Digital Publishing Platforms
6 mins read

BERT update, Google Discover and more: SEO novelties publishers need to know about

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The world of SEO is very dynamic and fast-paced. Everybody knows that in order to rank high and ensure great visibility in search, you need to be agile, well-informed, and quick on your feet.

We wrote a comprehensive guide on newsroom SEO a little while ago, so make sure you read it through, if you haven’t already.

Today, we’ll take a closer look at the latest changes in the SEO world that publishers need to know about. We’ll try our best to keep the guessing game to a minimum and provide you with concrete, bullshit-free, and actionable information in an easy-to-understand manner.

Let’s dive in.

Why should online publishers and media organizations care about SEO?

Many publishers still don’t see particular value in SEO, especially if they deal with breaking news. They tend to underline the importance of building a habit for their readers to visit their website, which is legit.

However, the way we consume news has changed. Today, we discover news on social media or thanks to our friends who share links with us directly. If we’re media literate, we are cautious of fake news and misinformation, which is why we’re usually hungry for additional context.

So, what do we do then? We type in our query in Google and select a few different sources to discover the full story. This is exactly why optimization for search engines is important.

In order to get through to your audience, you need to think about both quality and factuality, as well as strategic use of keywords and a variety of SEO-relevant elements.

Why do people optimize primarily for Google?


Google is the most popular search engine worldwide with more than 88% of the market share, leaving Yahoo, Bing, and other search engines well behind. If you’re not familiar with the fact, Google relies on over 200 ranking factors to sort results so that users can discover content that’s most relevant for their specific query. 

In a way, Google acts like a filter for relevancy and organizes the vast digital landscape we call the Internet, thus enabling users to explore the web in a systematic way. One of its biggest goals is to provide the best possible experience for users, which is why the tech company’s dedicated teams always work on understanding how users’ expectations evolve and how their behavior changes through time. 

Paying close attention to these shifts is what dictates the algorithm tweaks they’ll make in order to ensure a pleasant and secure web surfing experience for users, and deliver the best possible results to their search queries.

Some of these algorithm updates have been huge and they heavily affected the rankings of websites. Such was the Hummingbird update in 2013, which reportedly affected around 90% of search.

About a month ago, Google announced a new algorithm update called BERT (acronym for Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers – make a note: we’ll quiz you on that later) calling it the biggest update in the last five years.

What is the BERT update and how can you optimize for it?

According to Google, BERT is a major update that will affect 1 in 10 search queries. More specifically, it is designed for queries that are more complex and depend on context. We’re talking about a deep learning algorithm related to natural language processing.

This update enables the algorithm to better understand:

  • Natural and conversational language
  • Nuance and context of words
  • Prepositions such as “for” and “to” in cases where they dictate the meaning of the query

Although the SEO community always reacts in a panic when any updates occur and then hurry to offer optimization tips and tricks so that your website doesn’t fall down the ranking ladder, here’s the truth: you cannot really optimize for BERT.

So, if you want to know if there is a way to optimize for BERT, you should consult the source itself. Here’s what Danny Sullivan from Google had to say:

Some “SEO experts” already suggested that a more frequent use of longtail keywords or even bringing back stop words to URL slugs will make a difference in the post-BERT era, which is beyond ridiculous.

The search engine relies on hundreds of algorithms which are layered together. So, yes: BERT is a groundbreaking algorithm update, but it is a language model at its core. Its sole purpose is to help Google sort content better, i.e. bring more relevant results to complex queries.

Our advice? Stick to quality content and the usual optimization techniques to help Google index your content, and you’ll be fine.

What’s with the “favorizing original reporting” in search that Google announced a few months ago?

In September this year, Richard Gingras, VP of Google News, announced Google will introduce ranking changes to support original reporting. 

As we all know, original reporting doesn’t always stay in the spotlight for long. As an overwhelming amount of new content that covers the same news gets published, it becomes harder to identify the source – and the newsroom or media organization that was first doesn’t get the credit it deserves. With this change, Google decided to stop emphasizing recency over originality.

Of course, quality is a necessary constant, a fundamental element for the publisher to even appear in the search results.

Gingras explained why Google wanted to change this:

While we typically show the latest and most comprehensive version of a story in news results, we’ve made changes to our products globally to highlight articles that we identify as significant original reporting. Such articles may stay in a highly visible position longer. This prominence allows users to view the original reporting while also looking at more recent articles alongside it.

Consequently, this means that those publications that simply copy-paste the whole story someone else published and then list them as source are likely to get extruded from high ranking positions.

What is Google Discover and why is it a hot thing among publishers now?


Google Discover is actually a refurbished Google Feed, enriched with new set of features and a fresh look. Google Discover helps you discover and explore personalized content – even when you’re not searching. It’s specifically designed for smartphones and tablets.

So, basically, it is like a smart feed: a content recommendation engine that takes your interests into consideration and suggests content based on those interests, whether it’s textual or visual. Here, relevancy trumps content publication date, so you might see content that’s not fresh on the web, but that is new to you personally. We’re talking about content that’s of great quality, satisfies your curiosity and is likely to keep you engaged.

Google Discover is one of the key novelties that reflects the change of Google’s philosophy when it comes to search:

Instead of just offering results that would serve as direct answers to questions, Google now focuses on offering full experiences and journeys; so it’s a lot less linear than it used to be. Also, instead of waiting to process a query, Google proactively offers content that might be interesting to the user. 

Even though Google Discover has been around for over a year, it recently caught the attention of the publishing industry: everyone wants to see how they can tap into this chunk of search and reach new audiences. The latest data (from 2018) says Google Discover has around 800 million users, which means it could drive a fine amount of traffic to publishers and help them attain better visibility.

But, is it possible to optimize for Google Discover? Frankly speaking, it seems to us that publishers cannot directly influence their presence in Google Discover.

Sure, we could say you should take care of metadata, focus on quality content and providing value to your readers; that you should diversify formats and introduce images and video as well, and implement AMP pages if you haven’t. Google itself has some advice for optimizing for Google Discover.

Except, you are kind of doing that already, aren’t you?  

Over to you

Thank you for reading our overview of the latest happenings in SEO that you should be aware of, we hope it helped you understand how these changes affect you.

Of course, your focus as a publisher highly depends on your editorial policy and the chosen business model. For instance, if you operate on subscriptions and memberships, you should primarily focus on building a relationship with your readers, meeting and exceeding their expectations.

Our advice? Implement proven SEO techniques to ensure solid visibility in search, but do not obsess too much about competing with others and conquering and dominating all possible channels. It’s good to strive towards broadening your audience pool and maximizing your reach, but be careful not to lose sight of what’s really important.

by Mia Čomić

Republished with kind permission of Content Insights, the next generation content analytics solution that translates complex editorial data into actionable insights.