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How BERT is helping SEO agencies focus on collaboration strategies

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With the release of BERT in November 2019, SEO agencies have had to look more closely at the way they review a client’s content and keyword research with an overhaul mentality rather than small corrective measures after some of the previous updates. This is particularly so when considering the searcher’s intent and their client’s path to complete desired onsite actions.

What is the Google BERT update?

The focus of the BERT algorithm remains, as ever on good quality content. However, the thing that makes BERT different from the rest of the Google family of algorithm updates is its understanding of context. 

BERT enables Google to determine relevance. It focuses on adjoining and precursory words that make up a search query such as conjunctions, prepositions, or any words that help to determine the context of the sentence. For example, “Where to buy cakes without gluten nearby.” Certainly, there are more eloquent ways to word searches, but we know that these are not always the searches that return the most results, invariably the long tail searches with good conversion potential are those that read like spoken word.

Since the BERT update, we see more priority by Google to understand the context within searches.

What does this mean for SEO agencies?

This update remedies two important things for Google: 

It reduces the opportunity for keyword stuffing within context, giving priority to well-structured sentences. Google is tightening its belt on the manipulation of its systems. Almost all SEOs are guilty in some form of integrating keywords into sentences where they fit. Keywords affect readability, but the opportunity to integrate a high-volume search term to rank better was hard to resist.

The second, and almost more important, benefit of this update is the priority for long-tail keywords. If we had a nickel (let’s say a quid in this economy) for every time I heard a client say: “Why would we bother if it has low search volume?” SEO agencies have failed to educate and advise clients about the benefits of long-tail keywords. The advantage of course (in case you are unconvinced yourself) is that keywords are transactional, rather than navigational or informational searches that are better for site visibility and general traffic. These long-tail terms are usually made by searchers that have progressed further down the sale funnel and are searching with a more “ready to buy” mindset.

While Google has claimed this update will affect 10% of all searches, it is possible to assume that this represents the proportion of long-tail searches. In a nutshell, BERT helps Google return more targeted results and understand the users’ intent with more complex searches.

What will BERT mean in practice for SEO agencies?

BERT looks at the “relatedness” of terms using advanced computational linguistics developed by Google’s Pygmalion (the brains behind the development of Google Assistant) and any of Google’s algorithmic linguistic development.

An example that is splattered all over SEO agency blogs is the association of words like “bank” in search terms like “parking near a river bank.” Historically this search returned results for banks or if you were lucky banks nearby with parking. The association of “river” to “bank” was often missed as the associated linguistic processing was relatively undeveloped. This, along with the advancements of understanding in search term structure and words associated with one another, such as proximity terms, helps Google to understand better the search term as a whole phrase rather than picking up high-value words in isolation.

SEO agencies are going to have to reassess resources, particularly those of content creators. Many digital marketing and SEO agencies have focused on the sum of keywords coupled with the tone of voice, technical language and preference (not to mention client approval) when making large scale content edits on a client’s website. Many agencies work collaboratively with a content agency and freelancers for more in-depth content messaging, or have a small in-house content production. These players often have a decent conceptual understanding of SEO best practices but, in many cases, are not SEOs themselves. The disciplines of SEO and high-quality content are commonly divided, even though the partnership is imperative to find a webpage (with SEO) and to stay there (for the content) to address users’ intent. BERT will undoubtedly push SEO agencies to assess their interagency practices with a focus on how content and SEO-focused practitioners collaborate to provide the best for their clients.

The effect of BERT on SEO agencies

I work primarily with SMEs spanning industries from SaaS, tech, e-commerce and fast-moving consumer goods through to construction and training. From our observations, B2B and more technical or specialist services have been affected. These types of businesses use more complex language that relies on long-tail keywords to create opportunities and differentiate their services in the market. From the end of November 2019, many of the monitored keywords across multiple accounts that contain navigational or auxiliary contextual elements peaked and troughed. Improvements impacted the rank potential of mobile searches far more positively than desktop. With priority given to mobile-first indexing, this will not be surprising to agencies. It may suggest a move by Google to increase the lead gen and purchasing potential on mobile devices, but it is unconfirmed.

So what does it mean?

With BERT, SEOs will have to evolve their understanding of how searchers look for and find their client’s sites, how they navigate to them, as well as specific opportunities and difficulties about the client’s market. Two things are particularly important: content syntax and high-quality descriptive copy.

