Indexing Passages – A New Google Algorithm Update

Google will soon be indexing passages. In October, they announced the release of a new algorithm that, with the use of AI, will help users in finding exactly what they are looking for.

These new features will include:

  • improved ability to understand misspelled words, which means that if you search for “what does indexing mean”, Google will know you meant “what does indexing mean”;
  • understanding subtopics around a specific interest which will allow for more diverse content AND
  • indexing passages.
Indexing Passages - Before and After
Source: Google

This is big news coming from Google.

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. This technology will improve 7 percent of search queries across all languages as we roll it out globally.

So, what does this mean for you?

What does “indexing passages” mean?

Google refers to this new change as “passage-based indexing”, although it claims that this is a ranking change, rather than an indexing one.

As per Search Engine Land, we should indeed take this as a ranking algorithm change.

Indexing passages means that Google acknowledges that passage, visits it, crawls it and stores it in the Google index. On the other hand, ranking passages means that Google won’t stop crawling and indexing entire pages of a website, but it might also rank a specific component or section of a webpage.

Indexing Passages - Relevancy
Source: Onely

That’s good news for those of us that are trying to compete with the big guys. If you have a small website that just launched a few months ago, and you want to rank for a specific query, you don’t need to focus an entire article on a specific keyword. You do have the chance of ranking with only a passage from that article.

This also means that we will (hopefully) see less of those fluffy articles which only have the purpose of ranking for a keyword and stuffing the article with thousands of words just to rank higher – recipe websites, I’m looking at you!

The difference between Featured Snippets and Indexing Passages

At first sight, you might not be able to spot the differences between the good, ol’ Featured Snippets and the new Indexing Passages feature.

Featured Snippets are snippets from a webpage which are featured on top of Google search, because they are highly relevant and answer to a specific query.

Google creates Featured Snippets by:

  1. Locating passages inside an article or a webpage that are highly relevant to the query or answer a specific question – and
  2. Using that passage to generate a short and concise answer box at the top of the SERPs.
Featured Snippet
Source: The SERPs themselves!

So, where’s the difference between the two?

Well, it seems that the difference lies in the way in which Google looks for those passages.

To optimize for a Featured Snippet, you often had to follow certain guidelines: answer the question straight away, maybe use bullets or numbers for a list, use a bolded definition…

Indexing Passages, on the other hand, is on another level. Google will now be able to find those answers even if they are buried in the content (so buried that people don’t even have the patience to search for it if they came across your article!).

It’s still a best practice to follow the guidelines mentioned above to increase your chances of having indexed passages. However, remember that the difference lies in the fact that for Featured Snippets, the entire page had to be relevant, while for Indexing Passages, only a specific passage can be relevant, and you’ve increased your changes of getting it.

How to increase your chances of getting a passage indexed?

Just write content that people find interesting.

But how do you find that content?

Let’s explore some options.

The SEMrush Topic Research Tool

SEMRush is an excellent resource when it comes to looking for questions people ask on Google. The Topic Research Tool can give you interesting insights on different types of questions.

Let’s take the indexing passages topic as an example:

Indexing Passages SEMrush

Does this look like something that would help you write that piece of content?

In some instances it might. With new topics – such as “indexing passages”, such tools might not pick it up as we wish, which means there is also less competition.

Luckily, there are other options as well.

People Also Ask

In almost all situations, the People Also Ask section in Google can give you extra options of exploring subtopics in your content.

Searching for these in Google might get tedious after a while and… boring.

That’s where tools like this one here can pick it up for you.

This tool collects all the questions that show up when you type in your search query. In other words, it does the job for you, so you can focus on more important things.

Optimizing for VIDEO SNIPPETS!!!

You didn’t see that coming, did you?

A lot of people forget about the powerful tool that YouTube is, and how well it works for almost all niches.

Although not exactly your classic “featured snippet” or “indexed passage”, you can also get that feature through a YouTube video, or a passage from a video.

I just typed the randomest query I thought of, and this is what I got:

YouTube Featured Snippet

Google gives you exactly the passage from a video you’re most likely to be interested in.

To optimize for a video snippet, be sure to also upload a transcript along with your video.


Google is getting smarter and smarter, as we all do.

Therefore, we need to up our marketing and SEO game, and focus on quality rather than quantity. There is no need to “trick” the search engines, or to overly optimize a piece of content.

What we all need to do is act natural, publish quality content, stop overly-optimizing articles that will probably do just fine without that, and focus on the user.

Maria Cristina M.
Maria Cristina M.

Maria-Cristina is a Digital Psychologist with 5 years of experience in SEO and conversion rate optimization. She holds an MA thesis on the effects of emotions in written and video content. She loves to spend time near the ocean and watch horror movies.

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