BigBird, the Robot Revolution, and the End of the Internet as We Know It

Posted on October 16, 2020
  • BigBird is one step closer to technology that can mimic the human brain, in terms of processing power and ability.
  • This new advancement will kill the No. 1 Google ranking as we know it, and searches will become a lot more customized.
  • Businesses that have been prioritizing user experience and authoritative content will probably benefit.
  • Companies that have invested in SEO gimmicks and quick fixes will probably suffer traffic drops.

Remember how exciting it was to Ask Jeeves for the answers to your homework (or nude photos of actresses, because the Internet)? Or having late-night conversations about nothing with SmarterChild on AIM?

The mere concept of being able to comb through the entire Internet for the answer to a question or chat with a bot was groundbreaking in the late ‘90s. What you found wasn’t always what you wanted, and the conversations sometimes ran in circles. But at the time, it was a significant technological advancement.

Today, we’re on the verge of new technology that can understand language like SmarterChild, scour the Internet like AskJeeves, and virtually read your mind — all to help you find the answers to your most burning questions.

This new technology is known as BigBird. No, not the giant yellow bird. While this BigBird is related to BERT, neither of them have anything to do with Sesame Street. Both are major advancements that will change search as we know it — and maybe bring about the Robot Revolution.

Who or What is BigBird?

BigBird is a major advancement in Natural Language Processing (NLP) that uses AI and neural nets (NN) to better understand the context of content on a website, along with the context of search queries.

Or, in plain English, BigBird is one step closer to technology that can mimic the human brain, in terms of processing power and ability. It’s an algorithm that uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to understand not only what words we’re searching for, but also what we really mean by the words we use.

Building on the advancements from its older brother BERT, BigBird is like Google studying every human language and learning all the vocabulary words. As it learns the nouns and verbs, it’s learning to understand the language as a whole and understand context. It’s also learning to understand, to an extent, how people think certain authors type.

BigBird is a supercomputer that can understand every bit of context, regardless of what region you’re in. As the supercomputer analyzes more, it will build models around every single subject, every single piece of context and eventually just understand everything. Just like those sci-fi horror movies where computers become self-aware.

The first place BigBird will have a strong presence is, of course, Google. The algorithm will analyze information from your Google searches, but also from Gmail, Google Home, your phone, and other data sources it can access (so, basically everything you’ve ever done online) to better understand who you are and what you’re looking for. The goal is to help people find more relevant search results on an extremely personal level.

circuit board to illustrate technology

DeepRank: The First Step Toward BigBird

Google recently confirmed BERT is already part of Google Search, Search Engine Roundtable reported. As the article notes, DeepRank is the search giant’s internal project to implement BERT technology in its search algorithm.

“This project is very unique in the fact that this is the first time for search that we have a signal which understands the relationship between different terms,” Jingcao Hu, Software Engineer, Search, said in this video on how search works.

DeepRank, named for the deep learning methods used by BERT and the ranking aspect used in search, is the first step in what we’re predicting will happen with BigBird (more on that later).

DeepRank went live with BERT in October 2019, and was fully live in nearly all search queries as of Fall 2020, the Search Engine Roundtable article notes. The goal, of course, is always to make searches more relevant to users, as the DeepRank team said in the video.

“That’s why we are very excited about DeepRank, because we are hoping that this could help us make Google Search more intuitive to use and make it feel like Google Search actually understands our users,” Sundeep Tirumalareddy, Software Engineer, Search, said in the video.

Today, this is exciting because it’s a brand-new innovation. Soon enough, the technology will become mainstream to the point of being dull — much like the SmarterChild or Ask Jeeves of your younger years.

How BigBird Will Revolutionize SEO

With the newfound ability to understand context and serve personal results, SEO as we know it will change forever. When BERT was introduced, we saw a lot of SEOs leave the profession to focus on other areas of marketing. We expect that trend to continue with the adoption of BigBird.

Why? Because their bag of tricks and shady gimmicks will disappear. For example, you’ve probably heard that if you just use a keyword 3 times in the headlines, add 6 internal links, and bold key phrases, you’ll rank in no time.

Those checklists will vanish, and we’ll get more into why in a minute.

BigBird moves closer to automating Google’s EAT guidelines, which is where human raters review search results for quality and user experience. Algorithms will be able to compare your content to millions of other pieces and determine how well you know what you’re talking about — instead of comparing to the handful of sites that humans can read.

It also means Google will favor more journalistic content written by (or in collaboration with) subject matter experts, instead of content farms that use SEO tricks and writers who add a lot of fluff.

It will also become more accurate and more expansive when taking into account regional variations of searches. Meaning, if someone from the Midwest is looking for pop and someone from the West Coast is looking for soda, Google will be even smarter about knowing they’re searching for the same thing.

What BigBird Means For Your Business

The biggest thing you need to know is that Number 1 rankings, as we know it today, will cease to exist as searches become a lot more personal.

Of course, Google has waded into the pool of personalized search in the past. The company later backed off amid controversy, saying internal testing proved personalization didn’t provide much value for users.

But that was back in 2012. In technology terms, those eight years might as well be a lifetime. Breakthroughs with NLP and NN mean that personalization will look and feel a lot more natural and seamless to the end user — and be smarter about the results it serves.

