google passage indexing results example

The role of Passage Indexing in Your SEO and Content Strategy

How does Google’s Search Engine Relevancy Passage (SERP) indexing affect your SEO strategy

Over the past few weeks, there has been an increasing amount of conversation (and sometimes confusion) about Search Engine Relevance Passage (SERP) indexing.  SERP indexing isn’t new, but it is expanding its importance in search engine results.

First, to give you some background on evolving importance of SERPs.

In 2019, Google released BERT as a new algorithm. For years, Google has attempted to improve the relevancy of a search engine result.  We’ve all clicked on an article that turns out not to really be very relevant to our question.  With BERT, Google uses AI to provide passage results.  You see more of a passage of the text to determine if it’s truly relevant to your search.

As with most things Google does.  First, they release it to tell you it’s a good idea to have.  Next, they start to reward and/or penalize you for not having it.

That is the new direction taking shape with Google’s recent updates in October of 2020.

Their AI is getting better at determining your passage text, including misspellings.

The positive and negatives of SERP for your website’s SEO results

Google is not necessarily penalizing websites without effective passage text, but we’ll wait and see on that.

You do have some positive and negatives to both sides.  For example, one of the downsides of creating effective SERP results for users is that you will likely see a decline in clicks to your website.  If someone is searching for an answer to something and your passage indexing can provide that to them, they make be satisfied with that and will move on.

On the flip side of this challenge is that Google will likely reward you with more opportunities to show up in search results because they have expanded the locations within their data results to be seen including:

• Featured Snippets
• Knowledge Card
• Knowledge Panel
• Image Pack
• Top Stories
• People Also Ask
• Shopping Results
• Tweet Boxes
• Site Links
• Videos

This can be great news and difficult news for many of you.  Your managers or boards may be focusing on more traffic, while the passage indexing may be giving you more results opportunities.

This means that you need to come to terms with the SEO model that you want to move forward with because keeping up with these changes, could come at a cost if the expectations are wrong.

The effects on E-Commerce Marketing

As Jill Brown, a contributor on Practical eCommerce suggested, the affect of Google’s new passage indexing practices could see a reduction in traffic for E-Commerce stores.  This could be a new problem for stores that invest heavily in their ability to convert from SEO to drive browsers to shop their store.

As she points out, a study by Ahrefs found that only 8.6% of searchers clicked on a featured snippet and 19.6% clicked on the first results when both are shown.  That resulted in a 32.7% decrease in the number of clicks for the first result if there is no featured snippet.

They also found that many searchers leave without clicking on anything when a featured snippet appears.  As she concluded, this likely means the searchers found enough info without needing to click through to the product.

As she sees it, “Passage indexing focuses on natural language and long-tail search queries. Thus longer content — articles, how-to guides — will likely benefit.”

Where do we go from here?

This isn’t the first time, nor will it be the last time companies need to reconsider their approach to Search Engine Marketing.  It may be that the testing needed to succeed in this new AI approach will rely on what information you provide for relevancy without spoiling the curiosity that drives a click to your website.

Needless to say, SEO just got more difficult for digital marketers and more interesting for converging SEO and Content Marketing strategies.

This could mean that E-Commerce stores could have a new challenge in their content marketing strategy. Product descriptions are often short and to the point. E-Commerce merchants working with several thousand skus struggle with creating unique descriptions for their products. With growth in passage indexing, it may be that E-Commerce businesses will need to re-evaluate how they address their top categories and products.

Are you concerned about your SEO traffic results based on Google’s passage indexing changes?