What The Google BERT Update Does And How It Is Related To Rankings


During a recent Google webmaster hangout, John Muller responded to a question from an SEO or publisher about the impact of Google BERT update on site rankings. He explained exactly BERT does and its connection to search rankings.

Impact of Google BERT Update

The SEO or publisher outlined an instance where several websites were hit by the Google BERT update, which they presumed to be more than just intent.

Mueller didn’t say anything about search intent, but instead, discussed what the BERT update does and the ranking issues around the update.

Here’s the question:

We’ve seen some websites that were hit by Google BERT update and they still have not recovered. Was that update only about intent? Because it seems like it was about more.”

Muller’s response stated that the BERT update was not something that would affect sudden ranking changes.

So, BERT is essentially a web of better understanding text. It’s not a ranking change in that sense.

It’s not an update… kind of an algorithm update that suddenly we rank things differently

Mueller also explains:

But it’s really about understanding text.

So it means that we work hard to understand when people enter queries in the search results. In particular when these are long queries where we need to understand what is the context here, what is something that people are actually searching for within this query

Here, Mueller clarified that the Google BERT update is more about understanding long search queries. The number of spoken search queries is on the increase and these queries tend to be longer. , He further explained that the purpose of BERT is to make sense out of such questions.

This is what Mueller said about the role of BERT in understanding web pages:

And when it comes to pages themselves we try to figure out what are those pages actually about and how do those pages map to those specific queries that we’ve got

 What Is The BERT Update Really?

The Google BERT update is a way to understand search queries and web pages better.  An analogy is possibly the best way to gain a better understanding of BERT.

If you are wearing glasses to help you see things in the distance, then without them reading road signs will be a struggle, if not impossible.  Wearing your glasses allows you to easily read the road signs and take appropriate action.  BERT plays the role of the glasses, it makes web pages and search queries more understandable.

Your decision making is not influenced by your ability to be able to see clearly. You know the action you want to take; your glasses aid you in seeing when to make that decision.  Where BERT is concerned, it interprets queries and web pages, rather than playing a role in the ranking process just like your glasses allowing you to clearly read road signs.

Here’s what Mueller said about this:

So it’s not a ranking change per se. It’s really about understanding the text on the page and the text that people enter in the queries.

And from that point of view, it’s not that websites get hit by this update. It’s really that we’re trying to understand what these pages are about.

And if these pages are such that it’s really hard to understand what they’re about, then users will have trouble with them and our search engine will also have trouble with them”.

Affected By BERT?

To answer the concern regarding websites being “hit” by the BERT update, Mueller says:

Usually in the cases I’ve looked at where people say they were hit by this kind of update, it’s more that there were just general changes in search over time that also took place, and we make changes in search all the time.

So it’s not necessarily the case that because Google understands the pages better we suddenly decided to kind of penalize a set of individual pages.

Because we’re trying to understand these pages better, not try to understand what things people are doing wrong”.


As Mueller explained, the BERT update must not be labelled as a ranking algorithm. He says that publishers should consider it as a way of better understanding web pages and search queries.

The official BERT announcement in October last year confirmed that only 10% of search queries, specifically conversation queries, were affected by BERT. The announcement reads:

Particularly for longer, more conversational queries, or searches where prepositions like “for” and “to” matter a lot to the meaning, Search will be able to understand the context of the words in your query. You can search in a way that feels natural for you

Mueller’s response is useful as it makes clear that BERT is separate from the part of the algorithm that deals with ranking.  It does not actually target pages for incorrect actions. Mueller’s answer also urges publishers who have lost rankings to consider other reasons, aside from BERT, as to why this may have occurred.

What You Need To Know About The New Interface Google Is Testing For Search Snippets

Google is said to be testing out a new interface for search results, where the search snippets boxes are being emphasised with a shadow effect. Putting shadows in the boxes allows the snippets to be more noticeable on the web page.

However, there’s still no confirmation from Google about this change, or whether this is rolling out to every searcher or whether they are just testing it for now.

Here’s what the new box for search snippets look like:


Here’s the normal interface in Google search:

This SEO UK blog is based on the news from and

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