What is passage indexing?
Passage indexing is a new form of indexation initiated by Google in 2021 that allows specific passages of a page to be indexed and returned in the SERPS for a search query, even if the overall nature of the page isn’t directly relevant.
Passage Indexing – what it is, how it works, and how it affects your B2B SEO strategy
Passage indexing was first introduced into the Google algorithms in February 2021 and made changes to the ways in which search terms were answered. You’ve probably come across passage indexing first-hand without realising it, as it looks very similar to the more familiar featured snippets that Google uses. Passage indexing differs however, as it’s another step towards Google prioritising the end user’s experience, and how this influences what the search engine provides in results pages.
Why was passage indexing introduced?
Passage indexing was introduced to help answer more specific search queries, where the old results that were returned didn’t quite provide the information that the user required. Using advancements in Google’s language identification abilities, the search engine is now able to look at passages, rather than pages, for answering queries. This allows Google to look for “needle in a haystack” kind of content, which can help to answer longer and more specific search queries. This also means, as opposed to just taking the top ranked page from the keywords pulled from that search query, Google now looks deeper and often further down the results page for this content to find more helpful answers.
Search result showing passage indexing for a term with long-tail keywords. This link appears at position number 5 for the search term “pouring ketchup”.
The results page for the search term “pouring ketchup”, which shows images and “People also ask” results.
How would you recognise it on a results page?
Google searching for more specific answers now means that pages that rank lower have more of a chance of being featured at the top of the results page, at position 0. It also means that long form content can be listed without being optimised for search engines. This is again Google catering for the end user, meaning that even though content may be written without using SEO practices, or without consulting a B2B SEO agency, it is deemed to be helpful for the user and so is featured in a prominent position. This encourages content to be created with users in mind, rather than writing content with the purpose of ranking well in a search engine. For example, a site may have good content, but this content may be written poorly, or lack any SEO features to help it to rank. As long as it has the relevant keywords, and answers the search query in a useful way, Google will now pull it to the top of the search engine results page.
Ranking for Passage Indexing
As this passage ranking system is useful for specific queries, it also means that long tail keywords become more important. Long-tail keywords are usually less competitive to rank for, as they return fewer results and contain more specific combinations of keywords. Search queries using long tail keywords are likelier to feature passage indexing, to answer specific questions. With this knowledge, some marketers may try to strategize for passage indexing with their content: Google have said this is unlikely to be a useful way to spend you or your marketing efforts time and resource. With consideration, this seems to be good advice. Trying to rank for highly specific keywords will not necessarily bring in traffic and won’t really benefit your site in terms of SEO.
What this means for your SEO strategy
AWARENESS > CONSIDERATION > CONVERSION
Passage indexing is useful to consider when targeting users at the awareness stage of the customer journey. When a user is initiating research for a particular topic or subject, they are likely to use hyper-targeted queries to try and find information. Therefore, considering long tail search queries within the markup of you page content can help your page be more useful overall and give your pages passages a good chance of being indexed.
When researching products or services and comparing them, with the final intention of buying, these long tail keywords and specific queries won’t be returned by Google: instead, lists of brands or companies, prices, reviews, and other similar content will appear. Therefore, passage indexing isn’t a complete negative for SEO, and shouldn’t affect your
In conclusion, passage indexing is where Google does its best to answer a very specific query to improve its user experience. It’s delivering a passage and not a page. Fortunately, you don’t have to worry about passage indexing too much as you can’t strategically rank for it, and its addition was made for the benefit of the end user. It isn’t going to spoil any of your hard work fine tuning your SEO content, and it’s not really going to affect the vast majority of your customers in terms of whether you appear in their searches. It’s a feature added by Google to help its users and answer their super specific questions.
At Polaris, we can help you to utilise many other SEO strategies to get your business to rank higher in Google, driving traffic to your site, and helping to promote sales. Get in touch today so we can discuss your B2B SEO plan.