How Brands Should Navigate Google’s Latest Indexing Change

How Brands Should Navigate Google’s Latest Indexing Change

Alex Whalley [featured image] is SEO Director at global digital marketing agency Tug. Here, Whalley runs over the latest Google ranking signal update and explains how brands can use SEO to stay ahead.

Oh look, it’s another Google ranking signal update. It seems Google likes nothing more than throwing up another tweak to their ranking algorithm to keep bands on their toes, but are there implications for SEO and content strategy?

Google passage indexing is an automated feature that pulls sections of content from pages into search engine results, even if the page covers a range of topics and is not specifically focused on the exact search term that was used in the first place.

For example, if there was a large piece of content about buying a car that covers both the new and used car markets and discusses everything related to it. The goal of this content is to provide an authoritative guide for anyone looking to buy a car. Whilst the content contains a lot of highly useful and relevant content, it may not rank well for a specific term such as “how to talk the price down on a used car”, since there are other articles out there devoted entirely to the subject of haggling.

Well, thanks to passage indexing, Google now has the ability to pull out sections of content and rank it independently of the rest of the page. This means that if someone types in Google “how to talk the price down when buying a used car” Google can pull the applicable piece of content from your article and present that in the search results.

The impact on SEO

Google’s Martin Splitt, who works in its developer relations team, said that whilst the update is called “passage indexing” he would refer to it as a ranking change and should therefore be called “passage ranking” since it is not changing how Google indexes your content.

From an SEO perspective, this means there is nothing that needs to be changed when it comes to content optimisation. Instead, more incentives are rewarded to well-written, authoritative content, to ensure it captures more attention from search engine users.

Google says the new changes will only impact around 7 per cent of search queries, so don’t expect huge changes. If a page already ranks well for certain terms then there may not be a noticeable impact at all. However, and this is the important bit, if there are other pages that contain well written and researched long form content that covers a topic in depth then there may be a small boost in rankings and, therefore, traffic.

For those already familiar with how Google pulls information into search results you may be thinking ‘But Google already does this with featured snippets’. But there are differences.

Passage indexing vs. featured snippets

Featured snippets have been a feature of Google for a few years now and essentially provides a ‘snippet’ of information directly in the search results meaning users don’t have to click on a link to get the answer to the question. It works by taking a section of the content from a page that Google feels answers the question succinctly and provides that as a snippet above the organic and paid search results. The URL/article that this snippet is pulled from is usually devoted to answering that question in great detail and whilst the link is still provided and can be clicked for more detailed information pertaining to the question, the snippet is still in essence a summary of that entire article.

Passage indexing is a completely different system that looks at the content of a page, determines if parts of the page answer a search query, and delivers those results in the search engine results pages (SERPs).

Will passage indexing impact a brand’s website?

If a site contains a lot of long form content there will definitely be an impact – albeit a small one – because Google is effectively providing a greater opportunity to rank that content in Google.

However, sites with shorter content, such as e-commerce sites, are unlikely to see any change in their Google ranking, but may indirectly lose some of their existing rank to those sites with a lot of good content as Google pulls passages from that content into search results.

Optimising for passage indexing

There is no direct way to optimise specifically for passage indexing like there is for featured snippets, but there are certainly some things to keep in mind when looking at the overall SEO and content strategy that will place a brand in the best possible position to gain from this new indexing/ranking update:

  • Refresh existing content with new statistics and data where applicable.
  • Ensure that content has clear headings and subheadings and are properly tagged as such.
  • For ecommerce sites and other websites that do not currently have much long-form content, now is certainly a good time to consider implementing it into the overarching SEO strategy.
  • Keyword research is now more important than ever and consideration needs to be given to a larger range of longtail keywords within the content and subsections of articles to ensure that any related sub-topics can be potentially found for searches where passage indexing is included in the search results.

Google has always emphasised the importance of the end user and ensuring that a website provides the best possible experience for your visitors. The passage indexing update is further proof of this, as it ensures users can get direct and straightforward answers to their queries.

SEO will always be important, but it is the users who should remain the priority when creating and optimising content across websites.


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