How Google AI Search Updates Will Impact Your Rankings

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Having already made some changes this month, and with more updates following by the end of the year, Google’s AI algorithm improvements are likely to create more diversity in the search results. And in consequence, several degrees harder for SEO.

The advancements will include a new spelling algorithm, the ability to index specific individual passages from web pages and specific key moments in videos, subtopic rankings and lastly, investments into increased use of Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers – or BERT, for short.

So, what are these changes and what do they mean for SEO?

Google’s use of BERT is nearly at 100%

One of the biggest reveals is that Google is employing BERT in virtually every search query.

BERT is a technique for natural language processing pre-training that helps Google understand words within the context of the surrounding words. Google has said that BERT helps Google Search better understand the intent of a search query.

When Google announced BERT, their latest search algorithm, last year, it was predicted it would be used in 10% of search queries, particularly on longer types of searches.

Now, BERT will be used for almost every single search query.

Google has announced:

“Today we’re excited to share that BERT is now used in almost every query in English, helping you get higher quality results for your questions.”

New Spelling Algorithm

Google also announced a spelling algorithm that helps Google to better understand the context of misspelt words, announcing that it will be their biggest improvement to spelling in five years.

According to Cathy Edwards, VP of engineering at Google, 1 in 10 search queries on Google are misspelt. By introducing a new algorithm that uses a deep neural net, there will be a significant improvement in Google’s ability to decipher misspellings.

This adjustment may bring with it a change in how we approach our keyword research for SEO. Common misspellings and abbreviations may become unnecessary to watch and include in your optimisations and precise keywords and terms may become harder to rank for.

Indexed Passages

This change is likely to have the greatest visible impact on SEO strategy and Google Search Results Pages (SERPs) ranking.

Indexing passages on a web page, not just the web page itself, Google will now be able to find small relevant sections that relate to the search query buried in a page.

This comes as a response to the rising trend of long-form content, as SEO practices find that detailed, comprehensive, long-form content is more likely to be ranked higher on Google’s first page.

Google comments;

“We’ve recently made a breakthrough in ranking and are now able to not just index web pages, but individual passages from the pages. By better understanding the relevancy of specific passages, not just the overall page, we can find that needle-in-a-haystack information you’re looking for.

This technology will improve 7% of search queries across all languages as we roll it out globally.”

This change will see a huge shift in how web pages are ranked. Rather than ranking a broader web page about a topic, Google can now rank a specific passage for a search query.


Another area that may dramatically impact SEO is Google’s implementation of subtopics. The update, coming at the end of 2020, will show a great diversity of web pages for broad search queries that can be interpreted as several meanings.

The introduction to subtopic rankings will make it harder to rank for high traffic broad keyword phrases. However, it may also make it easier for businesses that optimise for specific subtopics to rank higher than before.

So if you’re competing for a broad topic, you may want to make sure your subtopic pages are well optimised.

Google explains;

“We’ve applied neural nets to understand subtopics around an interest, which helps deliver a greater diversity of content when you search for something broad.

As an example, if you search for “home exercise equipment,” we can now understand relevant subtopics, such as budget equipment, premium picks, or small space ideas, and show a wider range of content for you on the search results page. We’ll start rolling this out by the end of this year.”

Video searches update

This update is predicted to affect 10% of searches and will emphasise the importance of adding video to several content types for SEO.

The new technique will use AI to understand different passages within videos. Rather than ranking entire videos on their topic, Google will analyse videos, assign a description tag to each section and then send searchers directly to those sections of the video.

This will undoubtedly impact SERPs and rankings and from a users point of view, will make videos easier to understand, section by section.

How Google describes the change;

Using a new AI-driven approach, we’re now able to understand the deep semantics of a video and automatically identify key moments. This lets us tag those moments in the video, so you can navigate them like chapters in a book.

We’ve started testing this technology this year, and by the end of 2020 we expect that 10 per cent of searches on Google will use this new technology.