The year 2020 started with an onslaught of changes in the digital world. The Lord of the World Wide Web – Google, first decided to roll out a broad Core Search Update that sent the entire SEO and webmasters’ community reeling under its impact. Just as we were recovering from the shock, rolled out yet another change – this time to do with the featured snippets.
Did you just ask what featured snippets are? That’s a reasonable question. Just read on to know more..
So for the benefit of the uninitiated: a Featured Snippet is a short answer to a search query that occupies the top position on Google’s SERP.
“We display featured snippets when our systems determine this format will help people more easily discover what they’re seeking, both from the description about the page and when they click on the link to read the page itself. They’re especially helpful for those on mobile or searching by voice.
Featured snippets commonly contain one listing, but more than one may appear.”
Source: Google Support
The text is drawn automatically and directly from the web pages by the search engine.
If the algorithms find a certain web listing to be a befitting response to a query, it is highlighted as a Featured Snippet.
It appears like..
Though the above snapshot shows a text-only snippet, other types of snippets are equally possible depending on the query.
Broadly, featured snippets can be categorized as:
Text Snippet (Paragraph)
A featured snippet like in the image above is a text snippet. However, a text snippet may occasionally carry an image wherever possible.
When Google algorithms find videos to be the aptest response to queries, a video surfaces on top of the SERP and is termed a video snippet.
List and Table Snippet
When information is best represented as a list or in a tabular format, Google displays them as list or table snippets.
But, What Makes Featured Snippets every Site Owner’s Fantasy?
Because they occupy the most eye-catching position in the entire SERP!!
Till a few days ago, their position on the SERP was referred to as Spot Zero and any web page that appeared as a featured snippet had an added advantage to appear twice on the first SERP – one as a featured snippet, and once as an organic listing.
Research conducted by Ahrefs has suggested that these featured snippets steal 8.6% of the clicks while the first organic listing just below them (earlier position 1) gets 19.6% of the click share. Now, compare this with the clicks that the first SERP organic listing invited in the absence of a featured snippet. According to the study it stands at 26%.
Obviously, if you can get your webpage to feature twice in the top organic listing on SERP, you can increase your web traffic considerably like this one..
So, traditionally, featured snippets offered considerably higher traffic for the top organic rankers and hence were eyed by SEOs and site owners.
But, all that is now the tale of a bygone era.
With the latest changes rolled out by Google, featured snippets may no longer be the most coveted position on the SERP.
What’s the Latest News about the Featured Snippets?
Earlier this year, Google decided in favor of deduplication of search results.
The search engine behemoth rolled out a change wherein any URL that found a place as a featured snippet would no longer be featured in organic search results on the first page of SERP. This disallows repetition and allows more room for search results to feature on the first page.
If a web page listing is elevated into the featured snippet position, we no longer repeat the listing in the search results. This declutters the results & helps users locate relevant information more easily. Featured snippets count as one of the ten web page listings we show.
— Danny Sullivan (@dannysullivan) January 22, 2020
RIP Spot Zero
And with that change, Google put an end to the ‘SPOT ZERO’ on SERPs that had long been the most coveted position, eyed by SEOs since its launch in 2014.
Change is the Only Constant and Yet the Hardest to Accept!
Particularly so, if you lose your web traffic because of the change.
While Google comfortably said goodbye to spot zero, SEOs and webmasters across the globe found it difficult to bid farewell to their favorite position they had strived so hard for, in all these years. That’s only understandable given that just when many might have been nearing the finish line, the race was called off!
And.. Thus Began the Stream of Endless Queries and Discussions
Readjusting to the change, the SEO community brought an onslaught of online SEO queries, and discussion forums overflowed with comments and questions.
Some of the queries raised by the webmasters were indeed helpful and provided a better understanding of the change.
1. Will repeated URLs feature on page 2 of SERP?
In a tweet, Danny clarified that the sole purpose of the change is to remove duplication of results on the first page. The repeated URLs may or, may not find a place on the second page. Not by design for sure!
However, later last week, Google’s Search Liaison provided more clarity on the same in its tweet where it stated that duplicated URL appearing on the subsequent page of SERP may be a bug and may soon be gone.
2. Deduplication has no impact on images that feature along with a featured snippet
If a featured snippet drew information text from a URL and an image from another, the URL carrying the image will still feature on the first page of SERP.
Responding to a twitter query, Sullivan clarified that images don’t have web search listing and hence don’t fall into the ambit of deduplication.
1) Image didn’t have a web search listing, so there’s nothing to deduplicate.
— Danny Sullivan (@dannysullivan) January 22, 2020
3. Interesting finds, top stories, or video snippets also don’t get affected by deduplication
Those aren’t featured snippets so no, it doesn’t happen there.
— Danny Sullivan (@dannysullivan) January 23, 2020
Also, deduplication, at present, does not affect variants of featured snippets that resemble a knowledge panel. But it will affect them later this week. This was confirmed by Google’s Search Liaison in a tweet to help clarify doubts surrounding the change.
For those asking, this causes no change in Search Console performance reports. We only log the topmost appearance of a URL as its position. Featured snippets were already counted, duplicate appearances were not. See also: https://t.co/7nR7CfWd2S
— Google SearchLiaison (@searchliaison) January 23, 2020
4. What if my page features on ‘People also ask’?
‘People also ask’ boxes are not featured snippets. So, if your page features in one of these questions, you will still feature on the first page of SERP.
Similarly, you may appear on the FAQ rich result and still win your spot on the first page.
