Google updates its search algorithm daily. They add little tweaks manually and their AI platform makes small adjustments on its own. However, it is unusual for Google to make a change so big that it requires a big announcement. That is exactly what happened this week, with Google announcing a change that could affect 10% of all searches on the platform.
The big change comes in the form of BERT, the Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers. This system will allow the search engine to better identify the things that users are looking for, especially when using awkward phrasing. Currently, Google looks for active keywords, which they refer to as a "bag of words." This group of keywords often led to bizarre results.
For example, a search for "can you get medicine for someone pharmacy?" would target only "medicine" and "pharmacy" and would show you local pharmacies. Not quite what you were asking about. With BERT in action, the context is not lost, and appropriate results will be displayed. Another great example from Google is the search term "Parking on a hill with no curb." The current system excludes the word "no" which, in this case, is the most important word, meaning the results were about parking with a curb.
While users are likely going to love this change, it could cause problems for content creators. SEO hungry sites work hard to produce content to take advantage of the little intricacies of the Google algorithm. That includes things like knowing how a search will fail and creating content to capture those failures. With BERT, a lot of that work will either be voided or, worse, cause lost traffic. For those who produce standard content, however, it will likely drive more traffic instead of less.
If you see your search ranking change in the near future, you can likely blame BERT. This is just proof that trying to game a system will eventually fall apart.