Search Engine Optimization is very dynamic, and you should be prepared for regular changes. SEO is not for the rigid who prefer to have a predefined way of doing things for long periods of time. Google algorithm updates have affected what matters for SEO many times over the years, and in their defense, they do this to improve the quality of their algorithm in order to get users what they are looking for the first time they conduct a search on Google.

It is a no brainer that this spells trouble for marketers since they have the huge task of keeping up with the updates. In the last year, Google has rolled out updates every month and the November 2019 one has hit some marketers hard. The highlight of this update is the new BERT system, which is meant to improve how the search engines comprehend user queries.

What is BERT?

BERT is a new neural network technique for natural language processing pre-training developed by Google to better understand the intent of users’ search query. BERT stands for Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers and as revealed in a paper by Google’s AI Learning team. It helps the engine to understand human queries better, thus improving the relevance of search results. Previously, the engine had great difficulties comprehending some queries since machines and people understand words differently. BERT was rolled out as an open-source system in November 2018, and any party can train it to comprehend their language system.

Since BERT was the standout in the November update, marketers whose sites recorded huge drops in traffic were quick to conclude that it was the most probable cause of these drops. The declines came as a surprise since most publishers argued that they followed all the guidelines but still got hit. Aside from the BERT introduction, Google released their regular core update that is also meant to improve the search results’ relevance.

Who Was Affected by the November Algorithm Update?

One site owner reported that he took a traffic hit of about 40% and it is fair to say that this is a huge hit, looking at how he claims to have followed all the SEO guidelines. He was almost sure that it was a result of the BERT update, but John Mueller from Google was not in agreement as he suggested otherwise.

Mueller was quoted saying that it is unlikely that the huge hit was as a result of the BERT update. The BERT changes are only meant to help understand search queries better, and there is no way that a site could suddenly become irrelevant. BERT is more concerned with the complicated phrases and tries to understand whether the words in the search engine best relates to a website. He was keen to emphasize that Google changes its algorithm all the time and it is just a coincidence that their core update came at the same time as the BERT rollout.

Google was clear that the BERT rollout would affect approximately 10% of all the searches. However, reading from Mueller’s sentiments, the majority of the 10% would be those involving complex search queries.

Google does not give up a lot regarding its updates because they fear webmasters will attempt to take advantage of the changes to gain more traffic. They leave the details hidden and let marketers compete naturally while trying to deliver better user experience and content to searchers. Mueller recommended that sites that took a big hit on their traffic should focus on the basics of good SEO rather than worry about trying to get around the BERT update. He further said that marketers should not dwell much on the technical SEO aspects in a bid to get around BERT but instead work on making their site better. No website is perfect, and there is always some room for improvement, be it with the speed, user experience, or web design.

Our Takeaways

We believe that apart from the site owner who got the chance to converse with Mueller, other sites have taken hits, as it is the norm with these updates. One hit does not signify the end of the world for your website, as these updates will continue to happen on a regular basis and you need to understand how to deal with them. Google says that you cannot fix your way back to position one after taking a hit. While this statement might appear to be unpopular, it is true and can help you forge the right mentality for dealing with your SEO. You need to take a holistic approach to your SEO rather than trying to make quick fixes.

A good illustration is page speed which is mainly a technical SEO aspect. It is essential, there is no argument to that, but it is just one of the several ranking factors. You cannot be perfect in all factors, and many others are more significant than page speed. After the update was released, another site owner was frustrated that slower sites ranked higher than his. Mueller responded that while speed is an essential factor, it does not override every other thing. This statement sums up the whole issue because there is no reason to rank the most relevant answer to a query lower than a fast and irrelevant one. The top priority of the search engines is to satisfy the search query. From this, you can easily conclude that page speed is in some way overrated, but do not ignore it as it crucial for conversions, ad clicks, and keeping visitors on your site (bounce rate).

The key takeaways from the November 2019 update are that focusing on technical SEO aspects will not get you traffic. Do not get the wrong message here; fixing technical SEO is important and should not be forgotten. However, when you face a hit from an update, do not focus on the technical SEO aspects as they are quick fixes in some way based on the context. Instead, focus on issues that increase the relevance of your pages, and this takes you back to the fundamentals of good SEO. Most of the recent updates released by Google have been pointing towards ‘relevance.’ Focus on increasing your site’s relevance and you will be better positioned to recover from your traffic hits now and in future. Contact the team at EverConvert to improve your SEO, and get the results you want from your company’s digital efforts.