On February 10, 2021, Google released its Passage Ranking in the US for English search results.

What is Passage Based Ranking?

Passage ranking is Google’s ability to algorithmically sift through long content (i.e., an entire webpage) and identify a specific passage (section of content) that is relevant to a particular query.

True, Google has been identifying specific sections of content as relevant to search queries (such as the results we’ve seen in Knowledge Boxes or People Also Ask), but this new ranking algorithm will call out the relevant sections of text in search results in new, more visible ways.

What does Passage Based Ranking look like?

It will look much like a Featured Snippet, but when you click a Passage Result, Google will scroll to the relevant section of the page, and highlight the selected passage.

For example, HDMZ has scored a Passage Result for a blog when someone searches for “UTM attributes”:


When someone clicks, they are taken directly to the relevant passage, which is highlighted until the user begins to scroll the page:


The highlight is facilitated by the URL parameters following the URL:

Passage Ranking: What Do I Need to Know?

  • Will the featured passage always show up at the top of search engine results? No. The featured result may show up in various locations on the search results list, depending on Google’s perception of its value and relevance.
  • Can I optimize for this result? No. As with many of Google’s updates in the last few years, the best way to leverage this new feature is to generate consistent, excellent content. Keep doing what you’re doing: keep optimizing, keep creating quality content that answers questions for your users.
  • What is the impact of this shift? So far, the industry has not reported a giant impact. According to Conductor’s SEO team, this rollout was only estimated to affect 3-7% of search queries, and has not yet shown any jumps in the wild yet:
Passage ranking

Some SEO experts have noted that some sites, especially in the Health & Medical industry, did see shifts if featured snippets were removed:

Why the dip? Google’s Domain Diversity update removed redundant search results from the same domain. So a shift in featured snippet algorithms may cause impactful SERP swings: a site may drop several SERP positions if they lose a Featured Snippet result.

For example: if the HDMZ Blog result (example cited above) lost its Featured Snippet placement, it would fall far below the more authoritative domains (Neil Patel, Hubspot) that are ranking higher in the search results.

  • Can I track the impact of Passage Ranking changes? Not yet. Experts expect that these new featured snippets may be trackable and measurable in the next few months, to provide a better view of how they’re impacting individual site results.
  • Does this change my website SERPs? It's important to note that the Passage Based Ranking is a ranking change, not an indexing change. Google is not indexing individual passages on a page; it is simply improving the way it ranks results (based on what it finds on your indexed web page) and how it surfaces passage visibility.

Have questions about this change or how to leverage it for your site's content? Our team combines domain expertise in website communications, content strategy, and keyword optimization with a crack team of digital marketers with their hands in Search Console on a daily basis. Drop us a line to see how we can help!