The world of SEO is constantly changing, and the algorithms implemented by search engines are continually undergoing extensive optimization to make the results for users more accurate. And the latest Google passage ranking update from February 2021 came as a natural evolution of Google’s focus on optimizing visibility for the search results from specific or local queries.
Google first announced its passage ranking update in October 2020, and the changes officially began to be deployed in February 2021. According to Google, the new passage ranking update is expected to affect about 7% of all queries for English-speaking websites, and the percentage could grow in the future to include even more languages.
Passage ranking is a new algorithm implemented by Google whereby individual passages of a given page can be ranked separately on a site, depending on how specific the user query was. More broadly, the new Google passage ranking is an algorithm by which the search engine can go over the content of a passage on a website and differentiate whether part of it is suitable for a particular search or whether another is more suitable for a different query.
This update doesn’t mean that Google will now partake in individual passage indexing, as this would be too resource-intensive. Remember, after all, that Google processes billions of searches daily. Instead, it will only rank particular paragraphs and correspond them to specific queries. Google’s passage ranking algorithm will have an effect, particularly on sites with long-form content, defined as written material of a minimum of one thousand words and a maximum of eight thousand. An update focusing on long-form pages was expected, as this, according to SEMrush, is the type of content that receives the highest number of organic interactions.
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It depends on how SEO-optimized your website was before this update. If you have, for example, used a professional company such as GAMIT, with a vast experience behind it, that features an in-house team that can deal with all SEO issues that a full audit can highlight, then you probably won’t be affected too much. It is crucial to work with a company that can implement a comprehensive SEO strategy for you that is based on a professional audit, which will consequently bring you one of the best link-building and technical optimization strategies on the market.
The Google passage rollout primarily benefited sites that provided quality content in their long-form content but which were also not sufficiently optimized and structured to gain an advantage in the SERPs. Does this mean that from now on, a site that is not optimized will be able to outrank an SEO-optimized site? No, but it does mean that quality content suitable for a niche query will be more accessible to users.
In short, not really. Not if your content is already SEO optimized and you benefit from a steady increase in the SERPs. The new Google passage ranking update doesn’t try to change how people interact with services already on websites but instead tries to solve the problem of specific queries that were difficult for users to find in the past. How exactly does it work?
The new algorithm will first analyze the content already existing on the page. If the user’s search query consists of a complex phrase of more than three words, then it will try to boost the indexing sentence already ranked in the SERPs that is more relevant to the user’s query. But did the new passage ranking update significantly impact the SERPs?
Not exactly. The passage indexing update was not a core update and is not visible in the SERPs. Hence, its effect is comparable to featured snippets, which Google has implemented for almost a decade. Originally called passage indexing, the new algorithm update implemented by Google can be considered for the moment as a tweak of existing systems, but its importance may increase significantly in the future.
The passage ranking update was a necessary change because it improved niche searches for the users, but the ranking effect in the SEO sphere was relatively low. Google stated that about 7% of all English search queries would be affected by this update, but their impact was most noticeable on the pages that featured long form and poorly structured content.
Visibility for some sites increased by more than 2%, and for others, the average SERP position increased by more than two positions. The effect on the sites was overall positive, with no associated ranking decreases or growth in market volatility.
The latest Google algorithm refresh has not led to a complete revamp of the search engines’ core structures, nor has it had a massive effect on the SEO sphere. Hence, a strategy that takes advantage of the new changes is, in most cases, irrelevant. However, what you can do is continue to create relevant content that addresses the specific queries of the users. If the content written on your site is well structured, then you have an advantage over non-optimized sites, and this update will not change that.
Your header and title tags, for example, are one of the most valuable tools you have to influence the SERPs in your favor. With this latest update, which focuses mainly on long-form content, it becomes even more important to use proper structure to help users get the information they need faster. And an accurate title is a great tool to achieve this. Although this latest update did not significantly impact the SERPs, it demonstrates Google’s strategy and focuses on long-form content. And why not? Perhaps it paves the way for a shift to the SMITH algorithm or for implementing site indexing reports in the Google Search Console.
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Mihai C. Tudorache
I am the president and co-founder of GAMIT. My business administration background is important in understanding our client’s necessities, so my expertise includes building comprehensive and all-inclusive SEO strategies for lead results. Our advanced SEO solutions are developed through extensive analysis and complete SEO improvement audits.