Google Index

What Is Passage-Based Indexing, Why Has Google Introduced It & Are There Any SEO Implications?

Back in the autumn, search juggernaut Google unleashed a raft of shake-ups, including its announcement of the start of passage-based indexing for web pages in English (as a ranking or algorithmic change rather than an indexing one). It’s essentially another part of its push for a more intuitive, intelligent algorithm. Rollout began late last year, in the States, with more locations and languages in the pipeline.

The Problem

Put simply, passage-based indexing is a response to the fact that some highly specific searches can be hard for Google to serve accurately. The best answer to someone’s query could be buried in one sentence, hidden so deeply in a web page it has become unreachable.

The Solution

The search giant says that, following what it calls a ‘breakthrough’, it can now pinpoint particular passages from web pages (even if they aren’t part of a page’s principle theme) as well as the pages themselves. It has improved its understanding of particular passages’ relevance so that getting very precise answers to questions is no longer the proverbial needle in a haystack.

Once fully rolled out worldwide, the engine states, this kind of indexing will impact some 7% of online searches across all languages, adding “and that’s just the beginning”. Passage-based indexing can even address video semantics, spelling errors and relevant sub-topics.

While Google still indexes whole pages, its systems now assess passages’ content and meaning when deciding the most relevant results, compared with what it did previously (which was mainly to look at a page overall). Individual passages are not indexed – they’re merely better identified. While things like page headings are still important, the new system can highlight web pages which have a particular section which matches a search query well, even if the rest of a page is far less relevant.

An Example

From time to time, we all make highly specific web-based searches. For instance, if you were searching ‘How do I know if my windows are UV glass?’ it will throw up many random web pages about UV glazing. However, the new algorithm can indicate the precise passage on a particular DIY forum containing the best answer to the query. (Apparently the right answer is to use a flame’s reflection – who knew?)

How Does It Differ from Featured Snippets?

The Google search results sometimes show listings where the ‘snippet’ describing a page comes before rather than after a link to a page.

The corporation says:

“our systems (now) determine the relevance of any web document via understanding of passages. Featured snippets, on the other hand, identify the most relevant passage in a document we’ve identified overall to be relevant to the query.”

What Does This Mean for Me?

Most websites won’t need a fresh approach or have to overhaul their SEO, provided their content is already properly organised, written to a high standard and is relevant. So your rankings shouldn’t change much, if at all. (Although, if you have a lot of long-form content, you might see an increase in traffic to your site, potentially.)

This issue does underline just how vital user intent and content quality are to ranking. If anything, understanding your audience and providing them with value are now even more important than some of the more technical aspects of SEO.

Front Page Advantage: Here To Help

At Front Page Advantage, we help clients of all sizes working in a huge variety of sectors with their SEO and digital marketing efforts. We have an in-depth understanding of the way Google operates and can help push your website up the results pages for both this search engine and other important ones including Bing and Yahoo.

Get in touch today for a more detailed chat about passage-based indexing and indeed anything else related to SEO or digital marketing for your brand.