One of the biggest challenges of SEO marketing is the fact that search algorithms are constantly being updated and changed. These updates are designed to make search results more useful for people online and to weed out sites that use manipulative methods to boost their search results. However, for website owners, the constant updates make it difficult to keep up with the latest SEO best practices. Over the past year, Google has updated the algorithm for the world’s most popular search engine every month. The November 2019 update was recently rolled out, and SEO experts, as well as website owners, are trying to find how to adapt to the newest changed. 

Over the past few weeks, Google has rolled out several substantial updates to its search algorithm. They added the new BERT system which is designed to help Google make more sense of the natural language that people use in queries. They also added a core update in November that seeks to make search results more relevant. 

Between the two updates, some website owners found that sites taking huge hits to their rankings and search traffic. One site owner reported that their traffic had declined by nearly 40 percent. The website owner assumed that this was the result of the BERT update, but Google’s John Mueller suggested that the BERT update was unlikely to be the cause. 

Speaking to the website owner during an online chat, Mueller is quoted as stating, “Maybe, first of all, this would not be from BERT. The BERT changes are particularly about understanding user queries better and around being able to understand the text better in general. So it’s not that we would say that suddenly your page is less relevant. But rather with BERT we would try to understand does this question that someone is asking us, does it match this website best. And usually, that’s for more complicated questions. The thing to keep in mind is that we make changes all the time. We’ve made several core algorithm changes as well over the… last month or so, which kind of overlap with the rollout of BERT as well. “

When the BERT changes were rolled out, Google stated that nearly 10 percent of searches would be affected. However, as Mueller clarifies, the affected searches would be for more detailed queries that can benefit from a better understanding of natural language. While it’s convenient to have a better understanding of what BERT did or didn’t do. However, if your site lost a large amount of its rank and traffic, you may want a better explanation about what caused the change and how to fix the site.

In a post on the Google Webmaster blog earlier this year, the company explained what core updates are designed to do. The document states, “It’s also important to understand that search engines like Google do not understand content the way human beings do. Instead, we look for signals we can gather about content and understand how those correlate with how humans assess relevance.”

Google rarely explains the specifics behind updates, because it would lead to people trying to take advantage of the newest algorithm update. Mueller recommended that sites that saw a recent decline in their rankings should focus on the fundamentals of good SEO. 

Mueller said, “So my recommendation here would be to not focus on BERT, not focus on purely technical aspects. So you mentioned user experience, you mentioned speed… it’s something where I would really focus on the site overall and kind of improving things overall.”

This advice is something that all website owners should keep in mind. Rather than chase the latest SEO trends, it’s more to ensure a site has fast speeds, useful links, and well-written content. If your site has suffered a recent decline in traffic and you can’t figure out why, you should consider having an SEO expert (or another person) look at the site to identify issues that may hurt the user experience.