Featured snippets: The rules are changing

Those answer boxes that appear below ads but above organic listings in search – featured snippets – well, they’re about to change. If your site’s in a featured snippet, it won’t be appearing on page one of SERPs

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Featured snippets, the answer boxes that appear below ads but above organic listings, can be either a paragraph of text, a list (as per the example below) or a table, and are often referred to as position zero in search engine results pages (SERPs).

Officially they are triggered when a user asks a question – but rather confusingly not every question is served with a featured snippet and not every featured snippet is triggered by a question.

Are featured snippets good for search?

As well as receiving increased brand exposure (snippets really do dominate the first page of SERPs), some companies who hold these spots report enhanced CTRs, traffic and revenues, which is why SEO experts have spent considerable time and effort trying to get their content to show as featured snippets in search results. 

The counter-argument for featured snippets is that because the actual answer is provided within the SERP itself, the user doesn’t actually need to click through to find out more, which could have a detrimental effect on CTRs, traffic and revenues. 

The general consensus seems to be that if you weren’t in position one or two, a featured snippet was quite useful, thank you very much. The flipside also seems to be true that the traffic driven by being in position one in SERPs far outweighed the traffic gained from the featured snippet.

The rule of thumb was that Google would only select an organisation for a featured snippet if it was already in the top ten organic search results – and most commonly in the top one or two positions. Thus there was a double whammy benefit in having the featured snippet at the very top and another mention in the SERP just below. 

All change

Everything is about to change… Google announced that as of Wednesday 22 January, the featured snippet holder will no longer benefit from this secondary inclusion within page one of SERPs. It will be moved to the top of page two.

What this means for SEO results is unclear at present and it may be dependent on the topic of the initial question.

Simple questions which only demand simple answers, that the user can read within SERPs, may not see any change. However, brands that answer more complicated or involved questions which can’t be tackled in sufficient depth via the featured snippet, may see their traffic eroded by others as they no longer have the ‘back up’ position to reinforce their brand within the first page of SERPs. 

Critics of the change suggest that rather than trying to ‘unclutter’ results, the move may be aimed at pushing more money towards Google Ads.

If being included in the featured snippet but now not within the usual organic rankings on page one, sounds like it might do your brand more harm than good, then it is possible to opt out of featured snippets by adding a tag to the relevant pages.

It’s difficult to say exactly, but any brand that was pretty heavily reliant on featured snippets needs to keep a close eye on their organic traffic within Google Analytics. There may be losses in some areas as well as some unexpected gains for others by less traffic being funnelled in one direction. Also, brands that were hovering around the bottom of page one / top of page two, may see an uplift with the featured snippet brand being demoted to position one of page two for their natural ranking.

One commentator on Twitter said: “This is the strangest change I’ve seen in a decade in search.”

If this is something that you like the sound of but haven’t implemented yet, you can find out more here and here. Or alternatively, we can advise you whether featured snippets are the right course of action for your business.

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