Google’s algorithm updates and changes should make our online lives a lot easier (hello, new spelling algorithm!), but one, in particular, is set to have a huge impact on the future of SEO: passage indexing. We briefly reported on this in last week’s news blog, but since then there’s been some misunderstanding.
Google announced it will be able to index individual passages of a web page, not just the web page as a whole, but that’s not an accurate description of this update at all.
If you’re part of the SEO community, you’ve likely been in a tailspin about this announcement, particularly the word “indexing.” While the official term is “passage indexing,” Google said the update was a “ranking thing” more than an “indexing thing.” Why does this distinction matter? It means Google will still index full pages but will now also consider the content and meaning of individual passages – it’s not that Google is indexing parts of a page.
So, more than anything, Google will change how it looks at content after the content has been indexed. And, yes, this “ranking thing” will shake things up.
The new update will have a visible effect on the search engine result pages (SERPs) for targeted search queries going forward – and the impact is quantifiable. Google has stated, in so many words, that passage indexing will “improve” seven percent of search queries.
Since the announcement (and the confusion that followed), Google’s Danny Sullivan has shared in a Twitter thread a few more details that clarify the update. Simply, long web pages or web pages that touch on multiple topics now stand a better chance of ranking if one part of the page is relevant to a user’s search query. Sullivan stressed that Google will still be indexing pages as normal, and passages will just become an additional consideration.
In its latest Search On blog, Google shows passage indexing in action on a mobile search. The top search result for “how can I determine if my house windows are UV glass” differs depending on the device. Assuming this update is being rolled out on mobile before desktop – which, with mobile-first indexing being on the horizon, is likely the case – SEOs who are facing sudden traffic drops could potentially be feeling the effects. The update is already live for this particular search query, and who knows how many others?
Google hasn’t yet revealed the official date of the rollout, and while Sullivan said there’s “nothing special” creators need to do to prepare for the update, it may be worth it to keep a close eye on your desktop and mobile results – for all you know, a competitor’s passage could already have been pushed to the top of mobile SERPs.
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