I see a ton, absolutely a ton, of confusion in the SEO industry around the Google launch of passage based ranking. A reminder, according to Google, passage based ranking launched in the US English results in the afternoon of February 10th PST time. But honestly, I do not see any signs of any update rolling out after that time, not until much later.
Here is the announcement of the launch:
Update: passage ranking launched yesterday afternoon Pacific Time for queries in the US in English. It will come for more countries in English in the near future, then to other countries and languages after that. We’ll update this thread as those further launches happen.
— Google SearchLiaison (@searchliaison) February 11, 2021
I saw signs of a Google update days before this was released on February 8th. Danny Sullivan of Google said on Twitter “That’s before we launched passage ranking” so this update, still unconfirmed, was unrelated to passage based ranking. And I saw an update several days after passage based ranking launched on February 17th or so.
The chatter in the SEO forums and on Twitter was super silent from February 10th through February 16th with chatter on Google organic search ranking or traffic changes. And the tracking tools that may pick up on this was also super relaxed.
Here is Mozcast which was super calm the day after the release and really through February 17th:
SERPMetrics shows the spike around the February 8th update, was pretty calm again until the February 17th update. Again, very calm around February 10th and 11th, when passage ranking launched:
RankRanger seemed to pick up the February 8th update a day or so later and then it turned calmer and spiked again for the February 17th update:
SEMRush also, picked up on the February 8th update, things calmed down until the February 17th update:
The only tools that may have picked up something, but maybe their data is a bit delayed, I don’t know, were these two.
Advanced Web Rankings showed a big spike on February 10th, things calmed down a bit and spiked again February 17th:
Cognitive SEO also but again, those might be from the February 8th update. It is hard to tell.
But overall the chatter in the SEO industry around ranking changes after February 10th was pretty much zero. The only thing I saw was all the confusion around SEOs thinking they see it because of the scroll to text showing in Google Search Console which was simply related to featured snippets and nothing to do with passage based rankings.
Glenn Gabe who often digs into these types of updates also said he saw nothing and he spent a ton of time looking and still is trying to find signs:
Quick update on passage-based ranking. I have dug in pretty heavily since it rolled out and haven’t seen any major impact. That makes sense given what Google has explained about PBR. It only impacts longer, unstructured content. The yawn gif below sums up what I found so far. 🙂 https://t.co/5d36LhsBWX
— Glenn Gabe (@glenngabe) February 16, 2021
I even asked if anyone saw anything and it was crickets as a response:
Anyone seeing huge ranking changes after Google passage based ranking rolled out? This would show in your tools for US/English sites after February 10th (so on Feb 11th)? comment here or on Glenn’s thread. https://t.co/4WvkT4C1E7
— Barry Schwartz (@rustybrick) February 16, 2021
So last night, I asked Danny Sullivan of Google about the roll out and I did yet not hear back.
@dannysullivan do you know/can you say if the passage based ranking release was done fast or is it a slow rollout? If a slow rollout, is it done rolling out? Is there a date range for the release of this ranking change or all done Feb 10th in the afternoon PST.
— Barry Schwartz (@rustybrick) February 17, 2021
In short, I really think Google’s messaging around this not being something SEOs need to do something about was legit and it was not a huge change that SEOs would have noticed. Martin Splitt from Google said previously, “if you already have good, structured pages, then passage-based ranking will be the least interesting thing that has ever happened to you.”
Yes, Google did say this would impact 7% of queries. But when Panda launched it impacted 11% and Penguin was like 3% or so. Penguin was felt in a huge way by SEOs doing link building and Panda was felt in a huge way by SEOs doing content. This passage based ranking was about sites not doing SEO, helping those sites rank better. So maybe it was just not something on our radar?
If you have evidence to show you saw an update, do let me know. But everything I track seemed pretty calm the day after this was officially rolled out.
Here are most of the stories I wrote on this topic if you need more information about this update:
Forum discussion at Twitter.