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Google BERT Update – What it Means

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Roger Montti


Google announced what they called the most important update in five years. The BERT update impacts 10% of search queries. What is BERT and how will it impact SEO?

BERT is a Major Google Update

According to Google this update will affect complicated search queries that depend on context.

This is what Google said:

“These improvements are oriented around improving language understanding, particularly for more natural language/conversational queries, as BERT is able to help Search better understand the nuance and context of words in Searches and better match those queries with helpful results.

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.”

What is the BERT Algorithm?

Search algorithm patent expert Bill Slawski (@bill_slawski of @GoFishDigital) described BERT like this:

“Bert is a natural language processing pre-training approach that can be used on a large body of text. It handles tasks such as entity recognition, part of speech tagging, and question-answering among other natural language processes. Bert helps Google understand natural language text from the Web.

Google has open sourced this technology, and others have created variations of BERT.”

The BERT algorithm (Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers) is a deep learning algorithm related to natural language processing. It helps a machine to understand what words in a sentence mean, but with all the nuances of context.

BERT And On Page SEO

I asked search algorithm expert Dawn Anderson (@dawnieando on Twitter) what that meant for SEOs and she responded that it won’t help websites that are poorly written.

According to Dawn:

“BERT and family improve the state of the art on 11 natural language processing tasks. Even beating human understanding since linguists will argue for hours over the part of speech a single word is.

But what if the focus of a page is very weak? Even humans sometimes will be like “what’s your point?” when we hear something.

And pronouns have been very problematic historically but BERT helps with this quite a bit. Context is improved because of the bi-directional nature of BERT.

There will still be lots of work for us to do since we need to emphasise importance, utilise clear structures, help to turn unstructured data into semi structured data, utilise cues on content light pages (e.g. image heavy but not text heavy eCommerce pages) using such things as internal linking.”

BERT Improves Search Query Understanding

Google’s BERT Update improves how Google understands search queries. BERT analyzes search queries, not web pages. However, as Dawn said, on page SEO becomes more important in terms of using words in precise ways. Sloppy content may not be helped by the Google BERT update.

Dawn Anderson observed:

“It’s knocking human understanding out of the water in loads of natural language understanding tasks. BERT is like a WordPress plugin which is a starting point and then they customise it and improve it.

The word “rose” means several things but it’s exactly the same word. The context must accompany the word otherwise the word means nothing.”

Dawn is correct. During the course of researching a presentation I was to give at PubCon Vegas 2019, I did a search for a tricky phrase that relied on context to get it right.

An Example of Context and BERT

The phrase was “how to catch a cow fishing?

In New England, the word “cowin the context of fishing means a large striped bass.

A striped bass is a popular saltwater game fish that millions of anglers fish for on the Atlantic coast.

So I typed the phrase, “how to catch a cow fishing” and Google provided results related to livestock, to cows.

Even though I had purposely used the word “fishing” to provide context, Google ignored that context and provided results related to cows. That was on October 1, 2019.

Today, October 25, 2019 the same query results in search results that are full of striped bass and fishing related results.

The BERT algorithm appeared to have understood the context of the word “fishing” as important and changed the search results to focus on fishing related web pages.

Dawn Anderson explained that new search result like this:

“Bass means different things. There are different meanings for the single words. The context around the word provides more meaning.”

She’s right. That’s exactly what Google did in the search query, “how to catch a cow fishing.” BERT appears to have used the word “fishing” to add context to that search query.

BERT May Be Just the Beginning

Dawn Anderson said:

“A researcher I know used BERT in his work with assistants, e.g. similar to Google Assistant, to test the use of clarifying questions. So it has many uses. It’s just a starting point.”

I asked:

“So you see this as one step in a longer journey?”

And Dawn replied:

“Yes, but it’s a big step. Huge… It’s like a quantum leap huge.”

I agree. I wouldn’t go out and create thousands of longtail phrases to try to capitalize on Google’s ability to understand context better.

