What’s powering conversational search? Featured snippets, structured data and actions

Voice search is still hot, but it might be a little slower on the uptake than many predicted. Google and friends continue to bombard the consumer with new devices, with new possibilities and new ways of controlling them via voice. The results for these voice searches comes from a mix of actions, knowledge graph data and featured snippets. But, there’s a new data layer forming, slowly powering more and more parts of the voice experience. It’s a technology we’ve talked a bit quite often here at Yoast: structured data.

Voice is still coming, but maybe not as fast as expected

When the rise of virtual assistants started, many welcomed it as a new world order. Some predicted that by 2020, more than half of the searches would be voice activated. That was probably a bit optimistic. While adoption is still growing and big tech is pushing voice technology like there’s no tomorrow, it still feels like critical mass is off some ways.

Almost every new product announced by Google, Facebook, Amazon etc has an assistant on board. Take Bluetooth headphones for instance, almost every new one that hits the market these days has a voice assistant built in. The industry really wants everyone to talk to their devices. But, Google doesn’t think the future will be purely voice-driven. For many things, people will need a screen. A recent study by Google revealed that 50% of interactions combine voice and touch. 

Voice is two-pronged

It’s good to keep in mind that so-called voice search consists of two main parts:

  • Searching the web with your voice
  • Performing actions with your voice

Working on your voice search strategy, means you have to make a distinction between these parts. For many companies, building an action — “Ok Google, turn on the lights” — doesn’t make much sense. Searching the web, answering questions and guiding people with your content, does make sense. You’re looking to go into a conversation with your audience.

Searching the web with your voice

As mentioned before, for most site owners, the search part of conversational search is where it’s at. This is about using your voice to get search results and answers to your questions. This is also where you can work with your regular content, without having to invest loads of money into an unproven voice strategy based on building a conversational interface. Let’s take a look.

Search results get its data from:

Where do those search results come from once you ask your assistant to look something up for you? That depends on the question you’re asking and which assistant you are using. If we take Google as an example, we can break it down into three pieces:

  • Factual data: answer boxes powered by knowledge graph
  • More complex, general searches: Featured snippets
  • From Google’s own properties (local pack, maps, flights, shopping etc.)

If you ask: “Ok Google, how tall is the Eiffel Tower” you’ll get a nice voice result telling you “the Eiffel Tower is 324 meters tall”. This is all coming from the knowledge graph — the network of facts that Google has formed over the years. This is information Google can rely on for direct answers.

For more complex questions, Google often looks at the results it shows in featured snippets. A piece of content that appears as a featured snippet is proven to be a good result by Google. Of course, it is not infallible and sometimes you can find better results. But in general, if you have a featured snippet for a term/question/problem your content is the number one candidate for being spoken by a voice assistant. 

Ask Google: “Ok Google, what is a meta description” and it’ll speak out loud the featured snippets that Yoast has earned for that question. Try it! Of course, these results do change from time to time, but we’ve had this featured snippet for quite a while.

Here’s a recording Joost made of that query a while back

The third one encompasses all the answers to questions or queries that Google can fill from their own properties, like the local pack for local results, or Google Flights. Things tend to blur here quickly, as many Google-owned queries are turned into actions. So if you want to book a flight, that will trigger an action and not a search.

For most sites and types of content, the best chance of getting your content in voice assistants is via featured snippets. To get featured snippets, you need authority, a good reputation and awesome content. If you are already ranking on page one for your queries or phrases, you have a good chance at getting that coveted featured snippet! 

Since the launch of the BERT update, Google has a much better understanding language and can figure out complex, long-tail searches. This means that the search engine will come up with results that better match the search query. Google explicitly states that it uses BERT for featured snippets, so you have to keep that in mind. 

Of course, BERT is not infallible. It is a very sophisticated language model, but still only a model. It helps computers improve their understanding of language, but it won’t turn a computer into a human so to say. So everything comes down to readability! 

To maximise your chance at getting featured snippets, think of this: 

  • Do keyword research
  • Look at what’s ranking now and improve on that
  • Prioritize! Don’t try to get them all — only the ones where you can help your users with better content than your competitors
  • Check the user intent of the searches and match it to answers 
  • Use Answer the Public or Also Asked to find questions to answer 
  • Use easy to digest, simple to understand language
  • Keep your answers short and snappy
  • Speak your content out loud — or let your computer do it
  • Mark up your content with structured data (although not needed for featured snippets)
  • In general: make better content!

