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What is Google Passage Ranking?

Feb 15, 2021
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Because specific searches can be the hardest to get right, Google has been looking for ways to find those specific answers buried deep within page content. They have recently made a breakthrough in ranking and are now able to not just rank web pages, but individual passages from the pages. With this new ability to better understand the relevancy of specific passages, we need to make sure we cover those high intent questions and provide searchers with the best possible answers. In this video, we cover this new "Passage Ranking" concept and share what you can do to improve your site's visibility.

 

Video Transcript: 

In this video, we're going to be looking at Google passage ranking and why it matters. What is passage ranking? We can walk through this quote, that's directly from the Google products team about what they're doing here with passage ranking, "Very specific searches can be the hardest to get right, since sometimes the single sentence that answers your question might be buried deep within a webpage."

Here's a really important part, "We've recently made a breakthrough in ranking and are now able to not just index pages, but individual passages from pages." What they're saying here is they're able to not just rank specific pages themselves, but specific sections from within pages that best match the user's intent and best answer their question. Now that's a pretty big deal.

Let's continue, "By better understanding the relevancy of specific passages, and not just the overall page, we can find that needle in a haystack information you're looking for." Now here's another big, big part of this, "This technology will improve about 7% of search queries across all languages as they roll it out globally."

Finding Information Within the Webpage

As we look at this, what Google is telling us is that their crawlers are getting smarter at understanding the content within our pages, the context within our pages, and able to take the correct answer that they're finding and deliver that, whether it's on a page itself or whether it's in a specific passage of a page. So today a specific passage can rank within the search results, if it best answers the user's query.

What's the difference between passage ranking and indexing? If you noticed in that quote we just looked at, Google was talking about indexing passages. This was originally going to be called passage indexing, but Google renamed it because it didn't accurately describe what they were doing. They're not indexing specific passages. They still index the entire page, what they're able to do now though, is consider the content and the meaning of those passages when they're determining what is the most relevant answer for the searcher. And so they look at passages as well, and not just the full page. Because the full page may not answer the question, but a very small section of that page will. If that's the best answer, Google can show that within the search results.

How would this look?  It's going to look a lot similar to featured snippets. As you see here, before you would have maybe a blue link with a meta-description and a title, but now after you're looking at a very specific passage, which is this case is a featured snippet, this is the answer that Google gave us from their blog, "With this deeper understanding, Google can now get the specific passage and extract that from the page, and extract that as the answer to the user's query."

As we said, and we saw in that quote too, they're saying that this could have a 7% impact on search queries globally. Looking at all the languages, when you consider the fact that they look at billions and billions of searches per day, this is a significant impact and can either help a lot of sites, or maybe even hurt sites that don't have the specific answers to their users problems.

What Does This Mean For You?

What can you do about it? Google will still leverage strong signals like the page title, very important. Page headings, the context, and the structure of your content are still going to be very important when they're understanding your content and how relevant it is to a query. What this new system does though, is it helps identify pages that have an individual section that particularly matches a query very, very well, and rank that regardless of if the rest of the page doesn't at all. The rest of the page could maybe not be really that relevant, but if that section is, and it really answers that query well, that specific passage can now rank within the search results.

What Can You Do About It?

As an SEO, as a content owner, as a marketer, what can you do about it? The first thing you need to do is structure your content to answer specific queries. Understand what are those long tail queries that your users are asking, and create content that covers it. Don't worry about having a 3,000-word blog article; worry about answering your users' questions, matching their intent, and helping them find the information that they're looking for.

Build your content around that, structure your content about these queries, and do it in a way that comprehensively covers what it is they're looking for. The next thing you can do is use related terms and concepts within your content. Talk about the topics and the queries within your content in a complete sense, right? I know Google is saying that they're going to look for terms or sections that answered the questions, regardless of if the rest of the content does, but if you give your whole piece of content a more complete understanding using the right terms and concepts, I believe that it's going to help Google better understand what it is that you're talking about. It just makes sense, as you give it more context, it's going to make your content seem fuller.

The next thing you can do is leverage good content structure. This is where you can break your content up in a way that's easy for your reader to understand, your user to understand, but also structured in a way that allows a search engine to really understand how your content is set up. Now, a lot of people use header tags from a design standpoint, like with their titles, and their different sections because they want to make text a different size. But that's not what headers are for. Headers give formatting to your piece of content, think of a word document. Make sure you're using your H1 at the top, and then you're breaking down your sections using the appropriate header structure.

And the last thing you can do is leverage linked open data to add deeper context and meaning. This is where you can start to build a knowledge graph on your site, and this is where we get a little bit more of the technical side of search, but you can do this using tools like Word Lift which we've talked about before on this channel. What this is going to do, it's going to allow you to speak to the search engines in structured data. It's going to allow you to give them information in concepts, and linking your content to things that they already know about and understand. It's going to add a layer of semantic context to your site that's really going to allow the search engines to grasp your concepts and the ways that they understand them. This can help from not just passage ranking, but also search engine optimization as a whole, and really building the context and meaning of your site.

This is something that you should definitely look into. We're going to continue to do more content on this channel to help you leverage that. But the biggest thing you need to understand today is content is no longer king, context is king. You need to be able to answer the specific query, for that specific person, with the intent that they have, within your content. You need to make sure that you have the right context.

And when you do that, you're going to be able to create content that actually moves people, right? People that will make a decision or maybe engage further in your site, but also helps the search engines understand that you know what you're talking about. So if you have any questions today, please comment below. We'd love to continue that conversation with you, and until next time, Happy Marketing.

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Ryan Shelley, CPBI

By Ryan Shelley, CPBI

Ryan is passionate about helping companies make a more personal connection online with their customers and prospects. He is a regular contributor to Search Engine Land, the largest and most popular SEO news site on the web. His works have also been featured on the HubSpot Blog, Business2Community and by LinkedIn Marketing Solutions.

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