Since the early days of search engine optimization, Google has pioneered methods to organizing and delivering data to the masses via search. While they’ve successfully created products in a variety of other fields, the online search engine represents their first – and greatest – achievement. Initially designed to provide fast results to users, Google aims to constantly improve searchers’ results and overall experience alike.

Most recently, evolution has focused on the conversational aspect of search. Touted as the most important update in five years, the BERT update (Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers) was rolled out in late 2019 and specifically targeted language understanding, stating that:

…Particularly for longer, more conversational queries, or searches where prepositions like “for” and “to” matter a lot to the meaning, Search will be able to understand the context of the words in your query. You can search in a way that feels natural for you.”

These updates vastly improve Google’s ability to understand long-form search queries, and in 2020 they’re going the extra mile. In the past, SERPs and autofill suggestions were meant to satisfy the query at hand; no more, no less. But today, other variables surrounding your recent search activity are taken into account. For example, if you were to search for the “nursing program cost”, then search again for “dental assisting program”, the engine will infer that you might be looking for the cost of this program as well.

These conversational updates will apply most directly to how we target certain areas of the sales funnel in direct-response marketing. Consider expanding the keyword strategy to include full questions, often including the Five W’s: who, what where, when and why, which naturally add more intent to search queries. Rather than just securing matches for searches like “career colleges near me”, tools like Answer the Public can provide relevant, longer-form questions that are currently being asked in search. “What career colleges near me are accredited” and “what career college is right for me” are great examples of higher-funnel searches that are still highly relevant to your target audience.

After compiling the proper research surrounding questions and answers in your target audience, add these keywords to your paid and organic efforts. With this broadened keyword strategy in place, you’ll be able to create responses that meet a wider range of users’ needs, whether intent is obvious or buried in a long-form query.

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