query gives a result that does not satisfy the reader, then it will adversely affect subsequent queries so any successes in gaming the system will be fleeting.”
Content strategists and directors are discovering that in the post-BERT world of content creation, it would seem that less is indeed more.
Chris Shirlo, Director of Content with 1SEO, also supports the ‘less is better’ approach in a recent blog post:
“More content does not always equal better content… we are seeing the shift from quantity to quality continue in the form of blog updates.”
Content (That Makes Sense) Reigns Supreme
Google search is now more user-centric than ever before. While this change is understandably a bit of a nightmare for a traditional SEO expert or keyword guru, it’s a breath of fresh air for the content marketer and content writer.
In truth, this fascinating update to Google’s search function does not change much in terms of how we should go about writing and producing quality content that engages with readers and drives conversions.
The most significant change is this: rather than trying to optimize content specifically for BERT, the focus should be on producing relevant, topic-driven content written with authority.
Stop writing content that tries to impress machines and instead focus on the human element.
Consider your reader’s needs and anticipate the types of questions they ask before they type them into a Google search. They are often searching based on a specific question, topic, or problem. Get a feel for the types of questions that both current and prospective customers ask the most.
For example, if you are tweaking your B2B content plan, it would be a great idea to speak with your sales and customer support teams regularly (if you don’t already). Few people within the organization have a more intimate understanding of your customer’s questions, needs, issues, and plenty of other juicy tidbits to inspire your content creation.
Position the customer as the main character of your brand story to generate quality leads and attract organic traffic to your web and social channels. Thanks to BERT, it’s now even easier for people to discover and connect with your brand.
Trust in Content Creation Teams
Naturally, shifting to more Google-friendly writing can be difficult. Algorithm updates are released regularly and staying on top of your SEO strategy and content marketing strategy can be tedious.
Trust in a content creation team that can not only direct your content goals but also keep your content evergreen even as the market moves. You can rely on the expert teams at okgrow and okwrite Content Marketing Managed Services (CMMS), who can guide you through this ever-changing landscape.