On-page SEO for your local business in 2020 – Say hello to BERT.

If you are a local SME, ranking well on search engines can be challenging. Often the keywords you would love to do well with in search results (SERPS) are bringing back the “Big Boys”, your bigger competitors. So what can you do about it?

The ever changing landscape of SEO

Web Search constantly evolves and no more so since the introduction of natural language processing and as part of this the introduction of BERT into Google’s ranking and featured snippets algorithm.

So to begin with, this article is about on-page SEO for the future and what BERT is and what you should be doing.

Always have in mind that on-page SEO is only part of getting your business front and centre of search results and in future articles I will explain why a true holistic approach will be necessary and which I believe is great for local SMEs.

First things first. What is BERT and what’s that got to do with ranking well on search engines?

BERT stands for the instantly forgettable Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers.

The key fact to take on board is it doesn’t look for keyword density on a page to help assess the usefulness of that page. It looks for the full context of a word primarily by looking at the words that come before and after it. This makes it particularly useful for understanding the intent behind search queries and therefore the results it brings back. (With voice searches this is incredibly important)

So starting at the end, i.e. a search and result, consider these four questions.

I like most fruits but is a date good for you?
Is seventy too old to go on a date?
Not to date myself, but is Tony Blackburn the best DJ ever?
What date is Easter Sunday next year?

While my examples are a bit ridiculous, it does demonstrate how Google will treat the word date
by using the words around it to get the true intent of the question. Something you do naturally.

Why does BERT matter for my business website?

I am seeing this as a move away from you targeting business related keywords and focussing instead on larger topics of specific interest appropriate to your business. I think the subject of the specific interest and therefore its relevance in search results is taken from the machine learning of common questions from your customers.

Let me modify one of the above examples.

Is a date good for you?

In my search results, this brings back

I think this hasn’t been brought back as the most relevant because it has a high density of the word date but because Google has understood, based on previous searches (not by you although even that is probably in the mix) that the question is about the benefits of eating the date fruit and not going on a date at 70. And therefore this article entitled 8 Proven Benefits of Dates specifically answers what Google reckons the searcher wanted to know.

With the introduction of BERT what practical steps should we be doing on our business website?

Be natural and provide content your potential customers want to read. Start this process  by doing the points below:

  • Talk to your customers and get an idea of what questions they would like to know the answers to.
  • Create focussed, topic specific articles that answers those questions well
  • Don’t constantly repeat and therefore overlap the same message throughout your site. Instead create clusters of similar content.
  • Be an Expert, Authoritative, and Trustworthy (E.A.T) – I tackle that one next time.

I like the idea of it being harder to outwit Google because I want to be able to search for a topic and get a useful bit of information back. Those sites that are genuinely trying to put out useful information and especially on what would be termed at the end of a long-tail* search, should do well.

*70% of all searches are still new to Google and is because they are extremely specific. Businesses can benefit from talking to their customers to find out for themselves the types of long-tail questions they may ask. I think this works especially well for smaller businesses especially if you are more niche or where geographical location is a factor.