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What’s New in Search?: Google’s SMITH vs. BERT

Most SEOs know that Google has a way of quietly rolling out algorithm updates without a big announcement. Early last month, rumor had it that Google was testing out it’s newest natural language processing (NLP) model, SMITH.

Google quickly denied the rumors on Twitter, but still —  those of us trying to rank websites should pay attention to the role SMITH could potentially play in Google’s never-ending quest to improve the quality and relevance of their search results. 

So what is SMITH? Just like BERT helps Google understand words better in the context of sentences, SMITH helps Google understand passages within the context of entire documents.

What does this mean for site owners? Not much is different. If you’re focused on creating the highest-quality content for users, SMITH will simply help Google understand your content more holistically, just like humans do. Here is a breakdown of the essentials.

What you need to know:

How SMITH may impact search:

  • As Google improves its understanding of complete documents, good information architecture will be even more important
  • SMITH will improve the areas of news recommendations, related article recommendations, and document clustering
  • We know that Google already likes long-form content, but when SMITH is live, Google will understand longer content even more effectively

Another interesting feature of SMITH is that it can function as a text predictor. There are other companies that have been making big waves with NLP (think of Open AI’s infamous GPT-3 beta last year). Some of these technologies could help others build their own search engines. Therefore, SMITH is likely just one of many iterations in Google’s long-term goal of maintaining their dominance in NLP and machine learning technology. 

So this month, the mantra should remain the same: Focus on content, focus on quality. Whether or not Google launches SMITH tomorrow (or whether they already did), high-quality websites are the best situated to benefit from the update.