In fact, the Google algorithm as we know it will cease to exist. Instead, each person will have their own personal Google algorithm, based on the data the company has about you, combined with the larger understanding of content and context across the World Wide Web. And while Google won’t come out and say it, it will use the extent of their data modeling sets, including your phone, GPS, Google Home device, Gmail, search history, calendar, and your deepest darkest secrets. In fact, it holds several patents on personalized knowledge graphs.

What this means is two people searching for the same thing won’t get the same results. Instead, each person will see content that’s more tailored to their general interests.

On an individual business level, you probably won’t see a major shift — such as your traffic plummeting (or skyrocketing) overnight.

The first sign you’ll likely notice is you’re ranking for a lot of terms you may not have been targeting, or ranking for in the past.

If you’re a smaller business who hasn’t invested much into SEO, but has quality, expert-level content, you’ll probably benefit and may outrank larger organizations

If you’re a big company that invested a bunch of money into ranking for these big keywords, you might start seeing those rankings slip — if your content isn’t up to snuff with what your audience is expecting. By content that’s not up to snuff, we don’t just mean the shit you buy on Fiverr that clearly wasn’t written by or with a subject matter expert.

It could be content that your audience just simply doesn’t identify with, for any or no reason at all. Instead of losing keywords and traffic to competitors, you might lose it to news sites, Wikipedia, or other informational sites. It could be anything on the topic that attracts an audience.

crystal ball

Gazing Into Our Crystal Ball

As we’ve hinted at before, BigBird is only the beginning. We believe the evolution of natural language processing will not only change the way the Internet works, but also change the way we interact with the Internet.

Prediction 1: Web design will become more standardized, marking a huge shift from the golden age of creative web design that we’re winding down today.

Why: Over time, artificial intelligence and machine learning will start to understand what we’d like to see and how we’d like to interact with things. We’ll have the data on what works, which takes out the need for a creative mind to come think about some new way for people to interact with the site. The algorithm has more processing power than all the designers on the planet.

Prediction 2: Many SEOs and “search gurus” will disappear.

Why: With every iteration of adding machine learning neural nets, the result is more complex algorithms that better understand the context of content. This means a lot of the quick fixes for on-page SEO will disappear. The more complicated the algorithm gets, the less likely typical tips and tricks will work. As a result, the industry will depend a lot more on the principles of marketing and business — not gaming the system.

With this, you’ll also see SEO specialists begin to disappear because internal marketing teams will be able to better manage how to get your website in front of the right people without the need of a translator. As Google becomes more sophisticated at matching the right content to the right users, you’ll be rewarded for what you do best — doing the right thing by your audience.

Prediction 3: More local businesses will be found locally.

Why: It all ties back to Google’s deeper understanding of what each and every person is interested in and wants to see. For example, if Google knows that I, a San Diegan, love hot sauce and like to support local businesses, it’s going to note that as it serves up results for general searches. It’s more likely to point me to a hot sauce store in my neighborhood when I search “hot sauce”, versus one based out of NYC.

Prediction 4: As Google offloads more quality review work to AI the less humans will be able to understand what makes things rank.

Why: With machine learning, the algorithm is always learning and always iterating. As Google better understands the context of what’s on a page, the better job it will do of serving it up to people searching for it, regardless of the actual words used on the page. From here, Google will measure the results of the search. What are you clicking on? What are you scrolling past? When you visit a page, are you reading it thoroughly or reading the headline and leaving? Each of these actions gives the algorithm data on how “right” its decision was. The algorithm will take this data, learn from it, change the results, and on and on forever.

Prediction 5: The death of the search box as we know it today

Why: The rise of voice search means you’ll become increasingly likely to ask Siri, Alexa, Google Home, or any other similar products to find the answers to what you’re looking for. In fact, one Hubspot survey noted that 74% of respondents have used voice search tools within the past month. And this survey notes that voice searches are respondents’ second favorite way to find information. (Google has a lot more fun stats on the rise of voice here, if you’re interested)

When we get 10 or more years down the road, most searches will be done by voice — or Google will become all-knowing.

bits and bytes of technology

The Takeaway

For most business owners who aren’t relying on shady tricks and black-hat techniques to be found in search engines will benefit. Google’s goal is to show the right content to the right audience. If you focus on your audience, they will find you.

The second takeaway is to always make sure your content demonstrates your unique expertise. If you invest in long-term marketing plays like content marketing, having a copywriter who is either a subject matter expert or a journalist, or writing it yourself, is going to gain you a lot more visibility in the long run than just hiring somebody who can turn on a quick win piece that they know how to rank it, but they don’t know.

The third takeaway is that technical SEO will become even more important. As we rely less and less on things like keywords and internal links to get found, page experience will become even more important. Just like your content should give readers the best possible experience, your website should, too.

This means making sure your website loads quickly is easy to navigate, and follows the Google Web Vitals guidelines. For every second your mobile page load is delayed, conversions can fall by up to 20%.

Curious to learn more about BigBird and how it will affect your website? Get in touch. We love talking about tech almost as much as we love building it.