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How BERT Can Impact Online Legal Marketing

The search engine optimization (SEO) world was all in a tizzy this past week as Google announced that it had rolled out a serious update to its core algorithm. That update is technically called Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers, but has shortened to BERT because it kind of has to be and doing so does not exactly make it any less confusing.

Google has claimed that BERT will alter the rankings for an estimated 10% of search queries. But if you’re writing your legal blogs and other online content with the reader in mind, there is absolutely no reason why you should be too concerned about it.

Google Rolls Out BERT, It’s Newest Algorithm Update

Google is in a constant arms race with other search engines to update and evolve to give internet users better and more relevant results for their search queries.

The latest iteration of this evolution has been BERT. With the BERT update, Google has taken aim at potentially confusing aspects of the English language that have been a thorn in the side to anyone who has tried getting computers to understand it through artificial intelligence.

Simply put, context matters when we communicate in the English language, whether while writing or speaking. Words that provide very little meaning in some sentences can completely alter the meaning of others. Other words have one meaning in one context, and a completely different meaning in another. When people use those words in Google queries, it can throw the results off and leave the user mystified as to why the search engine gave them those pages to that query.

For example, imagine searching for “how can I access my bank account” and getting an instructional video on how to moor a boat on the bank of a river.

Google wants to prevent that from happening, and BERT is their attempt to do it.

BERT helps Google better understand context in language

What Does This Mean for My Firm’s Online Marketing Efforts?

Very little, actually.

Because BERT is merely trying to read a searcher’s intent, rather than judge the relevance and importance of individual webpages for a given query, BERT is going to have very little effect on how you market your law firm, online.

In fact, any losses that you see from BERT’s algorithmic changes are likely going to be victories in disguise.

Articles and pages that BERT is going to bury in the search engine results page (SERP) should be performing well in large part because Google has misread the query, like your article on the fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine ranking in the one spot for the query “what trees have poisonous fruit?” The people using that query probably aren’t interested in Fourth Amendment jurisprudence and the idea of sufficient attenuation. Most of them want to know what trees bear fruit that could kill them.

BERT aims to bury your legal response to this botanical question. And while, yes, you would see a decrease in the web traffic your article gets because it is no longer getting those readers, it would also see a jump in the important reader metrics that Google is increasingly relying on. Those readers who want to know what fruit not to eat will won’t venture accidentally onto your site, become instantly dissatisfied with court cases and legal jargon, and return to the results page, scuttling things like your bounce rate and time spent on the page.

Without those dissatisfied readers, BERT might actually help your page rank better in more relevant searches by boosting its reader satisfaction scores.