Every day, Google improves its search algorithm to help people find answers to their questions. If you think about your search behavior, you are likely searching one of two ways: to navigate to a specific website or site section or to find the answer to a question.
Google is already great at helping people find the websites they are looking for. If your organization’s homepage isn’t the top search result for your organization’s name, you probably have a technical SEO issue.
If you are trying to help people answer a question or complete a task (nonprofits and associations: we are looking at you!), then read on. This post will help you understand how search engines have been changing over the years and how you can use this knowledge to create the best content for your audience.
Over the years, Google has worked to improve its algorithm to surface the best content. The first significant shift was RankBrain, which uses behavior, most likely dwell time (or time on page in simpler terms), to understand if a webpage successfully answered a user’s question.
For example, if a user searches for something and quickly hits the back button and then goes to another search result, Google could assume that the content did not satisfy the search criteria. If the user stayed on the page or did not return to the search result page to look at other results or refine their search, Google could assume that page successfully answered the question.
RankBrain is the quality assurance (QA) step for search. If Google is doing its job well, it will see fewer people look at multiple results. And because RankBrain is part of a machine learning algorithm, RankBrain can learn and start predicting which content is best.
More recently, Google launched its new natural language processing tool called BERT. BERT stands for Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers.
For people without a data science background, this means the tool understands relationships between words by looking at words before and after the word. By understanding these relationships, it is better able to understand the subtleties of language and figure out what a user wants. In SEO speak, we call this search intent.
Search intent is the “why behind a search query.” Understanding why someone is searching for something helps you figure out what information to include on a page to answer a question fully.
Together, RankBrain and BERT have cemented the importance of meeting search intent with your content. The best way to increase your organic search traffic is to meet search intent by providing a complete answer to a question or topic. Kevin Indig talks about how upstart Healthline took over the health publishing industry by doing just that. We have leveraged this strategy for multiple clients and have also seen tremendous success.
So, this article was entitled “Google Questions Hub and Passage Indexing: A Perfect Pair”. You may be asking what these things have in common with RankBrian, BERT, and Search Intent. Over the last few weeks, Google has introduced both Passage Indexing and now the Questions Hub. Keep reading to learn how these tools and concepts can help you bring in more search traffic.
Passage indexing means that Google now ranks individual paragraphs or a group of paragraphs on a page in addition to the page itself. For example, in this article, the section above about BERT could rank in search for someone who wants to understand how BERT is used to help Google understand a user’s search.
This article covers more information than that, but it allows us to create content that can rank for broader searches (short head terms) and narrower searches (long-tail keywords) with just one page.
The Questions Hub launched Jan 5, 2021, and is currently in beta. It shows you the questions people ask in search for which Google doesn’t think it has the right answer. This tool is a treasure trove of ideas and subtopics to include in your content.
Organizations who implement answers to these questions in their content should see a boost in traffic. The increase in traffic will come from ranking for the answer to the question itself and improving their rank on the topic because it creates a more comprehensive content page.
Through our SEO work with the American Kidney Fund, the first thing I did when the new Questions Hub launched was to use the new tool to look up questions about dialysis (a kidney disease treatment). Here are the top 10 unanswered questions from the Questions Hub related to dialysis.
At first glance, some of the questions are quite strange. But I quickly see a handful of questions that could be answered by including the answers in current dialysis content information. For example:
- Can a patient legally reduce his dialysis time from 5 hours to 3 hours?
- I have a family member that needs transportation to dialysis How much would that cost?
- What dialysis center is government operated?
- What is the name of the physician that inserts ports for dialysis?
Remember, because of passage indexing, you don’t have to write an entirely new page unless the question requires a full page to create a complete answer. In many cases, you’ll find that by integrating the answer to the question within a related page, the passage answering the question will likely rank in the search results. The new content probably improves the page’s overall ranking because Google will see the updated page as a more complete answer to the question.
It’s an exciting time in SEO. While there are constant changes in search engine optimization, one thing has not changed. Google wants you to create the best content. Passage Indexing and the Questions Hub give us two more tools to help you achieve that goal.