It’s a great sport to hunt for featured snippet opportunities and they can bring in awesome results, even with voice search.

Doesn’t Schema power featured snippets?

In the list above, you see I’ve mentioned structured data in relation to featured snippets. There’s a question that pops up regularly: does Google use structured data for ranking featured snippets? Your favorite Googlers have debunked this a number of times. 

At the moment, structured data is used for a lot of things, but not for featured snippets. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t add it to your pages — you should, because structured data makes your page a lot easier to understand for search engines —, but it’s not essential in getting those features snippets. Getting on page one with brilliant content is.

Performing actions with your voice

While getting featured snippets helps to get your content spoken out loud by voice assistants, having Schema is not. But this is not the end of the story. We see Schema popping up in ever more places, and one of those places is your smart assistant. Schema does power some voice-based actions — at least on Google. Google now lets you build actions based on your news, how-tos, FAQs, recipes and podcasts. 

Your structured data can be the starting point for voice actions

Google lets you build actions for assistants

Google uses so-called actions to find and present content that users can interact with on smart devices with the Assistant. You can build your own actions, so assistants can respond with your specific content. Building those, however, can require a lot of custom work and, therefore, probably not a viable option for many site owners. 

Luckily, Google also provides a much easier way to get particular pieces of web content ready for smart devices: the structured data found on your site. Yet another sign that Schema structured data is here to stay. 

Actions let you get something done using the Assistant

By adding structured data to your site, you’ll not only get a chance at rich results, but this enables Google to automatically generate actions for their Assistant. Talk about two birds with one stone. At the moment, of the dozens of supported Schema properties, Google can generate actions for five datatypes: FAQs, how-tos, news, podcasts and recipes. The first two were only recently announced.

Smart displays combine voice and screen to guide people — in this case a visual how-to

Of course, there are some caveats. For news content, for instance, Google only admits content built by publishers who already participate in Google News. FAQs and how-tos only work on smart displays, with the latter being in a developer preview and, therefore, not yet available for the general public. If you want, you can always sign up to register your interest if you want to start building right now.

Structured data needs minimal adjustments

Adding the necessary code isn’t too hard if you’ve already invested in Schema markup. There is a distinction between required and recommended properties. Sometimes, Google will nag you into adding more to make errors go away. Fully formed structured data might enhance your chance at getting rich results — or having the Assistant pull up your actions.

For some data types, you must add specific pieces of structured data to get a chance to appear on smart displays. If we look at recipes, for instance, you’ll notice recipeIngredient and recipeInstructions are recommended for rich results, but required for getting guidance on smart displays. But, if you’re looking to build a full recipe structured data implementation, you would add this anyway, right?

Adding valid How-to and FAQ Schema is easy with the structured data content blocks in Yoast SEO. Simply open a post in the WordPress block editor and add the block. Fill it with relevant content and you’re good to go!

Simply fill in the fields to build a how-to with valid structured data

Keep a close eye at the example code and the necessary properties. Google tends to change these regularly. And keep in mind that documentation and testing tools might not always be on the same page. Last thing you have to remember: you have no guarantee that your structured data leads to rich results, as the search engines decide on that.

Speakable Schema

Another relatively new addition to Schema is the speakable property. This is not an action built to let people interact with your content, but a way to tell Google which part of the page is fit for audio-playback. This currently work for news content only. If set up right, you’ll notice Google Assistant reads your content aloud, attributes it and sends the complete URL to your device. It is currently in beta, but should turn out to be a great way to help machines find out what they can read or not.

The value of voice for site owners

There’s a lot happening at the moment. The technologies powering voice search are giving search engines a better understanding of how humans communicate. They can use those insights to improve their search results to provide you with better answers to your questions. Plus, it allows them to develop new applications that help you do your job. That’s great, but how valuable is voice for a ‘regular’ type site? 

For most sites, having an elaborate voice strategy is not viable. It isn’t very cost effective to build actions for every type of assistant and hope for the best. Having a strategy for getting and keeping featured snippets is important. This is based on content you have — or can produce — and has the added bonus of working in two locations at one: search and voice.

