Non-native English speakers who are trying to learn the language often say that one of the most difficult aspects of it is making sense of prepositions and other short words. For example, “doing the washing” and “doing the washing up” are very different things, and imagine trying to decipher phrases like “set it out” or “write it up” just by looking those individual words up in a dictionary.
It’s not surprising that search engines have long struggled with these nuances of the language as well, and at one time they used to all but ignore them completely. Traditionally, SEO experts have used “stop words” in an attempt to achieve favourable rankings without using unnatural language. These are words that have rarely been given much value by search engines in the past, and a comprehensive list of them can be seen here.
As you can see though, this list is from 2009. Over the last decade, Google and other search engines have come to realise that these words are fundamental to how we communicate. If the website for a car dealership says “we sell manual cars, not automatic cars”, the ‘not’ there is important and shouldn’t be ignored. A search engine user searching for “automatic cars” wouldn’t want to be directed to this site.
In its BERT algorithm update last year, Google addressed this with its “parking on a hill with no curb” example. Before the update, Google would put too much emphasis on the word “curb” and would return results about how to park on a hill with a curb/kerb rather than without. A post-BERT search shows that the search engine now understands the significance of the word ‘no’ in the query.
Speaking at the recent Search Marketing Expo (SMX) East event in New York City, Frédéric Dubut, Senior Program Manager Lead for Bing, said that he believes 2020 will be the year search engines become more about intent than keywords. With the introduction of BERT (which Bing claimed it had already been using before Google’s announcement), Dubut says that marketers need to carry out “intent research” rather than simply picking out keywords.
This shift in how search engines are returning results should be welcomed by responsible website owners, as it should in theory reward them for being clear and transparent about what they sell. After all, there’s little value in luring someone to your site if they’re searching for something you don’t offer.
For intelligent, content-driven search engine optimisation with BERT and other up-to-the-minute algorithm changes in mind, why not speak to Engage Web?