For several years now, the featured snippet has offered an opportunity for your business to be the headline act on a Google SERP – not only ranked highest on the list but given an additional platform on which to directly communicate with searchers. By featuring a section of text taken directly from the website in question, the snippet offers searchers a direct answer to their question right there on the results page. In doing this it not only makes the featured website far more prominent than any other on the page, but adds significantly to its authority – making featured snippets something of a holy grail for many SEO professionals.
Since their introduction in 2014, featured snippets have become a major and transformative factor in the way that SEO is conducted – not just an added bonus but an end in themselves. In many cases optimising copy for search is no longer simply about using relevant keywords and language in the hope of appearing higher on SERPs. On blog posts and information pages in particular, site copy is written in short paragraphs specifically designed to become standalone featured snippets.
What changes is Google introducing?
On 20 January 2020 Google announced that pages which appear in featured snippets will no longer appear for a second time lower down the first SERP, putting to an end the common appearance of duplicate URLs on results pages. The changes came in with immediate effect. Websites which are given the featured snippet will have that one opportunity to make their mark, which could make the snippet an even more sought-after position given its differentiation from other results.
According to Google’s announcement the aim of this move, which it is calling deduplication, is to declutter results pages and allow users to access the information they are seeking more easily. Google also stipulates that there will still be a total of ten unique listings on a SERP – the figure remains unchanged, but makes the featured snippet now ‘position one’ rather than ‘position zero’. Google also states that the update does not include video featured snippets, only text, and featured websites may still appear in page two of search results and beyond.
What implications does this update have for site traffic?
While the removal of a duplicate URL may seem a small price to pay for being featured front and centre on an SERP, the updates may well impact traffic on web pages which have a featured snippet. In addition, there is a perception among certain schools of thought in SEO that featured snippets can be detrimental to a website rather than beneficial, as users will take the information they need directly from the SERP without clicking through. This would suggest that the changes could have a significant impact.
As a way to measure the immediate effects of the featured snippet update, a study by SEOClarity compared traffic rates for certain web pages before and after 20 January 2020. It looked specifically at four industries – automotive, travel, finance and electronics – and the only change in traffic noted was a small increase for automotive industry pages, where the featured snippet took the format of an ordered list as opposed to a paragraph.
Given that the changes to the featured snippet have been in place for only a short time, it is difficult to determine just how they will affect site traffic, and how big the impact will be on featured pages in the long term. However, in many cases it will depend upon which of the two URLs has historically delivered more traffic. If the majority of traffic to a particular page on your website has been via the featured snippet itself, this is unlikely to change drastically as it remains at the top of the SERP. However, if traffic was (despite the presence of a featured snippet) via the organic search result listing, then these types of clickthrough could see a downturn.