In addition, there’s a new focus on structured data providing data for voice assistants — at least on Google. With Google pushing structured data so hard, it won’t come as a surprise if we see a lot more of this happening in the next year. For Google, Schema structured data provides a context layer of the web. Bringing the knowledge graph, language processing and computer vision into the mix, Google is well on its way to understand the world.

Conclusion

In this article, I showed a number of ways search engines like Google provide answers for their voice assistants. Now, you have a better understanding of the value of voice and the things you have to keep in mind when you want to set up a voice search strategy.

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Yoast SEO 12.7: Cleaning up and fixing bugs + sale!

Yoast SEO 12.7 is out today — signaling the last release of 2019. This release is all about cleaning up and fixing bugs. Since we have a two-week release schedule, we can quickly respond to any bug we might find. In this post, you’ll find out more about this release. Plus, you can get Yoast SEO Premium for cheap in our Holiday Calendar sale: today only!

On the importance of bug fixing

We’ve always prided ourselves in releasing a product of high quality. Unfortunately, issues do pop up and we do our best to solve these depending on the severity of the issue. This is one of the reasons we have a two-week release schedule. For some, it might feel we release way too often, but for us, this is a great way to get fixes out as quickly as possible, without having to resort to patch releases. Having a good system in place for handling and resolving bugs is one of the pillars of coding awesome, stable software.

Every release, we fix a number of bugs from our backlog, plus a selection of new ones that need attention. In Yoast SEO 12.7, we also fixed a couple of bugs with the input of Saša Todorović. These concerned a bug where sub-sitemaps were rendered for non-public custom post types, plus a bug where nested gallery images were not included in the image count in the sitemap. In addition to the bug fixes, we improved the security of the plugin by adding output escaping.

Save 25% on Yoast SEO Premium: today only!

This holiday season, we’re counting down with an awesome holiday calendar. Each day, you get a nice surprise — ranging from free webinars to discount on Yoast products. December 10 — which is today! —, you’ll get a whopping 25% discount on Yoast SEO Premium. Now is the time to get acquainted with features that’ll help save time and improve your work, such as:

Of course, with Yoast SEO Premium you’ll also get access to our awesome support team.

Check out our holiday calendar! We have awesome treats for you

Update now to Yoast SEO 12.7

That’s it for this release of Yoast SEO. We’ve fixed a number of bugs and cleaned up the code to make Yoast SEO perform even better. Don’t forget to take advantage of today’s discount on Yoast SEO Premium! It’ll surely help you kick-start your new year! 

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New Google Search Console report checks site speed

Google is rapidly expanding the capabilities of Search Console — its must-have tool for site owners/managers. Not too long ago it was a couple of new structured data reports and today we’re talking about an enhancement report dedicated to site speed. It’s important to have a fast site and Google’s new tool helps you monitor it and improve it. Here’s is a quick guide to its capabilities.

What is the Speed report in Google Search Console?

The new Speed report gives you an idea of how fast or slow your pages load over any given time. It gives you insights that were almost impossible to get up until now. Running page speed analysis on your complete site is not something the average user can do. Testing a couple of pages in PageSpeed Insights, fine, but 1,000 pages? The new Speed report in Google Search Console gives you an idea of how your site loads. It puts all pages in buckets conveniently labeled slow, moderate and fast. 

The new Speed report overview in Search Console (desktop view)

As you know, site speed has been a hot topic for quite a while. Google even declared it a ranking factor. The search engine is rolling out all sorts of initiatives to help visualize site speed and prioritize improvements, like PageSpeed Insights and Lighthouse. Sometimes, they do it quietly, but other times it’s a little bit over the top. Case in point: Chromes new “speed badge of shame”. It is one of the indicators in the Chrome browser that helps users understand why a site may be loading slower. In reality, this is more a not so subtle jab at site owners to do something about their slow sites.

Chrome’s upcoming slow site badge

This focus on site speed is understandable. Site speed is user experience and users expect fast. But in regards to all those pretty numbers and colors, it’s hard to know what to look for. But as our own SEO expert Jono Alderson loves to say: “Don’t optimize for scores — just make it faster.” Scores say a lot, but all that matters is the perception of speed by users. How quickly can you make your page feel ready?

What does the Speed report do?

