By now, most eCommerce website managers know about the value of content for overall visibility. However, the (often unspoken) rules surrounding what makes good, SEO-friendly content are constantly changing.
On Oct. 15, Google announced another upcoming consideration: passage ranking — also inaccurately referred to as passage indexing. We clarify this because even though Google referred to the update as “passage indexing” in their original announcement, they’ve later gone on to clarify that it is, in fact, a ranking change and not an indexing change.
It essentially means that Google will be able to read and store passages from a webpage in order to deliver more detailed, relevant, featured snippet-like results for search queries.
In addition to taking a page’s overall relevance into account, the algorithm will also take into account the relevance of specific passages within a webpage.
Why bother with passage ranking?
Many eCommerce websites suffer from a lack of relevant, engaging content. Your product descriptions might be solid and your category descriptions might be captivating enough, but this is where the informative content on your site really comes into play.
Passage ranking is an extension of Google’s ongoing efforts toward “language understanding research” to deliver more relevant search results. With the implementation of Bidirectional Encoder Representations (more commonly referred to as BERT), they are developing a system of better natural language processing.
“Natural” being the keyword here.
BERT is what helps decipher longtail, more conversational queries, like “How can I tell if my windows have UV protection?”
It is now used in almost every English language query, which contributes to the AI used to develop passage ranking. It allows relevance to be determined on a more granular level, lending unexpected value to your FAQ, blog, and resource pages.
So, how does that translate to actionable solutions?
Optimizing eCommerce Site Content for Passage Ranking
In general, eCommerce sites should look to creating more long-form, well-organized, informative content that actually converts. Naturally, that’s more easily said than done. However, once you understand the overall implications of these suggestions, implementing them becomes easier.
Generating Long-Form Content
Why is long-form content the answer here? Because those kinds of pages are way more likely to rank for long-tail queries as it is. The more content on a page, the more likely that page will serve up the answer a user is looking for.
Furthermore, the longer it is, the more likely it is to be detailed and based on true expertise. Short, snappy posts might work for Buzzfeed, but it doesn’t generate value for eCommerce sites.
In order to establish your product’s credibility, you must first establish your own. When you target long-tail queries, you target people who are closer to the bottom of the sales funnel. If they’re searching a really specific question about a product, they’re likely in the decision-making part of the purchase process, and your informative content could be what tips the scale toward your product.
It helps to know that long-form content has also outperformed short-form content for a long time now. In a study by Backlinko, they found that the mean word count of a Google first-page result is 1,447 words.
Additionally, long-form informative content is more likely to generate organic link building.
“Long-form content is a great way to naturally acquire links to improve your website’s overall visibility,” says Dan Cromar, SEO Director at Conversion Giant. “Even if you’re not optimizing product and category pages for passage ranking specifically, they stand to benefit from improved website visibility.”
Organizing Long-From Content
It’s important to remember that the underlying suggestion here is whatever content you create adds value. So, throwing up a block of content that contains mostly filler text to reach a certain word count will not improve your chances at passage ranking.
That’s where the organization of your content comes in. Though not confirmed, there’s a good chance that Google will be evaluating header tags more closely with this update. As such, you’ll want to confirm that your long-form content is divided up with relevant subheadings for each subtopic.
There is a potential with this ranking update that Google will treat content under different headings as a “mini subpage” and rank it accordingly. In other words, as title tags are to web pages, header tags will be to passages.
It’s important to note, however, that this does not mean that Google will index segments of a page separately. Google will continue to index individual pages just like it always has.
It’s also important to diversify this content as much as possible. Add in videos, images, infographics, and other media that lend themselves to the organization of your content while also providing further insights on said topic.
Improving Convertibility of Long-Form Content
This is the reigning question for your eCommerce site. So, you have a great piece of organized, long-form content — and maybe you’ve even succeeded at getting it to rank! Now, how do you translate those readers to buyers?
The first step is to add calls-to-action (CTAs) throughout your content. That might be as simple as a “Shop Now” button at the bottom of your blog post or a contact form in your sidebar. There is a strategy to placing CTAs within the content itself. If you do a callout within a piece of content, do it at a point where referencing your products makes sense.
This screenshot from doTERRA’s website is a perfect example of highly converting content. There is a noticeable call-to-action button that still blends in subtly enough with the rest of the content, and there are also hyperlinked products within the post.
Hyperlinking your products — or better yet, embedding them — into your content is another sure way to draw eyeballs and invite readers to click through.
Researching Long-Tail Keywords
Before you can put any of the above into practice, you have to do your research. What questions are related to your target keywords? Make sure these are actual questions your customers ask, and not ones you think they should ask.
You can use this research to expand upon your FAQ pages, which passage ranking has been known to benefit. Make sure those FAQ pages also include hyperlinks to your products to improve their convertibility.
Research can be done in a few ways:
- Customer surveys: Solicit feedback from previous customers as to what aspects of the product or industry could be clearer. Or, use customer contact form data to compile these without any outreach.
- People Also Ask: Look in the “People Also Ask” section of the Google SERPs for your target keywords. Keep dropping down questions until the queries get even more specific.
- Brainstorming tools: Buzzsumo and free tools like this one allow you to type in any topic and see the top queries related to that topic.
Why Passage Ranking Matters
Passage ranking launches as a ranking signal later this year and it will impact 7% of global search queries at rollout. That may seem like a small enough number to make you forego the urgency, but it’s important you start planning now.
The research and production that goes into a valuable piece of long-form content can be a time-consuming process, but it’s worth it if properly executed.
Passage ranking is also presenting a way for many eCommerce sites to rank for keywords and phrases they weren’t previously ranking for. For example, pages could potentially rank for multiple topics if certain passages are relevant to a common query.
Additionally, longer form content will allow you to dive deeper into ideas which previously were relevant, but perhaps not represented on your page title or title tags.
The Future of Content
The future of content as it relates to passage ranking is somewhat unclear, but there are a few sure takeaways. Firstly, it could lead to a drop in clickbait-driven content. The low-value, short-form structure of such pieces have often been relevant because they present with a relevant title while the content underneath skirts the topic entirely.
Additionally, it will encourage many content creators to prioritize user experience over self-serving blog posts and keyword density metrics. “This is a big step on Google’s part toward rewarding actual good content instead of just well-optimized content,” Cromar says. “That affects users, webmasters, and SEOs. Pretty much anybody who uses Google stands to benefit from the passage ranking update.”