Here’s the Skinny on the Google Passage Indexing Update
As Google continues to update its algorithm to recognize more and more patterns of human communication and thinking, the company refines its search results to more accurately pinpoint answers to users’ queries. When this happens, Google gives us a peek inside their new search process. One of the most recent updates relates to “passage indexing.”
Passage indexing likely will not affect the vast majority of queries — Google estimates that roughly 7% of queries will be impacted. Passage indexing will matter most with very specific searches – rather than general ones – as Google AI works harder and harder to locate and surface the information a user is looking for.
When searches are highly specific, keywords and page topics will still be important, but actual passages of content written in natural language will have greater weight than ever before. A passage of content that answers a query precisely may or may not reside on a page that has a similar topic. Nonetheless, the passage will rank well in search results because it concisely and completely nailed the information the user was looking for.
Think of it this way – imagine Google is a file cabinet with huge amounts of information. Most of it is in file folders, and inside each folder, individual pages may be paperclipped together and individual paragraphs may be highlighted. In a split second, Google AI whips through all the information in the file cabinet in search of an answer to a query. Google AI is getting so smart now that it won’t just hand you a file folder, but in some cases, it can actually point to the individual paragraph that has the information you need.
Here’s what Google has to say about the passage indexing update:
“Very specific searches can be the hardest to get right, since sometimes the single sentence that answers your question might be buried deep in a web page. We’ve recently made a breakthrough in ranking and are now able to not just index web pages, but individual passages from the pages. By better understanding the relevancy of specific passages, not just the overall page, we can find that needle-in-a-haystack information you’re looking for.”
What this means in the world of SEO for lawyers is that now the primary subject of an entire web page will not be the sole value of a page. With passage indexing the content of individual passages can be much more useful to visitors.
It also means that, now more than ever, the quality of a law firm’s content needs to be exceptional. The old cut-and-paste approach with reams of dusty, non-specific content has seen its last days. The passage indexing update suggests that content that anticipates commonly asked questions from would-be users and provides succinct and informative answers will perform well.
What Does This Mean for My Law Firm’s Website?
This update lets us know that Google is focusing increasingly on the content and meaning of passages on a page when determining what is most relevant. Before, Google largely looked at the entirety of the web page when deciding rankings.
Of course, we cannot know exactly what this means for content creation going forward, since the update just went into effect a few weeks ago, but here are some potential takeaways for content creators to keep in mind:
- Look for ways to break up content with headings and subheadings into easily digestible chunks of information that focus on a single aspect of the topic.
- Create nutrient-dense content that includes as much specific, well-researched information as possible and eliminate the “fluff.”
- Consider thinking about what people ask Google and using a Q&A format or FAQs for some of the most commonly asked questions among your clients and provide detailed yet succinct answers.
- Shorten the length of paragraphs and avoid long, run-on sections that speak in generalities.
- Don’t be afraid to address closely related, though slightly off-topic, questions in the context of a page topic.
This update lets us know that Google is getting better and better at zooming in on individual pages and surfacing relevant, specific passages for ranking purposes.
This has implications for SEO for lawyers, because now it’s not just high-level keywords that the Google algorithm scans for, but entire natural-language passages with highly targeted and information-dense content.
Signaling on a Page
This update also means that some of the signaling on a page that Google algorithms previously looked at – such as page title and section headings – are no longer the only important factors. Google now looks deeper into a page to understand what results are most relevant and compelling to a query. That means that an individual section on a page may provide the perfect answer to a query even if the overall page has a different or less relevant focus. Hence, the importance of individual passages.
Where signaling and individual passages are concerned, it could mean that H2 and H3 headings are becoming more important, especially if they are crafted in the form of a question and are followed by text providing a specific, detailed answer. We cannot know for sure if this will be the case, but it’s something logical to consider. If you’d like to learn more about how headings, subheadings and page organization affect SEO for lawyers, our Gladiator professionals would be glad to help. Feel free to reach out to us at (888) 683-3212.
Don’t Be Afraid of Getting Slightly Off-Topic
Uniformity of content and topic-focused repetition on a single web page to drive home a point may be becoming less important in favor of more diversity on a page. For example, if a page topic is about Estate Planning, this doesn’t mean that you can’t have an individual passage that discusses divorce and how divorce impacts estate planning. If your firm has a practice area that handles family law and divorce, you could even create an internal link to that page.
After all, it would not be unusual that someone would query “how does divorce affect estate planning?” Rather than only having a page strictly focused on Estate Planning or strictly focused on Family Law/Divorce, there could be passages on a page that contemplate an overlap between the two.
Google Is Getting Even Better at Answering Queries
As highlighted earlier, Google has said that passage indexing will “improve” results for roughly 7% of queries. While this clearly doesn’t affect a majority of queries, what it does say is that Google is getting increasingly targeted and refined in surfacing answers to users’ queries. It also says that natural language content is more important than ever. We can expect these trends to continue. This is all good news for users, because it means they are likely to find specific answers to their queries more quickly. They won’t have to wade through entire pages to find the nugget of information they are looking for.
For law firm web page content developers, the strong message is that you must increasingly think like the end user – the reader! This inside-out approach requires you to anticipate users’ legal questions and then answer them. In the legal field, most potential clients turn to the Internet for answers because they have a problem and are trying to find a solution.
It’s not enough to use a “push” approach to content where you tell the reader all the great things about your firm. Instead, use a “pull” approach where you put yourself in the reader’s shoes and approach content from their point of view. What is it they want to know? Pull them in by providing an informative answer. This will enhance your visibility in Google. Need more information about passage indexing and how to be successful with SEO for lawyers? Give us a call at (888) 683-3212. We’d be glad to have a conversation!
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