The Speed report looks at the pages on your site, checks their loading speed in the Chrome User Experience report and puts these into buckets. There are mobile and desktop specific checks and these might differ. Due to hardware and network differences, it is harder to get a good score on mobile than it is on desktop. You’ll notice, though, that the same URLs are often troublesome both on mobile as well as desktop. They might load slightly faster due to changes in test setting, but they are a point of interest nonetheless.

Two specific reports help you analyze the different sources

While not the end-all tool for measuring site speed, the Speed report is a valuable addition to Search Console. It helps you find problematic URLs which you can check in PageSpeed Insights to get a deeper understanding — plus ways of fixing it. This way, you can keep an eye on all speed-related things, spot trends, make improvements and keep track of the results of those changes. 

Where does it get its metrics?

The cool thing about the Speed report is that it uses data from the Chrome UX Report. The Chrome UX Report is a public data set of real user experience data collected from millions of opted-in users and websites. This way, loads of data are collected — like connection type, type of device and much more — from real situations and used to give a better understanding of performance in the real world. This data is put to good use in several speed-oriented Google tools, like PageSpeed Insights and Lighthouse.

What should I look for?

When looking at site speed tools it is easy to focus on the wrong stuff. Many tools check site speed in particular circumstances, like a set location at one point in time. There’s not enough context to make a decision based on this data. That’s why our advice in this has always been for you to look at a multitude of site speed tools. Combined these will give you a better handle on the problem.

The Search Console Speed report has been built around two metrics: First Contentful Paint and First Input Delay. Here’s what these metrics mean:

  • FCP (first contentful paint): The first contentful paint happens when the first element of a requested page appears on the screen. This gives users the confirmation that the page is actually loading.
  • FID (first input delay): The first input delay is the time between the first interaction of a user with an element on the requested page and the reaction of the browser to that input. How quickly your page reacts to input is of utmost importance for it to appear fast and responsive.

The results lead to slow, moderate or fast pages. According to Google, the speed of a URL is the lowest speed assigned to it. So if a page has a slow FCP, but a moderate FID it is considered slow. If it has a fast FCP and a moderate FID, it is considered moderate.

These insights give you a good idea of how your pages are performing. As said before, you probably need to run a couple of more tests to get the full picture.

Further analysis on a per-URL basis in PageSpeed Insights

URL grouping

Instead of showing a gazillion URLs and the corresponding results, Google uses aggregate scores and URL groups to make the results slightly less intimidating. For any issue, you’ll see a number of URLs getting the same score or issue. So it might be that from a specific URL, 70 other URLs suffer from the same performance issues. That makes it easier to uncover issues on a grander scale because all these pages probably have the same problems. Of course, you can do a deep-dive and check individual pages by clicking on the URL list and picking a URL to analyze using PageSpeed Insights.

Grouping URLs with similar perfomance issues makes the report easier to digest

Aggregate scores

The same goes for scoring. Grouping makes it easier to digest the results. The Speed report in Search Console focuses mainly on FCP and FID, as mentioned above. It’s a good idea to keep an eye on PageSpeed Insights as well, as this has a multitude of other metrics, graphics of the loading process and suggestions to improve the results.

In the Speed report, the FCP and FID are calculated from all the visits to those particular pages. 

  • Aggregate FCP: The aggregate first content paint is the time it takes for 75% of the visits to a URL in the report to reach FCP.
  • Aggregate FID: The aggregate first interactive delay is the time it takes for 95% of the visits to that URL to respond to interactions on that page. 

The calculation of these scores continues to fluctuate due to outside influences. That’s why you might see the trend line go up and down.

The aggregate FCP is the point when 75% of visits to that URL get FCP

Fixing issues and validating fixes

The Speed report allows you to monitor your site for speed-related issues. It helps you find problems and prioritize their resolution. Once you or your developer have run through all the suggestions and improvements you can validate the fix. Google will then monitor the pages for 28 days to see if the issue is fixed for these URLs. 

Site speed resources

This post is not about telling you how to fix your site speed issues, but rather guiding you through the new Speed report that might give you the insights you need. To get practical, you can start here:

Last but not least, an incredible source of information: Jono’s slide deck on site speed from a talk at SMXL Milan.

