Sound the alarms! After months of back-and-forth about what passage ranking is, what it isn’t and what it actually means, passage ranking (or passage indexing, as it was originally introduced) is now live in the U.S. Google’s Danny Sullivan tweeted the announcement on Thursday, saying that the update had gone live a day earlier.
Late last year, Google’s Martin Splitt, along with SEO experts Cindy Krum, Tomek Rudzi and Bartosz Góralewicz, met virtually to discuss passage ranking and its impact on Search for a Search Engine Journal (SEJ) webinar. Upon the announcement of passage ranking going live, SEJ’s Roger Montti put together a summary of the 16 major insights from the hour-long webinar.
Some of the key takeaways that could now help SEO professionals better understand what to expect from the update:
- At its core, passage ranking exists to help long web pages: Google’s goal is that lengthy web pages or pages that tackle multiple topics will stand a better chance of ranking, even if just one part of the web page answers a user’s search query.
- Reviewing and rewriting heading elements could help: It might be a good idea to revisit titles and subtitles to ensure they communicate what each page section covers. Splitt confirmed that a good content structure makes it easier for automated systems to understand what your content is about – but he also added that Google could still be able to pick out relevant passages, even without the help of explicit headings.
- Passage ranking shouldn’t affect eCommerce: Because there likely wouldn’t be enough content even on a very long product category page, passage ranking would not apply.
- Featured snippets and passages are two separate things: They’re so separate, in fact, that they exist on entirely different systems. Featured snippets are a response to search queries with a question that can be answered in just a few sentences without requiring a click-through. Passages, on the other hand, may not provide such concise answers.
- If you have a website that already ranks well, passage ranking isn’t really something you need to think about: Google is rolling this update out as a way to improve rankings for pages that aren’t ranking as well as they should. Splitt said that the update would ideally give a boost to publishers who are not that familiar with SEO or content strategy.
It’s always slightly terrifying when Google updates its algorithms (even more so when we’re given ample warning), but a fact that Splitt continuously brings up is that, if you already have a good website, content strategy and understanding of SEO, passage ranking should have little effect on your rankings. Of course, this is the idea, but the reality could always prove different. We’ll be watching this space – and our own position on search engine results pages (SERPs) – carefully to see if passage ranking is really as innocent as it claims to be.
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