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Google rolls out passage ranking for US English searches

Google on Tablet

Google rolls out passage ranking for US English searches

Back in October last year, I wrote about a series of AI-based improvements Google was planning to launch, including a new feature called ‘passage ranking’. Now, Google has confirmed that this feature went live last Wednesday for all searches made in the US in English.

Google confirmed the feature was now live with a tweet from its @searchliasion account:

What is passage ranking?

In short, passage ranking helps to simplify search queries and help people find the results they need faster, and without clicking onto a specific website. Explaining this, Google said:

“Very specific searches can be the hardest to get right, since sometimes the single sentence that answers your question might be buried deep in a web page. We’ve recently made a breakthrough in ranking and are now able to not just index web pages, but individual passages from the pages.”

This means that, for example, if your car had a flat tyre and you searched for “how to change a flat tyre”, Google could analyse specific passages from web pages in its search results to find you the answer. It would then present you with a specific passage containing that answer. Google said that this can help people find the “needle-in-a-haystack information” that they’re searching for, and gave the following example:

Passage ranking screenshot

This may sound similar to Google’s featured snippets, but back in October, Google explained that the two features are different – featured snippets take into consideration the relevance of an overall page, and then identify a snippet within that page, whereas passage ranking can look for relevant passages on a page that contains content that isn’t all relevant to a user’s search. This means that the passage telling you how to change a flat tyre might not come from a page all about flat tyres, but Google has identified that passage as being relevant to your query.

Back when it announced this improvement, Google said that passage ranking will affect around 7% of search queries across every language when it’s rolled out across the globe. For now, it will only affect 7% of US English results. However, when Google makes a change across the pond, it typically isn’t very long before that change is implemented here in the UK either, so we should expect to see passage ranking released in our own search results before long.

At Engage Web, we have clients across the globe, including the US, so it’s important for us to keep a sharp eye on updates like these. Google has said that websites don’t need to change anything search engine optimisation-wise for this update, as the update concerns how Google understands content on a site. However, this does show the importance of having clear, concise and engaging content on your site, and our team can help with this. To learn more, give us a call today.

Emily Jones

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