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Yoast SEO 12.6: Getting help in the plugin is now easier

In Yoast SEO 12.6, we’re activating our new beacon for help documentation. This tool helps answer the questions you might have about using Yoast SEO. It’s easy to use and very friendly. Just hit that big purple question mark and search! Other improvements in Yoast SEO 12.6 includes a number of fixes and enhancements. Read on to find out more.

New way of helping you 

Our previous help center was not always as apt to provide the best answers to your questions. In Yoast SEO 12.6, we’ve removed the old help center and in its place added a beacon powered by HelpScout. This beacon — you’ll notice the big purple question mark in the lower right-hand corner —, is quick, smart and very helpful.

The new beacon allows us to present not only helpful articles for our knowledge base, but also from our SEO blog, for instance. This lets you not only access a ton of information about what you are working on, but also provides you with enough context to explain why you are doing this — or why the plugin does what it does.

So if you search for something in the new beacon, you’re searching all the content we have. Hopefully, the results will be satisfactory! In addition, Yoast SEO Premium subscribers can contact our support team from the beacon. Please let us know what you think. The beacon is now available in all our plugins.

Fixes and enhancements

Today, we’re updating all our SEO plugins. For Yoast SEO, we’re continuing our work on several larger projects and focussing on behind-the-scenes improvements in 12.6. In addition, we’ve fixed several bugs and added a couple of enhancements, like the aforementioned help beacon. 

Other notable changes are the new description property we’ve added to the schema’s WebSite node. This means your site’s tagline can now be part of your site’s graph, giving search engines extra context about it. We’ve improved the Meta Robots Advanced field in the advanced section of the metabox by simplifying the options and wording around that feature.

Chris Thompson helped us fix a PHP Warning that pops up when using an empty string in the OpenGraph frontend output. We’ve also upped some of our requirements. We’ve set the minimum required WordPress version to 5.2, and the minimum PHP version to 5.6.20. Last but not least, we now show a notification to encourage Internet Explorer 11 users to use another browser as we are no longer supporting that browser.

Yoast SEO 12.6: update now

That’s Yoast SEO 12.6 in a nutshell. We’ve ironed out some kinks and introduced a massively enhanced help center based on beacons. Please update to the latest version whenever you’re ready!

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Search Console showing errors in your product structured data?

Google’s recent run of enhancement reports in Search Console gives you lots of insights into how your site is performing in search. Sometimes, though, it gives you stuff to think about, like errors or improvements to make. For instance, if you run an online store, you’re bound to have come across this structured data error: “Either ‘offers’, ‘review’ or ‘aggregateRating’ should be specified.” There’s a very easy solution for this if you run WooCommerce and Yoast SEO: our WooCommerce SEO add-on.

The “Either ‘offers’, ‘review’ or ‘aggregateRating’ should be specified” error in Google Search Console 

The “Either ‘offers’, ‘review’ or ‘aggregateRating’ should be specified” happens for a lot of online stores. It means that Google misses several properties in your product schema implementation. By not offering these, your product listings will not reach their full potential in search. This way, Google has a hard time tying all the product-specific properties together to paint a full picture of your product. In some cases, though, they manage, but why let them figure it out? Fixing this becomes imperative if you want a better chance of standing out. 

Who doesn’t want a product listing like the one pictured below?

Valid product schema might lead to eye-popping rich results like this one from Reverb

Oftentimes, however, invalid or incomplete structured data might cripple your perfomance in search. Errors are all too common, like the one in the screenshot from Search Console below.

The “Either ‘offers’, ‘review’ or ‘aggregateRating’ should be specified” error is very common

Help is at hand: Yoast SEO & WooCommerce SEO

WooCommerce is huge in the WordPress world. According to W3Techs, 15% of all WordPress sites run an online shop on the WooCommerce platform. That’s amazing. We have a plugin that helps customers improve their online store: WooCommerce SEO. This addon ties neatly into Yoast SEO, including the big schema graph we build for every site. It also greatly improves the product schema output by WooCommerce. 

If your site runs on WooCommerce and Yoast SEO you need WooCommerce SEO. Besides all the cool behind-the-scenes improvements, it fixes that dreaded “Either ‘offers’, ‘review’ or ‘aggregateRating’ should be specified” error for you: automatically! It gives Google everything it needs to figure out your products are products and thus increases your chances of getting those important rich results.

