Google’s John Mueller answered whether BERT is making exact match keywords of less importance. Mueller explained the purpose of BERT and how that might affect keyword use in the long run.
Question About the Impact of BERT on Keywords
The question was asked in the context of a Google Office Hours hangout. The person asked whether BERT is making exact match keywords in content of less important.
Here is the question:
“With BERT coming out, will the importance of the exact keyword, exact match keyword decrease?”
Google’s John Mueller first observed that BERT has been in use for awhile now, that it’s not something that is “coming out” as if it’s still being rolled out.
“I think BERT has been working in various ways for quite some time.”
John next offered background information on BERT:
“So BERT is essentially a machine learning set up, I believe for understanding essentially the content a little bit better.
So the queries that people type in, understanding those better and understanding your pages content a bit better.
And with all of these… machine learning approaches, we try to figure out what these pages are actually about, what the query is actually looking for and we try to match that a little bit better.”
Mueller Affirms Direction of Impact on Keyword Use
John next underlines what many in the SEO community have been seeing over the years with regard to exact match keywords in content.
An example is the case of misspellings. In the past it was useful to salt a page with common keyword misspellings. This made it possible for a low quality affiliate site to rank over authoritative sites, sites that would never consciously add a misspelling to their pages.
This is no longer the case. Google is able to rank authoritative sites for misspelled keywords in search queries.
Mueller’s answer affirms that Google is headed in the direction of less reliance on exact match keywords and highlights as an example exact match misspellings and singular/plural keyword variations.
Here’s Mueller’s explanation:
“From my point of view, all of these changes that have been happening over the years, they do lead in the direction that you don’t have to have the exact keywords on your pages anymore.
And this is something that I think SEOs have seen kind of maybe subconsciously over the years as well, where they realize oh you don’t need to have singular and plural versions on your page. You don’t need to have all of the common misspellings on your page.
All of those things are less critical on your pages as long as you really match what the user is actually looking for.”
Google Not Consciously Moving Away from Exact Match Keywords
Mueller clarified that the direction of less importance of exact match keywords is not the purpose of BERT and other algorithms.
He stated the actual purposes and goals of these algorithms were about surfacing useful answers to search queries.
“So with that in mind, you could say that it’s kind of going in the direction of decreasing the importance of exact matches for your keywords in your content.
But it’s not that that is the goal of these algorithms. But rather our goal is to understand the big vast amount of content out there a little bit better so that we can show the right versions to users when they ask.”
SEO and Keywords for BERT
John Mueller clarified that Google is (unintentionally and not on purpose) moving in the direction of making exact match keywords less important.
But he didn’t say outright that exact match keywords were less important.
It’s probably safe to say that it continues to be a best practice to write content that is on topic and is easy to understand, just as it always has. So if using a keyword is important to understand what the content is about, it’s logical to keep using them.