Google’s John Mueller answered a question about the Passages Algorithm in a Google SEO Office Hours Hangout. Mueller offered feedback on what the industry is saying about search engine optimizing for passages and what Google is trying to accomplish with it.
Question About Google Passages
The question referred to the new algorithm within the context of a core update, but was really about what publishers should do to better optimize their pages so that they would appear in the 7% of search queries that will be affected by the new passages algorithm.
This is the question:
“I’ve got a question about passages.
So, it’s more about how Google will see the structure of a paragraph. Because obviously, more recently, we’re seeing kind of more conversational kind of blog posting… and I’m wondering if there is kind of a minimum word count or character count within a paragraph so that Google realizes this is a paragraph?”
Google’s announcement about AI updates, including ranking passages (which will affect 7% of search queries), was said to be about finding answers.
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There is nothing in the announcement about the passages algorithm being about better understanding conversational blog posts.
This is what Google’s announcement about passages said:
“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.”
Google’s John Mueller responded:
“I don’t know.”
Then he offered an explanation based on what he understood:
“I don’t have the details of all of the passages things.
It’s not a core update… it’s not what we would consider a core update.
It’s more about ranking these passages from existing pages rather than indexing them individually.
So, more about recognizing this is a big page and this is a part of the page that is particularly relevant to this query that is coming, so we’ll focus on that part of the page.
So it’s not that there’s a separate passage index or anything like that involved.
It’s really more about understanding the page and the different parts of the page and being able to recognize which of those parts are relevant for users query.
I don’t have much more details past that to share from our side.”
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SEO for Google Passages
Mueller then offered his feedback on some of what’s been written about optimizing passages so that they rank well.
“I did notice there’s some folks that have been digging up patents and papers and kind of the more… educational content or theoretical content around some of these topics.
And they mentioned there are things like you should make sure that you have clear headings and that you have well-structured content on your pages so that we can recognize these sections, which to me is kind of obvious.
Like if you want a search engine to recognize a part of your page, then you should structure your page properly, that it’s easy to recognize.
But maybe that’s kind of a direction to head.
In general, with a lot of these changes, one thing I would caution from is trying to jump on the train of trying to optimize for these things because a lot of the changes that we make like these are essentially changes that we make because we notice that web pages are kind of messy and unstructured.
And it’s not so much that these messy and unstructured web pages suddenly have an advantage over clean and structured pages.
It’s more, well… we can understand these messy pages more or less the same as we can understand clean pages.”
I think that what he is trying to say is that Google is better able to choose an answer from a wider group of web pages.
So instead of being restricted to ranking web pages that are well organized and explicitly about a given topic, Google can now rank a bigger or more comprehensive article that contains the answer in a section, thus broadening the pool of candidate pages.
Mueller next cautioned against trying to optimize for the passages algorithm by purposely making the web page content messier.
“So if you take a clean page and you try to make it messy so that it works well for this new kind of setup, then I don’t think you would… have any advantage over what you had before.
Where if you already have clean pages, if they’re already easy to recognize by search engines, if they have clean titles and headings, and they focus on individual topics, then that’s essentially what search engines need to be able to understand what this page is about and when to show it to users.”
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What Google Passages Means for Creating Content
It seems that Mueller is essentially saying that publishers should already be making pages that are easy to understand because of well structured content with the proper titles and headings. And if a passage from those pages contain an answer then Google will rank it.
He also indicated that beyond that, Google would also try to rank passages from sites that aren’t as well organized.
That seems to be saying that Google is better able to rank pages with answers that might not otherwise have been ranked before the introduction of the passages algorithm.