Why you should fix this error

Google is increasingly betting on schema structured data to help understand the world. If your site offers search engines enough context about what’s on it, the rewards could be great: rich results. And for some types, visibility on other devices like smart speakers or visual assistants.

Getting your product schema right, means you can get these types of results. The one earlier in this article is from Reverb and shows a nicely formed product rich results, with breadcrumbs, product information, ratings and reviews, pricing details and an in-stock message. This is all powered by product schema. 

Reporting on the performance of products 

To help you track how your products are doing, Google recently added a Product enhancement report to Search Console. This report lets you know if your products are correctly structured and, therefore, eligible for rich results. This week, Google also announced that it will allow you to see the performance of your product in the search results. You can now find a new Product line in the Search Appearance section of the Search Performance section. 

Search Console now has a product results view in Search Appearance

This report shows exactly how well your products are doing: how many impressions did they have and how many clicks? This is invaluable data to improve your product listings. 

Fix the error and check your listings

Seeing the product schema error in Search Console? Using Yoast SEO and WooCommerce? Well, you’re in luck. The WooCommerce SEO add-on is the glue that ties the product schema structured data between those two platforms together. It fixes that dreaded error and gives you a better chance at getting your products noticed in Google!

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Yoast SEO 12.5: Behind the scenes improvements

These last couple of months here at Yoast SEO HQ have all been about building better things. Behind the scenes, we’re making good progress at getting our flagship plugins ready for the future. While we’re busy building the future, we also stick to our regular two-week release schedule, which means it’s time to introduce Yoast SEO 12.5.

Fixing bugs and behind the scenes scaffolding

Yoast SEO 12.5 is one where most of the work went on behind the scenes. We’re working on improving our codebase and will be releasing something cool pretty soon. To get that done, we need to do some cleaning up. 

Besides getting ready for future releases, we’ve fixed a number of bugs. One of those bugs happened for terms where keywords and snippet preview data would be synced across all languages in a MultilingualPress multisite environment. Another bug misplaced visually hidden text in several elements inside the Snippet Preview. We’ve also deprecated the old Search Console integration as that won’t be returning in that same shape or form.

A reminder about support for older versions of WordPress 

With yesterday’s release of WordPress 5.3, we will return to our initial position of only supporting the latest two versions of WordPress. In this case, that’s WordPress 5.2 and WordPress 5.3, and not versions before that. This means we’ll end our support for WordPress 4.9, which we’ve supported longer than usual to allow people to transition to WordPress 5.0 and ease over people to the classic editor or block editor. Luckily, the vast majority of you have probably updated to the latest versions.

In WordPress 5.2, the core team upped the minimum PHP requirements from an ancient 5.2 to the slightly less ancient 5.6. By supporting the last two versions of WordPress, we can now develop our software using PHP 5.6. This means that we can develop faster and more securely. Read Joost’s post on supporting older versions of WordPress.

Update now to Yoast SEO 12.5

Yoast SEO 12.5 is a fairly basic release with lots of stuff going on in the background. We’ve fixed a number bugs and helped Yoast SEO get ready for future improvements.

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Google BERT: A better understanding of complex queries

By announcing it as the “biggest change of the last five years” and “one that will impact one in ten searches”, Google sure turned some heads with an inconspicuous name: BERT. BERT is a Natural Language Processing (NLP) model that helps Google understand language better in order to serve more relevant results. There are million-and-one articles online about this news, but we wanted to update you on this nonetheless. In this article, we’ll take a quick look at what BERT is and point you to several resources that’ll give you a broader understanding of what BERT does.

To start, the most important thing to keep in mind that Google’s advice never changes when rolling out these updates to its algorithm. Keep producing quality content that fits your users’ goals and make your site as good as possible. So, we’re not going to present a silver bullet for optimizing for the BERT algorithm because there is none. 

What is BERT?

BERT is a neural network-based technique for natural language processing (NLP) pre-training. The full acronym reads Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers. That’s quite the mouthful. It’s a machine-learning algorithm that should lead to a better understanding of queries and content. 

The most important thing you need to remember is that BERT uses the context and relations of all the words in a sentence, rather than one-by-one in order. So BERT can figure out the full context of a word by looking at the words that come before and after it. The bi-directional part of it makes BERT unique.

