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Meet BERT: He’s Here to Help Clients Find Your Practice Online

When new clients search for your practice online, it’s likely they use some form of the term “vet near me”. But what about when a pet owner searches something like “should pet go-to vet”? Or “low-cost shots pets”?

That’s where Google’s new algorithm update comes in. It’s called Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers—“BERT” for short, thank goodness—and it’s a form of artificial intelligence that allows Google’s search engine to understand the relationship between words in a search query and give them context. This means the person searching is likely to get much more relevant results.

So how does BERT work?

BERT can analyze a word by looking at the other words around it to decipher what someone is looking for and the intent of the search. This is especially helpful for longer sentence-like queries such as “ringworm can you get from dog”. BERT allows people to search in a way that feels more natural to them, rather than stringing together random words they think will give them the results they want. BERT is probably going to be most helpful when it comes to improving voice searches and queries from less web-savvy internet users.

You can check out Google’s blog for some good examples of comparison search results before and after BERT’s activation.

Is my website covered?

Well, that depends. Was the SEO and content on your website written by someone who understands its function and writes like a human being would talk and search? At iVET360, our clients’ sites have a foundation of solid SEO and content written using “natural language”—so they’re ready when BERT comes knocking.

Where your website might run into trouble is if the content and SEO is keyword-stuffed like a Thanksgiving bird. Because BERT is a tool focusing on context for meaning, results will be delivered based on each word’s relationship to the others, rather than as a stand-alone term. Those practices whose websites have SEO and content written in natural language are going to see a benefit as the update rolls out.

Other than making sure your SEO and content is full of useful info and written in understandable, relevant terms, there isn’t much else you can do to prepare for BERT. The truth is there’s really no way to fully optimize your website for the kind of unique and random phrases that the BERT search update was designed to assist.  

Moving up the ranks

Google estimates that eventually, BERT will affect 1 in 10 searches. While you may not see an impact in your site’s rankings right away, it will ultimately start to influence organic and local results and you may notice your ranking drop if you use a tracking tool like BrightLocal.

The reason for this is because when you input search terms into the tool, you’re more likely to test short-keyword-based searches such as “vet Sacramento” rather than a longer, natural-language query such as “California cat rabies required”, the latter being exactly the kind of search BERT was built for.

When it comes to making sure your website shows up in the highly competitive local pack of search results, BERT may give a site a competitive edge if they have well-written, relevant SEO and content. BERT picks those sites up more frequently, making for increased traffic, and eventually a higher ranking.

At iVET360 we regularly monitor our clients’ sites so we’re aware of how they are being impacted by search algorithm changes and updates such as BERT. Our clients know we’ll be aware if pages that should show up aren’t, and if the search traffic being sent those pages isn’t converting, which means it wasn’t relevant and useful to the person searching.

Unexpected guests are rarely welcome, but BERT’s visit could end up being very beneficial—if your practice’s website is ready. In our recently released 2019 Veterinary Marketing Benchmark Report, we analyzed over 1000 hospitals nationwide and found that only 18.5% of those practices have the basic SEO components installed on their websites. Is yours one of them? Click here to download the report for free and find out if your practice is being served up to all those potential clients hungry for great vet care!