Transformers to help Google with better search results

Posted on October 30, 2019

 

Search giant, Google, is turning to Transformers to help it become better at finding what people are looking for in a search.

We wrote on Monday about Google’s latest update to its algorithm. This update was described by Search Engine Land as the biggest update since 2015, and Google says it will make search results more accurate.

So what is this update, what does it mean and, most importantly, how will affect your website?

First off, the update Google is implementing has been named BERT. This stands for ‘Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers’. It was the Transformers thing than peaked my interest. Rather than being shape changing robots (in which I am extremely interested) Transformers, in this context, are a type of neural network – a brain, if you will.

Transformers are used to ‘transform’ an input into an output. Essentially this means anything you could ‘input’ into a machine in order to get an ‘output’, where the input requires something to be memorized and referred to out of sequence.

For example, you may ask Siri what’s playing at your local cinema, and then ask the times of a film you like the sound of. A Transformer will take that input and work out what needs to be done with it in order to give a desired output, which would be Siri telling you the showing times of the film you want. It would have to remember the film you’re talking about without you telling it again.

Google researched Transformers before coming up with BERT in order to improve its search results. Google says the technology will allow it to improve one in 10 search results in English, and only in the USA at first. They’re expecting to roll it out to other countries and languages in due time.

So what sorts of queries will this affect?

Many digital marketing companies have an unhealthy obsession with keywords, as though they’re the most important thing in the world. You’d almost believe people searched on Google exclusively using predefined search terms that digital marketing agencies selected for them. Of course, they don’t. People search naturally, in a wide variety of different and interesting ways. They use language, sentences and, often, mixed up words and complex strings. Previously Google would just pick out the ‘keywords’ from those strings and try to match the most relevant result, often resulting in something that simply wasn’t relevant at all. Now, thanks to BERT, Google can identify the meaning behind the search to better match the person’s need.

An example Google gave in its announcement blog was this:

“Can you get medicine for someone pharmacy”

The ‘keywords’ in that search are ‘medicine’ and ‘pharmacy’. These are the words Google would have focused on, and the results would have reflected this. However this wouldn’t have helped the searcher, who is looking for an answer to the question of whether or not you’re allowed to pick up medicines for someone else at a pharmacy.

Now, with BERT, Google can decipher the meaning behind the search and produce the correct result, answering the searcher’s question.

It’s all still a work in progress, as new searches will teach BERT more about the way we search, and what we’re looking for. In fact, Google’s blog claims that 15% of searches made every day are new searches that haven’t before been searched for. This seems an incredible percentage given there are billions of searches every day. The more searches that are made, the more BERT will learn, the better the results will become.

What does this mean for your website?

As search becomes more intelligent and able to better match results with the growing number of different queries from users, your website should help it with more focused, unique and relevant content.

Don’t focus on keywords and rankings, focus on great content that goes into detail about specific facets of your business. Write your content in a comprehensive way, using natural language aimed at people – not search engines.

With Google changing its algorithm to better cater for what people are actually searching for, your website also needs to cater for this.

Darren Jamieson

Technical Director at Engage Web
Darren is Technical Director at Engage Web, as well as being a co-founder of the company. He takes a hands-on approach to SEO and web design, helped by more than 15 years’ experience in these fields.

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