By applying this, Google can better understand the full gist of a query. Google published several example queries in the launch blog post. I won’t repeat them all but want to highlight one to give you an idea of how it works in search. For humans, the query [2019 brazil traveler to usa need a visa] obviously is about answering if a traveler from Brazil needs to have a visa for the USA in 2019. Computers have a hard time with that. Previously, Google would omit the word ‘to’ from the query, turning the meaning around. BERT takes everything in the sentence into account and thus figures out the true meaning.

As you can see from the example, BERT works best in more complex queries. It is not something that kicks in when you search from head terms, but rather the queries in the long tail. Still, Google says it will impact every one in ten searches. And even then, Google says that BERT will sometimes get it wrong. It’s not the end-all solution to language understanding.

Where does Google apply BERT?

For ranking content, BERT is currently rolled out in the USA for the English language. Google will use the learnings of BERT to improve search in other languages as well. Today, BERT is used for featured snippets in all markets where these rich results appear. According to Google, this leads to much better results in those markets.

Useful resources

We’re not going into detail into what BERT does, talking about its impact on NLP and how it’s now being incorporated into search, because we’re taking a different approach. If you want to understand how this works, you should read up on the research. Luckily, there are plenty of readable articles to be found on this subject. 

This should give you a solid understanding of what is going on in the rapidly developing world of language understanding.

Google’s latest update: BERT

The most important takeaways from this BERT news is that Google is yet again becoming closer to understanding language on a human level. For rankings, it will mean that it will present results that are a better fit to that query and that can only be a good thing. 

There’s no optimizing for BERT other than the work you are already doing: produce relevant content of excellent quality. Need help writing awesome content? We have an in-depth SEO copywriting training that shows you the ropes.

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Managing access to Yoast SEO with SEO roles

It may be one of Yoast SEO’s lesser-known features: SEO roles. A site admin can determine in the backend of WordPress who gets access to the various settings and features of Yoast SEO. This makes for a more fluid and flexible access protocol for different kinds of users on a site. It is no longer a one-size-fits-all solution, but a more tailored one. SEO roles make Yoast SEO even more powerful for every type of user. Here, we’ll explain why these roles are so awesome.

Managing user roles in Yoast SEO

It used to be quite the challenge to use Yoast SEO in a larger site environment. As an admin, you’d have to choose between offering users full access to the plugin or just access to the SEO post editor part. That means a regular user couldn’t use the redirect manager, for instance, and had to ask an admin for help every time he or she wanted to add, change or delete redirects. We’ve seen it happing here at Yoast as well. Of course, there’s a whole range of possible permissions in between. Yoast SEO provides the option for two roles that make this a lot easier to manage: the SEO manager and SEO editor, in addition to the admin who determines who gets to see what.

Roles and capabilities

Roles in Yoast SEO consist of one or more capabilities, like:

  • managing options (this gives you full access),
  • managing redirects,
  • editing advanced metadata,
  • access to the bulk editor.

The SEO editor, for instance, can now make redirects, but cannot change the settings of the plugin or access the advanced metadata editor of Yoast SEO. This way, the SEO editor has more access than a regular user, but less than the SEO manager who can manage settings as well. If you use a permission or role manager plugin for WordPress like Justin Tadlock’s excellent Members plugin, you get even more fine-grained control over the capabilities within Yoast SEO. This way, you can mix and match capabilities in any form you’d like.

In Yoast SEO Premium, we’ve also added the capability to manage redirects without having to be an administrator. By activating this, users within a specific role get full access to the redirect manager. No longer do site managers have to be swamped with redirects requests by site editors, they can manage those themselves. Personally, I like that a lot. By adding some magic code to the plugin, the redirect manager now shows up in the WordPress sidebar menu, even if your Yoast SEO menu is hidden by default. How cool is that?!

Managing your site has never been easier

The SEO roles in Yoast SEO make it incredibly easy to give more people working on your site access to the features and settings they need, without granting them full access. Does your site editor need to edit advanced metadata? No? Block it in Yoast SEO. Does he or she need to manage redirects and do large-scale SEO optimizations with the bulk editor? Great, grant him or her access to these parts of the plugin. You can do this and more – all from the admin dashboard of Yoast SEO!