Just to be clear on this as well, you said it doesn’t affect “other units”, so does this mean if you are in one or 2 of the “People Also Ask” questions, you could still appear high in regular organic search ?
— Sunny Matharu (@s_matharu) January 23, 2020
How does the Jan 2020 Featured Snippets update affect my Website?
Lesser Web Traffic
If we take the AHREF’s analysis into account, the math shows the following scenarios:
Before the update – If there was a featured snippet and your website captured it while ranking at number one in SERP at the same time, you would get 8.6% (Featured Snippets CTR) + 19.6% (Organic number 1 CTR) = 28.2% of all clicks.
After the update – If there was a featured snippet and your website captured it while ranking at number one in SERP at the same time, you would automatically lose the number one position in organic search, meaning LOSING a whole 19.6% of clicks.
Lower CTR, Fewer Conversions
A little tour into the genesis of featured snippets tells us that this feature was introduced to please and serve instant information to the mobile users.
The unpredictable mobile networks called for information served swiftly to the users before the network snapped again.
It, therefore, wouldn’t be wrong if we surmised that the CTR of featured snippets is lower than that from rich snippets or organic listings.
Extending the same logic a little further, it is equally possible that the traffic that lands through the featured snippet may not convert as well as other traffic.
So, What’s the Way Ahead for SEOs?
It’s time to get your act together if you’ve lost traffic post the SERP shattering change. Here are a few things we suggest you can do to reverse the damage:
If your content appears as a featured snippet for certain keywords, keep a track of traffic for these for the next few days.
If you see a considerable drop in traffic volume and conversions, it would be worth opting out of this feature.
To signal to the search engines that you wish to opt-out of featured snippets, insert the following meta tag into your script:
<meta name=”googlebot” content=”nosnippet”>
Here is some advice from the CMO and Product Advisor at Ahrefs, Tim Soulo on the subject:
I guess from now on the SEO best practice would be to NOT rank in the Featured Snippet so that to retain your regular listing on the front page of SERP instead.
— Tim Soulo (@timsoulo) January 23, 2020
- But, if your page is going to be kicked off to a lowly position like no. 6 and beyond, a featured snippet might be a better option, after all.
- Further, if your domain/page ranks at position 4 or further down on the SERP, it would serve you well to win your page a featured snippet, anyway.
- On the other hand, if you are one of the top rankers among the organic listings, i.e., positioned at 1-3 it may be worth considering opting out of featured snippets completely.
A Final Word…
From being a treasured spot on the SERP since the first time it was officially launched in 2014, to being lamented as a jinx, featured snippets have seen the best and the worst times in its life of 6 years.
What was once strived and aimed for, is something that needs to be deliberated upon before a page begins to rank as one. However, the hard task for SEOs is to keep close track of changes in traffic irrespective of the position their page ranks at, and to readjust to the change to minimize or, nullify the impact of it. Though, no big changes such as this one are about to be rolled out into other areas of the SERP, staying alert is always a good idea.
“There was no statistically significant difference in organic Google traffic sent to these pages after they lost the duplicate listing on page one, based on an analysis of real traffic data for featured snippet listings across multiple industries.”
But what exactly does this mean and how did they do their analysis? Their statement basically says that losing the number one spot in organic search means nothing. Does this make sense?
Let’s try to understand their analysis, even with the limited information available. In my opinion, there are two possibilities here:
1. Featured snippets now capture as much traffic or almost as much traffic compared to the previous state when you were able to have a listing at the top of SERP plus featured snippet.
Clearly, this is highly unlikely, to say the least, as there is no reason for something like this to happen.
2. seoClarity analysis tracked the traffic for the keywords that do capture featured snippets BUT they compared it to total traffic that certain page was/is getting, including the traffic coming from keywords that don’t capture featured snippets.
This makes more sense and if this is the case, then we can say that losing the top spot in organic search while capturing the featured snippet, might not look like a much of a loss when compared to total traffic.
The main reason for this is that keywords that would historically capture the featured snippets most of the time, are 3 or more words long keywords. Such keywords have a much lower search volume than one or two words keywords.
According to Ahrefs:
“The vast majority of featured snippets are triggered by long-tail keywords”
Let’s see this in an example:
Page X hypothetically ranked for all the keywords at number one spot AND was constantly capturing a featured snippet for every keyword that can trigger a featured snippet to appear.
Page X had 100k impressions a month and was getting 28.2% of all the traffic in this scenario or 28.2k clicks.
From the analysis done on some of my clients’ websites in the past, the search volume and the potential traffic coming from keywords that could trigger a featured snippet to appear, was around 20% of total traffic. This is for a page that ranks for highly competitive keywords such as “credit card” and all the related keywords.
So If, after this update, this page loses number one rankings in organic search and traffic for the keywords that can trigger the featured snippet to appear (19.6%), this means that the page lost 19.6% of the 20k clicks which is 3,920 clicks or 3.92% of TOTAL traffic the page was getting.
In reality, this loss would be even lower considering that it would be impossible to rank for all the keywords at number one spot AND capture all of the featured snippets. Having that in mind, the real loss website would lose would not be so noticeable which is in line with what analysis from seoClarity states.
Still, if you are a big global company whose organic traffic comes from keywords with a search volume of dozens of millions a month, every percentage of traffic lost will hurt.
For others, these two analyses, the one from Ahrefs and the latest one from seoClarity, just show that featured snippets were highly overestimated when considered to be a holy grail of SEO.