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In this past Friday’s webmaster video with Google’s John Mueller, the first question he was asked was about passage indexing. In short, John responded saying that this passage indexing change is (1) not a core update, (2) not about indexing and (3) you don’t have to optimize for it.
The question was at the 31 second mark into the video and John responded at the 65 second mark.
Passage Indexing Is Not A Core Update
I was surprised by the question but no, Google’s passage indexing change is not related to Google’s core updates. It is a big update, 7% of the results will be impacted when it goes live, but it is not core update related.
John said “It’s not a core update. I mean we we wouldn’t consider the core update. I think core update is kind of an arbitrary term anyway but it’s it’s not what we would consider a core update.”
I love how he said that “core updates” is “kind of an arbitrary term anyway.” But that is for another blog post.
Ranking, Not Indexing
We covered that the passage indexing change is not about indexing, it is about ranking countless times. But John reiterated that saying “it’s more about ranking these passages from existing pages rather than indexing them in the individually. So more about recognizing this is a big page and this is a part of the page that is particularly relevant to this query that is coming, so we’ll focus on that part of the page. So it’s not that there’s a separate passage index or anything like that involved. It’s really more about understanding the page and the different parts of the page and being able to recognize which which of those parts are relevant for users query.”
Optimize for Passage Indexing
So John then talked about what you can do to get ready for this release. Can you optimize for passage indexing. The short answer is kind of no, he said “in general with with a lot of these changes one thing I would caution from is trying to jump on the train of trying to optimize for for these things.” John explained that he does not “have much more details to share” on this but he said there are “some folks that have been digging up patents and papers” like Dawn Anderson’s story as an example.
He said “they mentioned their things like you you should make sure that you have clear headings and that you have well-structured content on your pages so that we can recognize these sections. Which to me is is kind of obvious. Like if you want a search engine to recognize a part of your page then you should structure your page properly that it’s easy to recognize. But maybe that’s kind of a direction to head in.”
In short, you should have nicely structured pages anyway. This update just lets Google figure out the structure of messier pages. So don’t go around messing up your pages. I have not heard it conveyed this way, that Google is going to be better at understanding passages on messier pages. I just thought it was Google understanding passages on any web page, nicely or poorly structured the same.
John added “because a lot of the changes that we make like these are essentially changes that we make because we notice that web pages are kind of messy and unstructured. And it’s not so much that these messy and unstructured web pages suddenly have an advantage over clean and structured pages. It’s more well we can understand these messy pages more or less the same as we can understand clean pages. So if you take a clean page and you try to make it messy so that it works well for this new kind of setup, then I don’t think you would kind of have any advantage over over what you had before.”
What are the obvious optimization tips? John said clean headings, titles, etc. He said “where if you already have clean pages if they’re already easy to recognize by search engines, if they have clean titles and headings and they focus on individual topics then that’s essentially what search engines need to be able to understand what this page is about and when to show it to users.”
Here is the video embed so you can watch it yourself:
Glenn Gabe also summed it up nicely:
More from @johnmu: Don’t take a clean page and restructure it to “optimize” for passages. If you already have clean pages that are well organized, and focus on specific topics, then you won’t have some advantage by changing those pages to optimize for passage-based ranking. https://t.co/SL8bHaFWb0
— Glenn Gabe (@glenngabe) October 30, 2020
Forum discussion at Twitter.