However, like Dawn, I see this as an opportunity to bring more traffic with content that is more focused and well organized.

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Here’s how to set up the Google Site Kit WordPress plugin

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Here's how to set up the Google Site Kit WordPress plugin


On Oct. 31, Google announced the launch of its Site Kit WordPress plugin that, “enables you to set up and configure key Google services, get insights on how people find and use your site, learn how to improve, and easily monetize your content.”

This plugin allows you to easily connect the following Google Services in a dashboard format within your WordPress backend:

  • Search Console
  • Analytics
  • PageSpeed Insights
  • AdSense
  • Optimize
  • Tag Manager

It brings the convenience of accessing your site’s performance data while logged into the backend of the site. This is great for webmasters, developers and agencies who are often an admin for their own site or a client’s WordPress site. However, it does not offer the robust and dynamic capabilities of a Google Data Studio report or dashboard to sort data so it may not be ideal for a digital marketing manager or CMO.

With that said, it wouldn’t hurt to implement this plugin as it’s actually a nifty tool that can help you stay on top of your site’s performance metrics. It’s also another way to give Google more access to your site which can have some in-direct benefits organically. 

Here is what the Google Site Kit plugin looks like within the WordPress plugin directory.

Installing and setting up Google Site Kit

To utilize the plugin, simply click install and activate as you would any other WordPress plugin. You will then be prompted to complete the set up.

Step 1

Click on the “Start Setup” button.

Step 2

You will be prompted to give access to your site’s Google Search Console profile, which means you need to sign in to the Gmail account that has access to your site’s Search Console profile.

Step 3

Once logged in you need to grant permissions for Google to access the data in your Search Console profile.

Step 4

Once you’ve granted all the respective permissions, you will get a completion notification and can then click on “Go to my Dashboard.”

Step 5

Once you’re in the Dashboard you will see options to connect other services such as Analytics, AdSense and PageSpeed insights. You can now choose to connect these services if you like. If you go to the settings of the plugin you will see additional connection options for Optimize and Tag Manager.

Here is what the dashboard looks like with Search Console, analytics and PageSpeed Insights enabled. You can see a clear breakdown of the respective metrics.

The plugin allows you to dive into each reporting respectively with navigation options on the left to drill down into Search Console and analytics.

There is also an admin bar feature to see individual page stats.

In summary, this is a great plugin by Google but keep in mind it’s just version 1.0. I’m excited to see what features and integrations the later versions will have!


Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.


About The Author

Tony Edward is a director of SEO at Tinuiti and an adjunct instructor of search marketing at NYU. Tony has been in the online marketing industry for over 10 years. His background stems from affiliate marketing and he has experience in paid search, social media and video marketing. Tony is also the founder of the Thinking Crypto YouTube channel.

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Bing Announces Link Penalties – Search Engine Journal

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Roger Montti


Bing announced a new link penalties. These link penalties are focused on taking down private blog networks (PBNs), subdomain leasing and manipulative cross-site linking.

Inorganic Site Structure

An inorganic site structure is a linking pattern that uses internal site-level link signals (with subdomains) or cross-site linking patterns (with external domains) in order to manipulate search engine rankings.

While these spam techniques already existed, Bing introduced the concept of calling them “inorganic site structure” in order to describe them.

Bing noted that sites legitimately create subdomains to keep different parts of the site separate, such as support.example.com. These are treated as belonging to the main domain, passing site-level signals to the subdomains.

Bing also said sites like WordPress create standalone sites under subdomains, in which case no site level signals are passed to the subdomains.

Examples of Inorganic Site Structure

An inorganic site structure is when a company leases a subdomain in order to take advantage of site-level signals to rank better. There have been

Private blog networks were also included as inorganic site structure

Domain Boundaries

Bing also introduced the idea of domain boundaries. The idea is that there are boundaries to a domain. Sometimes, as in the case of legitimate subdomains (ex. support.example.com), those boundaries extend out to the subdomain. In other cases like WordPress.com subdomains the boundaries do not extend to the subdomains.

