Understanding Passages

What is Passage Indexing/Ranking? How Google uses AI for more Relevant Search Results

Google continues its neverending quest to better-up its search results – stop me if you’ve heard this one before! Back in October 2020, Google announced how its AI will be used to improve its search results, and slowly but surely, they’ve kept their promise. On Feb 10, 2021, rolled out what is known as passage indexing. This is Google’s attempt to give your search results better context instead of just listing a bunch of URLs in front of you.

What is Passage Indexing?

Passage indexing is when Google uses individual paragraphs to help boost pages depending on what the user is searching for. It can also show you paragraphs of text in the search results that are directly related to the search. In other words, instead of showing you a list of websites that presumably talk about your search query, Google instead shows you the URL plus pulls out the most relevant passage on that page, and even bolds some of the keywords for you. That way, you can get instant answers to your questions and you can also see if that site’s content is actually what you are looking for (or not!)

How does Passage Indexing work?

Google is using AI to analyze the content of a page and tries to understand its intent and value to the human reader. But, what separates passage ranking from your garden variety spider crawl is that Google’s AI uses the individual passages to help rank your page based on the query instead of ranking the page as a whole (which solely relied on the content to justify the title).

Basically, it finds needles in haystacks.

For a better illustration, let’s say you have a page dedicated to web design. On your page, you have sections such as what is web design, why is it important, etc. Your page – which is dedicated entirely to the topic of web design – would generally rank for that focus keyword.

But let’s say you have a section on that page that gives a brief history lesson: when was web design invented. Google will index that particular passage, and if someone searches Google for that general phrase, use that passage as a boost factor and may even show a snippet from the actual passage that has the relevant keywords the user is seeking answers for! So instead of just showing your URL – and remember, the page is dedicated to web design as a whole and not just its origin – the search result is delivered with more context.

Take a look at example search results before and after the update, below:

Understanding Passages

How users see passages in search results. (From Google)

Passage Indexing vs Passage Ranking

Well, the phrase passage indexing can be kind of confusing. Google still indexes your entire page, not just individual passages. What they actually do is use the quality and relevance of the passages in determining your ranking for that query. Don’t believe me? They said it themselves:

How does Passage Ranking affect SEO?

Passage indexing (or passage ranking) can help your site appear in more search results if your page is informative. The critical factor is having excellent and useful content. If your page is lengthy and has many sections that flesh out your topic, your page has more opportunities to be shown because you have more to offer. If your page doesn’t go into extreme depth on a topic but instead focuses on concise information, well, that’s fine too! As long as it’s good quality content, Google will still slot you where it thinks you should be. You shouldn’t need to make any retroactive changes for the sake of SEO.

[If you need more information on how SEO works, read my article titled What is SEO?]

Can you help me with SEO?

When it comes to passage indexing, you may not have to make any changes. In fact, you should go on as usual and just think about your content as you write more in the future. You don’t need to go back into all your blog posts and update anything. But, if your search results are low – or non-existent – then you may need SEO for your website so that it is streamlined to give you the biggest push it can. I can help boost your search ranking, so contact me and we can talk about an SEO campaign for your site.

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