Getting ‘Passages’ to rank on Google will likely require deduction and granularity

Google has begun to extrapolate, analyze, and return content fragments from pages relevant to a query that are not equally applicable to the page topic. Here’s what you need to know about it and whether or not you can optimize for it.

On October 15, 2020, Prabhakar Raghavan, SVP of Search and Assistant, Geo, Ads, Commerce, Payments, and Next Billion Users (NBU) – basically everything that matters really – published a blog post on Google using AI to improve its search engine. There was one feature, in particular, that caught the interest of SEOs, called Passages.

Raghavan said that Passages was a “breakthrough in ranking” and that they “are now able to not just index web pages, but individual passages from the pages.”

By better understanding the relevancy of specific passages, not just the overall page, we can find that needle-in-a-haystack information you’re looking for. This technology will improve 7 percent of search queries across all languages as we roll it out globally.

The blog post provided an example of Passages in action. It had a before result for a query, which was a generic search snippet for the page, while the after result was a Featured Snippet with the complete answer to a query.

Google Passages example
Example of how a search result will change using Passages

I didn’t think much about the Passages example until later that night. I had donated blood earlier that day and was curious to know when I could safely exercise again. When I searched "when can you exercise after donating blood," the result I got back looked exactly like the post's example. The thing that immediately stood out to me was that it provided the complete answer. It was not only accurate, but it also kept me from visiting the site.

The idea that Google was using AI to intelligently scrape, detect, and repurpose another site’s content without compensation, and made the result so good that I didn’t need to visit the site, put me into action. And by action, I mean I tweeted something sarcastic and then focused on something else.

Search result using Passages for the query “when can you exercise after donating blood”

Like most things I write for Coywolf Pro, Passages was something I couldn’t get out of my mind. It was partly because it kept popping back up in my Twitter feed as SEOs were compelled to tell other SEOs that Passages wasn’t being indexed. The page was being indexed, and then Google was indexing the Passages, but they weren’t really indexing the Passages, because they were only indexing the page that the Passages were on. 😣

While that was good to know, I suppose, it did keep Passages fresh in my mind. However, I didn’t become intrigued by it until I saw a tweet by Bill Slawski, Director of SEO Research at Go Fish Digital. Slawski tweeted a blog post he had published six days before Raghavan’s announcement. The article was about Google’s patent on adjusting Featured Snippet answers by context, and it was related to how Passages works. The more I combed through the post, the more interested I became. Then I saw a tweet that made me want to dig in further. The tweet was posted by Google SearchLiaison (aka Danny Sullivan) and it stated:

There’s nothing special creators need to do here. Continue to focus on great content, with all the advice we offer: https://google.com/webmasters/learn/…

It just means in some cases, we may now do a better job of surfacing content, no work required on the part of creators.

The term “great content” is a wildly broad statement. A person can have great content, but it may never have visibility on Google if it’s not properly optimized. Passages represents another opportunity for publishers to gain more visibility and visits from Google Search. More importantly, I think you can optimize for it.

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