Content syntax to reflect complex searches now being understood by Google with a focus on parameters of a search that changes, obstructs or enhances the meaning of differing results. And providing the resources to add high-quality descriptive copy on home pages and landing pages will redefine the search parameters and address new requirements for complex search terms that promote and identify the value of the client’s USPs, products or services.

In short, we must understand our clients and their consumers a lot better. Keyword research can no longer be a scattergun approach combining terms of varying lengths for conversion potential, volume and visibility. The balance has shifted and high volume terms will lessen in value for ROI as usage and relevancy of results increases for users. Agencies should continue to optimize for short terms, but the complex understanding of this algorithm gives agencies a chance like never before; to tailor pages to serve far more specific intents with mutual benefits of higher rates of on-page action and user fulfillment.


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

Alex Buckingham-Bullock is an SEO manager at POLARIS Agency, a London-based B2B SEO Agency. Alex is an SEO expert with over 5 year’s experience in digital marketing, leading SEO campaigns across the global markets. He enjoys the versatility of SEO and the diversity of high growth Strategic SEO campaigns. POLARIS Agency specializes in campaigns for the e-commerce, tech, travel, B2B and retail sectors.



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Google Search Console now lets you export more data

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Search Console users can now download complete information (instead of just specific table views) from almost all reports, Google announced Wednesday. Data can be exported as a Google Sheet, Excel or .CSV file.

Source: Google.

Why we care

Being able to export your Google Search Console reports makes it easier to analyze and manipulate the data using other tools. It also provides you with the option to join datasets, perform more advanced analyses or just visualize the data a different way.

More on the news

  • Downloaded Enhancement reports include the list of issues and their affected pages, a daily breakdown of your pages, their status and impressions from Google search. When downloading a specific drill-down view, details describing the view are also included in the exported file.
  • All Performance data tabs (Queries, Pages, Countries, Devices, Search appearances and Dates) can now be downloaded with one click. The data will include an extra “Filters” tab that shows which filters were applied when you exported the file.

About The Author

George Nguyen is an Associate Editor at Third Door Media. His background is in content marketing, journalism, and storytelling.



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Google Images to replace dimensions overlay on image thumbnails

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Google Images will soon replace the dimensions information you see in the image search results, as you overlay your mouse cursor over a specific image thumbnail. Google will replace the dimensions information with product, recipe, video, and soon, licensable labels based on the query.

What is changing? Here is a screenshot highlighting the dimensions section of the image thumbnail in Google Image search:

By the end of this week, a Google spokesperson told Search Engine Land, the image size dimensions will be replaced with product, recipe, video, and soon, licensable labels.

Google was unable to share a screenshot of the new change. We will update this story when we see the new labels show up in Google Image Search.

Why the change? Google said this will help searchers find visual ideas and get more done directly from the image thumbnail. Images that are licensable, will likely show the license label in that overlay. Images that come from videos, will show a video label. Recipe photos will show the recipe label and so on.

Why we care. If this does indeed work as Google expects, more engaged searchers will help increase clicks on your images and hopefully traffic to your web site. This gives us even more reason to make sure to add the various markups to our images when applicable.


About The Author

Barry Schwartz a Contributing Editor to Search Engine Land and a member of the programming team for SMX events. He owns RustyBrick, a NY based web consulting firm. He also runs Search Engine Roundtable, a popular search blog on very advanced SEM topics. Barry’s personal blog is named Cartoon Barry and he can be followed on Twitter here.



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What happens if you stop doing SEO?

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Often, businesses want to stop and start SEO. 

Some feel that taking a break won’t cause any issues. 

But when a client suggests taking a break, you can explain the details of what will happen.

If you stop posting content correctly 

When you stop publishing content, the following things happen:

  1. You stop targeting new terms consistently. This results in fewer new keyword rankings and new traffic. 
  2. You stop creating new pages that can be linked to, and the number of links you earn goes down.
  3. You stop capturing new visitors to add to your remarketing audiences, email list and push notification list.
  4. You stop generating content that can be used to create hub pages, which are master pages that link to all other pages on the topic. These often rank very well.
  5. You stop generating content that gets shared on social media, and thus, generates social media shares and traffic.
  6. You stop encouraging people to return to your website for new posts. This reduces your branded searches, which are an indicator of quality to Google.

Overall, if you stop creating content, it says to Google that your website is no longer as active as it was and thus beginning the process of dying a slow death.

If you don’t watch for technical issues 

Those without web experience often don’t understand that from a technical perspective, things often break for no real reason.

I’ve never seen a website that did not have at least a handful of technical SEO issues.

