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How Two and Three Letter Words Could Make or Break Your SERP

TL;DR

  • Google is rolling out a natural language update to the core algorithm that will take into consideration previously ignored words like “for,” “to,” and “no.”
  • The changes will affect up to 1 in 10 searches.
  • The changes could cause existing organic traffic to decrease for some business—especially those in the Local Pack.

On October 25, 2019, Google announced that a change was coming to the core algorithm called BERT—Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers. In this update, Google will now apply context to words such as “for,” “to,” and “no.” Due to the complexity of understanding their meaning, these words were historically ignored when considering SEO. That is all about to change.

This is what Google had to say about the update:

“…by applying BERT models to both ranking and featured snippets in Search, we’re able to do a much better job helping you find useful information. In fact, when it comes to ranking results, BERT will help Search better understand one in 10 searches in the U.S. in English, and we’ll bring this to more languages and locales over time.

Particularly for longer, more conversational queries, or searches where prepositions like “for” and “to” matter a lot to the meaning, Search will be able to understand the context of the words in your query. You can search in a way that feels natural for you.”

You read that correctly—one in 10 searches in the U.S. will be affected. Google reports there are trillions of search queries processed every year. Thinking that 10% of them will be affected by this change creates quite the staggering number.

What’s Changing?

Historically, Google has mostly ignored words like “for” and “to” due to an inability to determine context. By neglecting to consider these words, the results can be mismatched or can frustrate users. As they continue to pursue more user-intent focused search results, adding in this context can go a long way to improve the suggestions and websites served.

Here are a few examples of how the new search results will work.

Google Search pharmacy
Source: Google.com

In this example, without understanding the context “for” brings, Google would have returned general results about filling a perscription and there would likely be pharmacies displaying in the Local Pack position. With the change, Google will likely serve information-based pages instead understanding the user is looking for an answer to a question and not the location of a pharmacy.

Parking on a hill graphic
Source: Google.com

In the first example, Google was ignoring “no” and delivering results only related to “parking on a hill” that also mentioned “curb”. In the updated version, Google is returning results specifically returning a result that contains a “no curb” reference.

So What?

It is too early to know for sure the scale of impact that this change will bring. That said, with an estimated one in 10 searches being affected, it is likely that most websites will see some kind of fluctuation due to the change.

Some of the changes that we’re expecting to see include:

  • Websites that currently receive traffic from the Local Pack previously coming up in results—think back to the pharmacy example—will decrease in traffic.
  • Businesses that have effective SEO and content strategies will see increased organic traffic as Google delivers information results instead of other results such as Local Pack/Google Map listings.
  • Website URLs once again containing “stop words” in the URLs as part of their SEO.

Overall, we believe the winners coming out of this change will be businesses that not only have their local listings/citations optimized, but those that have a content strategy inclusive of user-focused assets to provide value and answer questions.

If your business needs helps managing your listings or developing a user-focused content strategy, please reach out to one of the strategists at Relic Media.

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Willaim Wright

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