Google AI is coming for more of your traffic

Google has been showcasing a range of upcoming changes to Google search that will be coming in the next few months. The majority of the changes have been made possible by BERT, Google’s new natural language processing algorithm that they say gives them the search engine a better understanding of text on webpages and the meaning of searches.

One change that caught my eye was Google’s change to indexing specific passages of text on web pages and adding in the ability to return these passages as a search result.

In this example, Google show how they are able to extract and display a highly relevant passage from within a larger document.

On the surface, this is a good thing because it should help searchers find information buried inside longer articles and should also reward websites that are writing longer, more detailed articles. It might, over time, even go some way to push back the trend of writing multiple small articles each focussed on a single search term rather than a single larger article that covers a topic in depth.

However… this wouldn’t be a Truth About SEO article if it didn’t come with a warning.

Google’s screenshot of what this will look like in search results shows a passage that answers a specific question being pulled through into the results. Similar to a featured snippet, there seems to be no need for the reader to click-through to the underlying article.

The SEO world has broadly fallen in line behind Featured Snippets (mostly because they didn’t have a choice) even though a featured snippet at the top of the page will get fewer clicks than the number one page result.

Will Passage Indexing Reduce My Traffic?

There are a few ways that passage indexing might reduce your traffic:

  1. The new “Featured Passage” pushes your listing down the page, reducing your clicks.
  2. A competitors page is more compatible with “Featured Passages” and takes your position
  3. Your page was already at #1 but becomes a “Featured Passage” and your click throughs drop

What should I do about Google Passage Indexing?

Nobody outside Google knows, as yet, how best to structure a page to take advantage of Featured Passages but a couple of suggestions include:

  1. Make sure your page is broken up into clear sections using sub-headings and sub-sub-headings (like this one)
  2. Write in clear, concise paragraphs (essentially, deploy proper grammar!)
  3. Consider writing longer, more detailed articles covering different aspects of a topic rather than writing smaller, individual posts.

You can find out more about Google’s upcoming changes in Search Engine Journal’s rundown: https://www.searchenginejournal.com/google-ai-updates-to-search-results-impact-analysis/384176/

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