How Will Google’s Changes to Featured Snippets Impact Publishers?
Minor changes in the way search results display on Google aren’t uncommon. The search giant makes updates frequently enough that they rarely generate headlines anymore. But a recent announcement that Google would no longer duplicate featured snippets has managed to stop publishers in their tracks.
As of Jan. 22, Google stopped duplicating featured snippets. Webpage listings that are elevated into the featured snippet position no longer repeat in the first page of search results. Google says the change was designed to declutter its results pages and help users more easily locate relevant information.
In the past, featured snippets (like the example in the screenshot below) were typically treated as standalone SERP features. Although ranking in the #1 position wasn’t always a given for the webpage in the featured snippet spot, in most cases, publishers could expect that their pages would at least be in one of the top three positions if their content was featured. Now, with Google’s new adjustment, the webpages shown in the featured snippet position aren’t appearing on the first page of search result listings at all.
In removing the duplicate listing for featured snippets, Google has effectively shrunk the number of listings that appear on the first page of search results. Prior to the change, users would find 11 links when a featured snippet appeared on a page. Now they see only 10, with the featured snippet being counted as the #1 position, followed by nine additional organic links. Previously, the featured snippet was counted as the #0 position, followed by 10 additional organic links.
In the rare instances when Google displays two featured snippets in a row, both URLs are now removed from the organic listings. Any featured listing that appears at the top of the search results page is being removed from the list of results, and a maximum of 10 results are appearing on the page.
If these changes sound confusing to you, know that you’re not alone. Publishers who manage their own SEO programs are trying to decide whether the benefits of having their webpages show up in the featured snippet position outweigh the downside, which is not appearing in the organic listings on the first page of search results.
Already, Google has backtracked from one of the changes it implemented during its Jan. 22 rollout. Featured snippets that appeared in the right-hand side panels were originally pulled from the left-hand column as part of Google’s new deduplication strategy. But appearing on the right-hand side of a panel doesn’t generate the same attention as a traditional featured snippet placement. Loud feedback from publishers fearing the move would lead to decreased click-through rates caused Google to backpedal. The company reversed its changes a week after the initial rollout. While some featured snippets still display in the right-hand panel, those URLs also appear in the organic listings.
At this point, it’s probably too soon to make any drastic changes that would limit your chances of appearing in the featured snippet position. De-optimizing content will most likely cause your click-through rate to drop, which is not something I would recommend. It’s also worth noting that featured snippets are commonly linked to the voice answers that people hear when they ask questions on Amazon’s Echo devices. Given the role that voice search is expected to play in the coming years, to limit your website’s eligibility for voice answers would be a mistake.
At Web Publisher PRO, we’re recommending that publishers keep content that could be featured as snippets concise and self-contained. Publishers may see fewer click-throughs from snippets as a result of this change, but answering user questions and showing up at the top of Google search results will always be a positive when it comes to driving search visibility.
David Walsh is the founder and CEO of Web Publisher PRO, a website development agency that focuses on working with publishers on WordPress. David is a frequent speaker at industry conferences and manages some of the web's most influential publications. You can reach David at firstname.lastname@example.org.