BERT – Translation tool or small business SEO and marketing game-changer

Ofer Tirosh takes an in-depth look at the implementation of BERT and what it means for small businesses and SEO experts. 

Google has undergone some major updates this year and what may not be common knowledge is that these are directly related to the implementation of what is known as BERT, a revolutionary NLP or natural language processor.

Google BERT is slated to directly impact a full 10 percent of all the search queries on the Google search engine, making it very relevant to anyone even remotely involved with search engine optimization or SEO. What BERT may hold for the future of small businesses, SEO and marketing remain to be seen, but the future does indeed look very bright for BERT.

The Origins or BERT NLP and translation services

BERT stands for ‘Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers’, which is a fancy way of saying it is a natural language processor but very innovative and way beyond any previous, similar technologies. Even more astounding was the interest of Google in releasing BERT through Open Source access as they did in October of 2018.

BERT was originally built in conjunction with a translation engine between German and English, and through the selective use of the insertion of ‘masks’ to hide words. It is novel not because of the ability to translate between German and English, but in its ability to determine the ‘masks’ either in front of or preceding other words – this is the bidirectional aspect of BERT.

The many ongoing research projects with BERT and its expansion through the open-source community include ongoing work by the National Institute for Health where it is being used for both medical translation and interpretation services in addition to being used for biomedical and clinical entities normalisation.

Open source BERT and natural language processing for search engine results

The underlying implications of BERT strongly indicate that ongoing development with the open-source community will eventually expand its use not only for translation and the search engines but as an important tool in academia and even research. In terms of the small business applications of BERT, SEO and marketing efforts, the results are promising.

At present, the primary focus of Google BERT is for the search engine results page, primarily through its abilities with latent semantic indexing and analysis, more commonly referred to as LSI and LSA for SEO experts. In its present form, it has not yet been tailored to master all the intricacies of language or translation, but it has definitely advanced since its inception and the introduction of BERT into the open-source realm.

Google BERT was integrated into the search engine algorithms late in the year 2019. The Google updates of May 2020 were in large part so pervasive because they were directly related to changes in search engine results based on the use of BERT. Google has also pointed out that other similar updates will occur in the not-too-distant future as BERT moves beyond the limitations of search engine algorithms and translation.

As BERT continues to advance its learning capabilities, it is undoubtedly going to force both small businesses and SEO experts to reconsider how they go about their business online. At present, it looks as if most of the actual changes will be taking place within the search engines and the algorithms. Even so, this will radically change how search engine results are determined, with an increasing focus on the actual content of the websites.

Offsite SEO or search engine marketing (SEM) efforts may be adversely impacted by links to pages that are grammatically incorrect or questionable in nature. This will force changes in the way link campaigns are conducted.

BERT will place a priority on the overall website theme and consistency, seeking out correlations between the general content of linked websites. Thus, linking to general sites may see a reduction in ‘link juice’ or benefit, though it cannot be determined if this will result in penalties. As was amply demonstrated in the May 2020 Google updates, we can expect this to directly impact the ranking of the site on the SERP.

As BERT continues, the Google blog indicates that the ultimate goal of BERT is to ‘read’ and ‘understand’ all the content on the individual web pages more comprehensively than they are presently capable of doing. On-site SEO campaigns then will be forced to rethink the focus of the on-site content.

This should benefit the average small business owner as it will expand the ability of the search engines to ‘understand’ the content of the site better and to allow the small business websites to expand their ranking on the SERP.

Google notes that some 15 percent of all search queries are unique in their verbiage. When BERT has expanded to the point that it can more accurately understand the search intent, and have a more comprehensive understanding of the small business website, it will be better able to match the search to results.

While there is no indication that keywords are going away, there will be an increased focus on query-based content, directly addressing the needs of the searcher. At this point, the small business owner can focus the bulk of their content on search queries and relevant answers, or even why their products and services are the best solutions.

While the approach in terms of SEO and small business websites may seem minor, it is very profound. This should alleviate the need for many aspects of SEO, allowing the small business owner to focus their energies and their budgets on additional marketing campaigns such as video marketing and social media marketing.

Among the most beneficial additions in terms of SEO and marketing can be a focus on relevant site content and translation services that allow products and services to be introduced to larger, more international audiences. Translation and localization can be used to market to tens of millions of new customers online while reducing the competition to little more than nothing, which bodes well for the future of small businesses.

The future of BERT, translation and content marketing for small Business

In terms of small business SEO and marketing, Google BERT is going to be even more relevant as time marches on and it becomes more actively involved with reviews of the websites themselves. Among the many educational institutions using and expanding the efficacy of BERT open source, is Cornell University, a very prestigious institution with a very direct purpose.

Cornell notes in its October 2019 article the implementation of BERT into the Google search engines, but also go further in regards to website content more specifically. It states that when BERT has advanced to the point that it can review the content of a website directly, it should limit the front page of the SERP (or search engine results page) to “highly relevant, well written and organised websites”.

It has long been held that ‘content is king’ but this is only true insofar as the information that is conveyed within the content. Among the brightest aspects of BERT looks to be the ability of small businesses to once again focus on well-written and meaningful content for their clients, without having to worry about less than reputable sites forcing legitimate business interests off the front page of the SERP.

*Open Source Code for BERT can be found on GITHUB for those that may want to tailor it to their specific needs.

Ofer Tirosh is the CEO of Tomedes, a translation company with a focus on internationalisation and globalisation using language and localisation.

Photo by Markus Winkler on Unsplash.