We’ve become accustomed to digging through pages of search results, attempting to find the specific information we need. Often, the most valuable nuggets of information are buried deep within a long article or blog post, making them tough to find. This problem can lead to frustrating hours spent sifting through irrelevant content to find the particular piece of information that truly addresses your query.
This irritation is all the more pronounced when the information you’re searching for is buried somewhere within a 3,000-word article. You know it’s there, but you have to scroll and skim to find it. If it doesn’t stand out on its own, you’re left feeling frustrated and may return to Google.
Google recognized this and announced passage ranking.
What is passage ranking?
Google Passage Ranking, introduced as “Passages” during Search On 2020, is a significant update to Google’s search algorithm that allows the search engine to understand and rank individual passages within a webpage, not just the page as a whole.
Before Passage Ranking, Google primarily understood and ranked web pages as a whole. This meant that even if a page contained a small section or “passage” that was highly relevant to a search query, the page might not appear in search results if Google didn’t consider the overall page as relevant as other pages on the web.
“We’ve recently made a breakthrough in ranking and are now able to not just index web pages, but individual passages from the pages.” – Google
With Passage Ranking, Google can now evaluate individual passages within a page and determine their relevance to specific queries. This means that even if a page’s overall content isn’t as relevant to your search, it could still be ranked prominently in the search results if it contains a passage that’s a good match for your query.
This is particularly useful for pages with extensive content covering multiple topics, as it allows Google to dive into the page at a deeper level, understand how different sections relate to different queries, and highlight this relevance (both in the form of the ranking itself and on the passage on the page once someone clicks).
How passage ranking might impact SEO
If you’re creating low-quality long-form content around long-tail keywords, you might need to rethink your strategy. This breakthrough expands the scope of competition, which might make it more difficult to rank for certain long-tail keywords. Instead of competing with other pages specifically about the long-tail keyword, you’re competing with high-quality long-form content that provides information about the long-tail keyword.
Take a look at this passage from a page on Market Muse and compare it to the article from Wordstream.
The page on Wordstream appears to be more specific to the long-tail keyword, but Google has determined the page on Market Muse offers the best result. This isn’t the best example, as both websites offer high-quality content, but it does shine a light on how this feature works.
Click the passage and Google sends you to the area of the page on which the passage lives, highlighted in yellow until you scroll or click your mouse.
The wording of the announcement was a little confusing, as it implied Google will be indexing passages individually. Google later clarified it does not index passages independently of pages, it merely considers the passage as an additional ranking factor.
When asked how passages differ from other featured snippets, Google said the following:
“Systems determine the relevance of any web document via understanding of passages. Featured snippets, on the other hand, identifies the most relevant passage in a document we’ve overall determined to be relevant to the query.”
This breakthrough will help Google provide their users with the best results from high-quality websites.
If you’re starting a new website or attempting to rank shallow long-form content for long-tail keywords, it might be more difficult if this expands the scope of competition.
Traditional ranking allows Google to surfaces content from the pages most relevant to the search query. Passage Ranking, on the other hand, allows Google to surface content from the passages most relevant to the search query, regardless of the page’s overall relevance. In theory, this might make it more difficult for content targeting long-tail keywords. Instead of just competing with other content about your long-tail keyword, you may be competing with more broad content containing a passage about that long-tail keyword. If Google thinks the source of that broad content offers more value, it might rank it more prominently than your content.
As of now, Google says this will affect around 7% of all search queries. However, this number will probably go up significantly as Google refines the algorithm.
How to increase search visibility with passage ranking
If you want passages from your website to appear in search results, create content that offers a comprehensive overview of the topic and the sub-topics people care about most.
It’s not about creating long content, it’s about creating helpful content.
Taking the time to explore sub-topics answers questions before the reader asks them and expands the scope of your content, which is the key to increasing search visibility with Passage Ranking. By exploring the sub-topics that people care about most, you’re creating the most helpful content possible for readers and providing even more passages for Google to surface.
So, how do you identify sub-topics people care about most?
This approach will reveal the keywords people use the most when searching for information about your topic. Select the keywords that relate to your topic and include them in your outline as sub-topics.
The idea here is to dedicate a section of your article to explore each keyword, thereby providing more helpful information.
For example, a garage door professional created a blog post about garage door repair and wants to increase its search visibility. A little keyword research would reveal a few keywords that might inspire great sub-topics.
He might want to include a section in the blog post about garage door opener repair, garage door cable repair, or the cost of garage door repair.
Again, the idea here is to create the most helpful content possible.
Now that Google can find, understand, and rank individual passages from within a page, it’s more important than ever to pay close attention to the quality of your content.
You don’t have to worry about this update by any means, it’s just something that might help you increase search visibility organically and attract more people to your website.