What You Need to Know About BERT, Google’s New Search Algorithm

Attention SEO Nerds and those who want their church to be found on Google…

Google has announced BERT, the “biggest update to their algorithm in 5 years” and once again, our job as church communicators changes a little. It’s not this surly guy:

BERT stands for Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers, which means nothing to most people. I just hope it represents the Autobots and not the Decepticons. 

It’s designed to process language more naturally and uses, get this, Wikipedia as a basis! Now that I think about it, this is literally Bumblebee from the first Transformers movie communicating through the radio. Wow. Anyway…

Sounds nuts, but fear not! This actually might make our jobs easier (for a change). 

Let’s Roll Out…the Explanation

First and foremost, BERT is a change that seeks to understand the way language works a little better so it can find better search results. This can help us when people search for things like “Churches in Dallas.” 

Previously, Google would filter out the word “in” and just search for results that had the word “church” and the word “Dallas” in it. Secondarily, it would search for churches near the location of the one searching, so if they were in another state, the search could get wonky, especially on page 2, where websites go to die.

But then Google introduced localized geographic search to the algorithm a while back and that helped with keywords like Dallas. 

So what’s different now?

Now, Google will take a search like “churches in Dallas” and consider that you only want churches in the city of Dallas. So your results will reflect that much better with churches who are actually, get this, in Dallas. 

Here’s another catch: Clearly, this search query wants a list of churches in Dallas and not just any church in particular. So when you type this in, Google will find several lists of “churches in Dallas” to aid you in your search for a church…in Dallas. These are the “best churches in Dallas” lists and that sort of thing. 

Transform Your Search and Content Strategy

This is where churches can get creative. Post a blog on your church website or make a YouTube video and link to it on your site that is about 10 great churches to attend in Dallas. Or 10 Great churches in a few of your surrounding cities.

Then just make sure that yours is on that list in a prominent position and Google is likely to find that blog or YouTube video when someone searches. This is content marketing 101.

“Content Marketing is the only kind of marketing left.” – Seth Godin

Content marketing is simply where you create a piece of content for someone to find that leads them to your church (or whatever your goal) and then help them find it. These can be blogs, podcasts, YouTube videos, whatever that speak to what they are searching for.

Side note: Speaking of content marketing, you might need some help with the demand for graphic design. Look into Church Media Squad. I’ve used them and they’re great!

church media squad 50 percent off first month

Now when you post blogs and videos, etc. to your website, it’s more important than ever to fill in those snippets and excerpts so that BERT has something to read in the bathroom. 

Win the Search Battle

I highly recommend the Yoast plugin for WordPress sites. This plugin helps you check all the optimization boxes for SEO and scores your page for readability as well. It’s a super useful tool and the free version is pretty helpful. 

Obviously, there’s more to BERT than meets the eye, so if you want to read all the details about BERT and learn exactly how it works or if you just need help dozing off tonight, here’s the original paper on it. 

If you want to win on Google, focus your content efforts around content marketing and throw out the old “if we impress them, they will come” mentality of the attractional model of church. Put things out there that people want to read or see and help them find you instead of just hammering out stuff that’s really only important to you.

So on that note, I leave you with this song from Switchfoot.

“If we’re adding to the noise, turn off this song.” Because that’s what they’ll do.

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