What Is Google’s Passage-Based Indexing and How Does It Help SEO?

Google’s search engine has evolved tremendously over the years. With regular updates and improvements in algorithms, it has set new benchmarks for other search platforms out there. Clearly, it is now the most popular search engine globally.
Recently, Google announced its latest update, which is set to improve seven percent of all search queries. This update, to be rolled out by the end of 2020, focuses on specific web page passages for indexing, in addition to analyzing the page content as a whole.

In a Livestream event in October, Google introduced new SEO developments, including the breakthrough announcement that BERT will now power all English-language queries on Google Search. Additionally, the new passage indexing figure was introduced, with a goal to improve long-tail search query results.

Now, some of these terms or their impact on SEO may be unfamiliar to marketers. Here, we will explain what passage-based indexing is and what this new update means for SEO.

What Is Passage-Based Indexing?

As mentioned earlier, Google’s passage-based indexing aims to highlight individual passages from the content of a web page, which might potentially contain answers to the search query. This feature can be categorized as a ranking change more than an indexing change, as the indexing feature will not see much difference with this rollout.

Basically, Google’s aim is to get the answers right to very specific search queries. Most of these queries are long-tail questions that are looking for very specific information. Putting forth whole pages of related information might be relevant to the query, yet not answer it per se.

For example, if someone asks, “how will I know if my dog has lice”, you expect to see links about dog lice, how it occurs, what are the treatments and preventive measures, etc. However, it still may not answer the query, which is asking for a method to identify symptoms of lice in a pet dog.

With passage-based indexing, you will be presented with a specific passage from an article that strives to answer your question. Ideally, only that passage is relevant to the query, so you will not even have to click a link to get the answer.

This update tries to get these specific queries right, so you don’t have to dig deep into multiple web pages to get a simple answer.

Natural Language Understanding and BERT

In October 2020, Google announced that BERT powers almost every English query on Google search. For the unversed, BERT is Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers, a machine learning technique that enables natural language processing.

Google developed BERT in 2018 and has expanded it to several other languages. Using this natural language understanding algorithm ensures that the search engine understands your query more deeply than just the matching keywords.

With this, Google attempts to understand the context of the search and present pinpointed content that is fully relevant to the query, resulting in passage-based indexing. This will not impact website rankings as BERT cannot be optimized for SEO yet. So, how does passage-based indexing help?

Pros and Cons of Passage-Based Indexing

This new evolution of Google’s search algorithm has both positive and negative connotations for SEO experts.



More focused on users’ needs, rather than search crawlers

Poses new challenges for SEO experts, in terms of keyword research and priorities

Boosts the zero-click search trend

Might reduce traffic for high-ranking pages

Results in featured snippets and their optimization

Snippet optimization might come into conflict with page optimization

Relies much more on natural language processing and contextual writing

Pages with stuffed keywords likely to be avoided

Increases effectiveness of search engines and thus boosts the number of searches

Untidy content, without headings or tags, to be better understood by Google, thus throwing off the SEO strategies

As a whole, passage-based indexing helps to focus more on the search intent, rather than keywords, thus providing a more wholesome experience to users. For SEO experts, this means having to make their strategies smarter and more user-based.

However, if you think Google’s new rollout does not help SEO, you are wrong. Specific indexing affects SEO in ways never seen before. Let’s discuss some of the important aspects.

Impact on SEO

Indexing separate passages from a web page helps SEO in many ways.

1. More natural content

Google’s new update will definitely result in website owners and bloggers producing more natural content instead of focusing wholly on search crawlers. As there is a chance of a particular passage being featured, content creators will ensure their whole post is informative and devoid of keyword stuffing.

However, this might lead to a scrambling among marketers to produce multiple content pages based on a single topic, each optimized for a particular keyword. This may lead to excess and repetitive content in a bid to get noticed by Google.

2. Effect on tags, headlines, and featured snippets

Although passage-based indexing is mostly for the benefit of users, it is equally important for website owners. Since Google focuses on certain key aspects of a web page, these can be optimized by SEO experts in accordance with the new changes.

Page titles and subheadings are crucial to help Google understand if your content is relevant to a query. The same goes for header tags, as the search engine uses those to locate information.

Another important aspect of this rollout is the featured snippet. Google chooses to feature a snippet from your website if it considers it the most relevant bit of information. Getting featured will work wonders for the authority and engagement of your website and also result in more organic traffic.

3. Better response to search queries

Search queries can be better understood through this feature, which means misspellings or language errors can be easily overlooked by Google. This also reduces the efforts of SEO experts in adding commonly misspelled words as keywords or preparing strategies for them.

Natural language processing can help users and marketers alike, as Google will now attempt to understand the context of the search as well, not just the keywords. This means users will be safely directed to your optimized web page, even if their query is drastically misspelled. It also points towards a prevalence in using long-tail keywords or questions as search queries.

4. Possible downsides

Although passage-based indexing is a win-win situation for Google and its users, it may lead to certain downsides for website owners and digital marketers. The advent of featured snippets and users’ adaptability of them is likely to siphon off some traffic from high-ranking pages.

It also results in a higher number of no-click searches, which means the users get their query answered on Google’s search results page itself, without having to click any website’s link. Although this might increase the number of searches, it will certainly reduce some traffic for websites.


This advancement in Google’s search technique will definitely cause some changes in SEO. This is the right time to consult an SEO services about developing advanced marketing strategies if you find yourself worried about the impending changes in search trends. However, this change attempts to make the user experience smoother, and that is beneficial to everyone!


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