If you don’t monitor the technical aspects of your site, issues such as the following could arise:

  1. You block your website with robots.txt.
  2. You generate duplicate content.
  3. You accidentally push your development site into the index. 

You can read more about common technical issues here.

When you don’t monitor these things and fix them consistently, they start to add up. Think of it as a garden – it takes maintenance, or it starts to become overgrown.

It is incredibly important to stay technically correct, especially with new developments such as mobile usability, page speed, AMP and more.

If you don’t, you are sure to have an error at some point that will cost you down the line. Similarly, your tech stack will become so out of date that you can no longer compete in the market.

If you stop refreshing pages

When you refresh a page correctly, traffic will generally increase to that page 10% to 30%, sometimes more.

The reason for this is because Google sees the new text and the value it provides and wants to rank it higher.

Now, there are many ways to go about doing refreshes. Some of those include:

  1. Adding FAQs to the page
  2. Adding links to other articles
  3. Updating facts
  4. Updating dates 
  5. Making the text longer 
  6. Adding schema
  7. Changing a page template 
  8. Etc.

Lately, the most important thing to look for when refreshing a page is whether or not it matches search intent, and if the page in question is better than the #1 ranking page.

My process includes doing a search, categorizing the query based on intent, analyzing the top pages, creating a new strategy for the page we are trying to get ranked, and refreshing as a result of that.

If you stop building new pages 

Building new pages are harder for some industries than others.

For example, when I worked with a few firms in the outsources accounting space, the lower funnel terms were minimal. If you compare that to a large e-commerce site like Amazon, its terms are endless.

While that is the case, I believe websites should always be targeting new terms and organizing them by segment. Those segments should be prioritized based on business goals and tracked in a dashboard.

But if you stop building new pages, you’ll lose keyword growth momentum.

I highly recommend creating these pages for SEO, but additionally, these new pages can be excellent landing pages for paid search and paid media, in general.

As a website grows, it’s a great idea to create more landing pages that target specific keywords and audiences. This will improve quality score on the page side and conversion rates all around.

If you stop this process, you’ll lose your competitive advantage. The people who win in the future of the web will be the ones converting traffic for less.  

If you stop watching out for bad links

If you stop doing SEO, your backlink profile can get out of control.

Lately, spammy links are worse than ever before.

When you watch your backlinks, you will see the following happen:

  1. People scrape your website content and keep the links in by accident. 
  2. You get Google alerts from sites hacked by malware. 
  3. Competitors try to do negative SEO on your site.

If you don’t update your disavow file once a month, you are putting your website rankings at risk. Lately, we have been doing it weekly for clients in competitive spaces.

If you stop watching out for stolen content 

Go to your top landing page on your website right now.

Copy a block of text about three sentences long.

Put that text in quotes and search for it in Google. What do you see?

I’ll bet some of you will see other websites coming up for that content. Some might have even stolen from your website.

Now, think about the impact that can have if it happens across multiple pages on your site. Honestly, it can be devastating. Many times we find others have wholly duplicated a website, stolen key pages, or taken individual sections of a page.

When this happens, you need to address it.

  1. Rewrite the content on your site.
  2. Ask the other site to take it down. 
  3. File a DMCA on them if needed.
  4. Consider sending them a cease and desist.
  5. Sometimes, you can contact the hosting company and ask them to remove the site.

Regardless, if you stop watching for stolen content, it could have an extremely negative effect on your business and rankings. This is something you need to catch right away.

Bottom line: Why you should not stop doing SEO

Obviously, you’re not going to stop doing SEO. We all know it is an amazing asset to improve search ranking and help your business grow. The work you do to create and update content along with the technical issues that are easily solved if they’re on your radar, all improve your bottom line. But you also need to ensure you are compliant with privacy regulations if you wish to remain on top.

The ugly truth is that it’s hard to reverse momentum once a website starts going in the wrong direction. I am a firm believer that all things online should be scaled as the business grows, SEO included.


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

John Lincoln is CEO of Ignite Visibility, a digital marketing agency and an Inc. 5000 company. Lincoln is consistently named one of the top marketing experts in the industry. He has been a recipient of the Search Engine Land “Search Marketer of the Year” award, named the #1 SEO consultant in the US by Clutch.co, most admired CEO and 40 under 40. Lincoln has written two books (The Forecaster Method and Digital Influencer) and made two movies (SEO: The Movie and Social Media Marketing: The Movie) on digital marketing.



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