An interesting announcement from Google recently said that “We’ve recently made a breakthrough in ranking and 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.” What does this mean? Well, don’t worry, the general consensus (and one Google is keen to back up) is that none of us are going to have to change our websites or anything like that. What they’re saying is that when it comes to providing results for queries like “why is a blue widget when it spins?”, the search engine may not focus as much on pages with that title combined with a succinct summary of the answer at the top, as tends to happen now. Google will be quite happy to highlight less-focused pages if they happen to have a passage that does a decent job of answering the query.
In other words, if two pages have similarly good answers, the passages of text answering the query will be what are compared for ranking, rather than the overall pages.
I think this may give lower-ranked sites a better chance of getting top positions and featured snippets for many queries. It will also stop favouring super-SEO-optimised sites, which can only be a good thing.