Read more: Yoast SEO 5.5: Introducing SEO roles »

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Yoast SEO 12.4: Image in snippet preview

After releasing several updates to our snippet preview in previous releases, Yoast SEO 12.4 now shows an image for your post in the mobile snippet preview, just like Google would. We have several other improvements and fixes for you in store with Yoast SEO 12.4. Find out more!

Featured image in the mobile snippet preview

Not too long ago, Google made several changes in the way they present results on mobile. To mimic that, we started updating our snippet preview. In the latest iteration, we see a favicon (added in Yoast SEO 11.5, enhanced in 12.1) and new font sizes (added in 12.1).

The one thing missing from the current snippet preview in Yoast SEO is that of an image. For some search results on mobile, Google will now show the main image next to it. In Yoast SEO 12.4, we automatically use your featured image to mimic the way Google does this now. We’ll use the first image in your content if you haven’t set a featured image. Remember, this only works in the mobile snippet preview.

The mobile snippet preview now uses the featured image

Schema structured data content blocks

Our Schema structured data content blocks for the block editor have proven to be a valid way to quickly get rich results for these types of content. The two current content blocks, namely FAQ and HowTo blocks, are incredibly easy to add, update and publish. They give you valid structured data for that content and thus a great chance of getting rich results. Be sure to try them out! In Yoast SEO 12.4, we’ve improved the findability of the blocks in the block editor library to help even more people find and use them.

Find the Yoast SEO structured data content blocks in the WordPress library

Fixes and enhancements

For this release, we had several users contributions. Emily Leffler Schulman suggested to change the readability score for empty content from “Needs Improvement” with a red icon to “Not Available” with a gray icon. This makes it less confronting for users. Emily also updated the URLs used to ping Google and Bing about the location of a sitemap. Steven Franks added information to the Twitter settings to make it more clear why you should enable Open Graph. Thanks both!

We also fixed a number of bugs in this release. One of these bugs made it impossible to set Twitter and Facebook images for attachment pages. Another bug concerned the visibility of a nested paragraph in the “noindex” metabox warning. Plus, we clear up the last of the Google+ data, there was still some leftovers in the settings export.

Update to Yoast SEO 12.4

That’s Yoast SEO 12.4 for you! We’ve updated the mobile snippet preview with the latest changes by Google and we fixed several bugs. A number enhancements makes Yoast SEO a little bit easier to use. Update to the latest version at your convenience!

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Yoast SEO 12.3: Transition words in Hungarian

While some of our checks are independent of languages, Yoast SEO has special skills to adapt the various content analyses to different languages from around the world. In Yoast SEO 12.3, we’re taking the first steps to add another language to the list: Hungarian. In addition, this release features a number of enhancement and fixes. Read on to find out more!

Yoast SEO is learning a new language: Hungarian

Every time we plan on adding a language, we need to see how and what we need to do to get it to work in the plugin. Not every language follows the same rules, so we do research and test how to best go about adding a new one. We have a team of linguists, assistants and developers doing the hard work. Their team lead, Manuel Augustin, recently wrote a post describing how we make Yoast SEO understand your language.

That’s not to say we do everything by ourselves. We truly value community input and we need it if we want to reach our goals. In this release, you’ll see one of those community efforts. Thanks to the hard work of 9abor, we can now say our first words in Hungarian! We start off by adding support for the transition word assessment for this language. More to come.

On our knowledge base, you can find the complete list of all available languages and a guide on how you can make Yoast SEO available in your language.

Other fixes and improvements

Yoast SEO 12.3 features a number of fixes and enhancements. In Yoast SEO Premium, we fixed a bug that prevented you from interrupting the internal linking tool during updating. We’ve improved user input validation feedback and suggestions for error correction.

Plus, we’ve added a new floating Save changes button on Yoast SEO admin pages. You’ll this when the normal button isn’t visible in the browser window. We’ve added a new filter called wpseo_sitemap_http_headers which allows filtering the HTTP headers we send for XML sitemaps. Last but not least, Weston Ruter added a code change to add the CSS for the Yoast SEO admin bar to the AMP dev mode. This makes sure that the CSS will always load properly, even if there is a lot of CSS on a page.

Update now to Yoast SEO 12.3

Yoast SEO 12.3 is out today and brings a number of improvements. We’ve started to add support for a new language, namely Hungarian. In addition, we’ve improved input validation and added some changes that will help the admin bar load at all times. Hope you enjoy this release!

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