Private Blog Networks (PBNs)
Bing called out PBNs as a form of spam that abuse website boundaries.

“While not all link networks misrepresent website boundaries, there are many cases where a single website is artificially split across many different domains, all cross-linking to one another, for the obvious purpose of rank boosting. This is particularly true of PBNs (private blog networks).”

Subdomain Leasing Penalties

Bing explained why they consider subdomain leasing a spammy activity:

“…we heard concerns from the SEO community around the growing practice of hosting third-party content or letting a third party operate a designated subdomain or subfolder, generally in exchange for compensation.

…the practice equates to buying ranking signals, which is not much different from buying links.”

At the time of this article, I still see a news site subdomain ranking in Bing (and Google). This page belongs to another company. All the links are redirected affiliate type links with parameters meant for tracking the referrals.

According to Archive.org the subdomain page was credited to an anonymous news staffer. Sometime in the summer the author was switched to someone with a name who is labeled as an expert, although the content is still the same.

So if Bing is already handing out penalties that means Bing (and Google who also ranks this page) still have some catching up to do.

Cross-Site Linking

Bing mentioned sites that are essentially one site that are broken up into multiple interlinking sites. Curiously Bing said that these kinds of sites already in violation of other link spam rules but that additional penalties will apply.

Here’s the kind of link structure that Bing used as an example:

illustration of a spammy link networkAll these sites are interlinking to each other. All the sites have related content and according to Bing are essentially the same site. This kind of linking practice goes back many years. They are traditionally known as interlinked websites. They are generally topically related to each other.

Bing used the above example to illustrate interlinked sites that are really just one site.

That link structure resembles the structure of interlinked websites that belong to the same company. If you’re planning a new web venture, it’s generally a good idea to create a site that’s comprehensive than to create a multitude of sites that are focused on just a small part of the niche.

Curiously, in reference to the above illustration, Bing said that kind of link structure was already in violation of link guidelines and that more penalties would be piled on top of those:

“Fig. 3 – All these domains are effectively the same website.
This kind of behavior is already in violation of our link policy.

Going forward, it will be also in violation of our “inorganic site structure” policy and may receive additional penalties.

Takeaway

It’s good news to hear Bing is improving. Competition between search engines encourage innovation and as Bing improves perhaps search traffic may become more diversified as more people switch to Bing as well as other engines like DuckDuckGo.

Read Bing’s announcement: Some Thoughts on Website Boundaries



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Google Releases its Site Kit WordPress Plugin Out of Beta

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Matt Southern


Google has released version 1.0 of its Site Kit plugin for WordPress, which means its officially out of beta after 6 months.

In the time since the developer preview of Site Kit was released, Google says it drastically simplified the setup, fixed bugs, and polished the main user flows.

Site Kit allows WordPress users to access data from Google products right from their site’s dashboard. The plugin aggregates data from Google Search Console, Google Analytics, PageSpeed Insights, and AdSense.

Google Releases its Site Kit WordPress Plugin Out of Beta

With Site Kit there’s no additional code editing required, which makes it easy to set up products like Google Analytics for those without any developer experience.

Anyone can install Site Kit, but Google emphasizes that it’s especially useful for professionals who work on sites for clients. The reasons why include:

  • Clients and other teams can easily access data from Google products by logging into the WordPress dashboard.
  • Clients will see performance states and improvement recommendations directly from Google
  • Site Kit allows you to set roles and permissions and make sure only relevant people can see the data.

To get the most out of Site Kit, Google recommends reviewing the main dashboard on at least a weekly basis. You can also check the stats of individual pages by navigating to the page and clicking on Site Kit in the admin bar.

Google Releases its Site Kit WordPress Plugin Out of Beta

With this data, Google recommends comparing the top performing pages and seeing how people found them. This can help you discover trends, such as which topics get the most engagement on Twitter, which get the most engagement on Facebook, and so on.

To get started with Site Kit, simply install it from your WordPress dashboard.



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