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How BERT Helps With Google Search

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How BERT Helps With Google Search


Google has posted a new video on how BERT helps Google Search understand language. Google has been using BERT in search since 2018, we only knew about it in 2019. That being said, the short video basically says it is about Google understanding the little words better.

Here is the video:

Here is the transcript if you don’t want to listen:

If a pancake recipe told you to “mix the batter with the banana,” you probably wouldn’t think to use the banana as a mixing spoon. But what’s obvious to humans — things like context, tone, and intention — are actually very difficult for computers to pick up on. At its core, a Google Search is about understanding language. In order to return the right information, Google doesn’t just need to know the definition of the words… it needs to know what they all mean when strung together in a specific order. And that includes the smaller words like “for” and “to.” And when you think about how many different meanings a single word can have… you start to see how writing a computer program that takes all these nuances into account is pretty tough. See? Case in point. “Pretty” here doesn’t mean beautiful, it means “very.” More and more, people talk to Google the way they think and speak. And, more and more — Google is getting better at understanding what they mean. One of the biggest leaps forward in the history of Search came about with the introduction of “Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers” or as we like to call it, BERT. BERT is a machine-learning, model architecture that helps Google process language and understand the context in which it appears. Search used to process a query by pulling out the words it thought were most important. For example, if you said, “can you get medicine for someone pharmacy” you would have gotten general results about pharmacies and prescriptions because it would have essentially ignored the word “for.” But with BERT, the LITTLE words are taken into account and it changes things. Search now understands you want to know if you can pick up medicine… prescribed to someone else. But how do you train a language model to pick up context? There’s a big difference between knowing words and understanding meaning. The model learns context by applying the same fill-in-the-blank principles it takes to complete a Mad Libs. So we take a phrase. We hide about 20% of the input words. And then we make the computer guess the words that are missing. Over time, the model begins to understand different words have different meanings depending on what’s around them. And the order in which they appear in that text, really matters. So when you search something complex like, “Fly fishing bait to use for trout in september montana” Search knows all the little words are important and because it now takes them all into account, Google can tell you the perfect bait for that time of year. BERT isn’t foolproof, but since implementing it in 2019, it’s improved a lot of searches. We should always be able to learn about whatever we’re curious about. And that’s why Search will always be working to understand exactly what you’re truly asking.

I am surprised Google did not release this video when we wrote about how Google uses AI in search.

Forum discussion at Twitter.





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The Return Of Yahoo Search

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Yahoo Search

Last week I reported that Yahoo Search posted on Twitter that it will be making search cool again. As I posted on Search Engine Land yesterday, we got more evidence that Yahoo is really moving forward with improving its search service.

Last night, Jim Lanzone, the CEO of Yahoo (more about him below), responded to Greg Sterling and myself about Yahoo getting into search:

So yes, we got that tweet that I covered last week, followed by a number of other tweets:

But we got a lot more – we have a job listing for a Principal Product Manager, Yahoo Search. The job listing says, “We’re looking for a Product Manager for Search at Yahoo. We are looking for folks that are interested in pushing beyond the status quo to change the way folks interact and use search.”

Jim Lanzone, who was the CEO of Ask.com and worked for several years for Ask.com (previously Ask Jeeves), who is now the CEO at Yahoo. He is a search guy, originally, and I do suspect he will want to do big things again with search. Under Jim, Ask released some incredibly innovative features, like Ask 3D – which Google kind of ripped off with its Universal Search – as some say… So I think, Yahoo Search, under Jim Lanzone might be an interesting Yahoo Search to look at.

As I also said on Search Engine Land, Brian Provost, SVP & GM, Yahoo posted on LinkedIn about this job listing and wrote, “There’s going to be so much innovation in Search in the coming years and there aren’t many places where you can immediately have an impact this big. Would love to hear from you if you have a passion for Search and building product experiences.”

This is exciting – I suspect it will take a year or so to see anything – but I am looking forward to it.

Forum discussion at WebmasterWorld.



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Google Says Spammy Links From Porn Sites Are Not Something To Prioritize

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Google has posted one of its Google SEO office-hours, this one was posted today, recorded in January, after the Google layoffs news, and one question asked was about if you should worry about spammy from porn sites and if they can cause bad for ranking in Google Search.

In short, Lizzi Sassman from Google said not really. She said, “This is not something that you need to prioritize too much since Google Systems are getting better at figuring out if a link is spammy.”

This is similar to what John Mueller of Google said in 2016, saying “Adult sites aren’t automatically spam, and links from them not automatically unnatural / problematic.” Of course, the question here is that we know the links are spammy and from adult sites. The question before was, the links were from adult sites and not necessarily spammy.

The question was asked and answered at the 5:20 mark in the video:

Here is the transcript:

Are spammy links from porn sites bad for ranking?

Anonymous is asking, I’ve seen a lot of spammy back links from porn websites linking to our site over the past month using the Google Search Console link tool. We do not want these. Is this bad for ranking and what can I do about it?

This is not something that you need to prioritize too much since Google Systems are getting better at figuring out if a link is spammy. But if you’re concerned or you’ve received a manual action, you can use the disavow tool in Search Console. You’ll need to create a list of the spammy links and then upload it to the tool. Do a search for disavow in Search Console for more steps on how to do this.

Later on in the video, there is a question about disavowing links in general. Google has downplayed the importance of disavowing over the years and this is related to this question, so here is that transcript:

Will disavowing links make my site rank better?

John: Jimmy asks, will disavowing spammy links linking to my website help recover from an algorithmic penalty?

So first off, I’d try to evaluate whether your site really created those spammy links. It’s common for sites to have random, weird links, and Google has a lot of practice ignoring those. On the other hand, if you actively built significant spammy links yourself, then yes, cleaning those up would make sense. The disavow tool can help if you can’t remove the links at the source. That said, this will not position your site as it was before, but it can help our algorithms to recognize that they can trust your site again, giving you a chance to work up from there. There’s no low effort, magic trick that makes a site pop up back afterwards. You really have to put in the work, just as if you did it from the start.

Forum discussion at Twitter.



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Google Says If You Redesign Your Site Your Rankings May Go Nuts

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Google Waves

Gary Illyes from the Google Search Relations team posted another PSA on LinkedIn. This time he said, “when you redesign a site, its rankings in search engines may go nuts.”

Yes, this is probably super obvious to most of you reading this site but Gary dives a bit deeper.

He said, “Among other things, search engines use the HTML of your pages to make sense of the content. If for example you break up paragraphs, remove H tags in favor of CSS styling, or add breaking tags (especially true for CJK languages), you change the HTML parsers’ output, which in turn may change the site’s rankings.”

In short, when redesigning, sure – go ahead – make the site pretty. But changing the core HTML can result in ranking changes.

Gary recommends, “try to use semantically similar HTML when you redesign the site and avoid adding tags where you don’t actually need them.”

So if you can change the design but at the same time keep things in the HTML looking similar, that is your best bet. Change a lot without changing a lot – if that makes sense.

Forum discussion at LinkedIn.

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