While Google has always continuously tweaked its algorithm, making hundreds of changes each year, these last six weeks have been especially volatile in the SEO (search engine optimization) industry. Some major updates were made to both the core and local algorithms, other updates were reversed, and many websites saw drastic changes in both rankings and traffic.
BERT (aka Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers) is a new core algorithm update that leverages machine learning (ML) and natural language processing (NLP) to better understand the context of a search query. Its goal is to help the search engine better understand the subtle differences and context of words someone uses when searching and better match those queries with helpful results. It’s suggested that BERT will impact around 10% of queries, organic rankings and featured snippets.
Bert is designed to help solve ambiguous sentences and phrases that are made up of lots of words with multiple meanings.
Consider the word “crash.” It can refer to a motor vehicle, the stock market, showing up at a party uninvited, or many other things. By considering the other words in the search query, the search engine is able to determine likely intent and provide the most relevant search results.
Many believe this update is in response to the growing adoption of voice-enabled devices, such as Siri and Alexa. Search queries that are typed into a computer or mobile device are very different than the queries posed when talking to Siri or a smart device.
In early November, an update was made to the core Search algorithm. Unlike previous core updates, Google did not announce this one beforehand. In fact, according to the company, it was just a routine update. However, some sites saw significant changes in Google organic placement and traffic, some as much as a 30 – 50% difference. While some updates impact specific types of websites, niches and industries, this update seems to have hit all niches and industries.
Local Search Update
Earlier this week, Google confirmed what many online marketers had been reporting – an update to the local search algorithm has been rolled out, which changes how local search results are generated. With this update, Google is now applying neural matching to local search results. Danny Sullivan, Google’s Search Liaison explains, “Neural matching is an AI-based system Google began using in 2018 primarily to understand how words are related to concepts. It’s like a super-synonym system. “
Similar to BERT, neural matching allows Google to better understand when queries have local search intent even when the business name or description aren’t included. As a result, Google may show different local results. Neural matching is impacting more than 30% of queries, covering countries and languages worldwide.
Impact on Your Law Firm
Changes to the algorithms mean that online marketers have to adjust their strategies. And, while Google is pretty tight-lipped on some of the exact algorithm changes, there are a few things you can do to make sure your content continues to reach your audience.
- Check your search traffic in Google Analytics. If someone in your law firm isn’t tasked with regularly checking your online marketing metrics, you’ll never know if/how one of the many algorithm changes has impacted your site, which means you can’t take corrective action.
- Publish high quality, relevant content. Google will now be able to better understand the intention behind a particular search query, so unique, high-quality content that answers specific questions will rank better and result in more traffic.
- Focus on long-tail keywords. Law firms will have to adjust strategies to optimize for search via voice-enabled devices, steering away from targeting broad-term keywords and focusing more on long-tail keywords that take natural language into account. For example, one might type “probate process” on a computer, but ask Siri, “How long is the probate process in California?”
The biggest takeaway from these last several weeks may be that SEO is not a “one and done” effort. Keeping up-to-date on the latest online marketing trends and adjusting your strategy as needed is the only way to continue to rank well, bring traffic to your website, and turn all of those prospects into clients.
Director, Web and Online Marketing Services
American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys, Inc.
9444 Balboa Avenue, Suite 300
San Diego, California 92123
Phone: (858) 453-2128
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