On Wednesday 22nd January 2020, Google rolled out a significant update to the first page of the search results, which has caused quite a commotion amongst the SEO world ever since. Google’s Featured Snippet update saw web pages that appear in a Featured Snippet lose their position in the regular organic listings on page one. Instead, these web pages were pushed back onto page two; this prompted the question – What should we be optimising for, Featured Snippets or position one?
Google has been testing this update since November 2019 and has still caught many SEOs off guard. Having caused quite a stir, a number of SEOs have hastily declared Featured Snippets redundant, and yet there is no proof to say that we should give up on securing “position zero”. First, we need to understand what these updates mean before we can judge how it will impact our SEO efforts.
Before the update, a website could capture the Featured Snippet as well as the first organic result. In some cases, it was not uncommon for websites to appear in first and second position. However, since Google released this update, websites can no longer appear for the Featured Snippet position and appear in the organic listings. Essentially, this means that there are no longer 11 ranking positions (Featured Snippet + 10 blue links) on page one, as the snippet is now counted as one of the 10 organic listings.
To simplify, Google will no longer show duplicate URLs for pages promoted to the Featured Snippets: Google has named this process deduplication. So, what do we know for certain about this update? Deduplication has been rolled out globally and will impact all manner of websites. Currently, deduplication does not affect video Featured Snippets or top stories and interesting finds. When the update was originally rolled out, duplicated URLs were moved to the top of page two of the SERPs; however, this was a bug and was not by design. This issue was resolved shortly afterwards.
Google is also preparing to move right-side Featured Snippets to be in-line with other search results. After the update was rolled out, Google stopped deduplicating the results for queries have a right-side snippet, but a few days later, the URL listing came back despite having the snippet. This is likely to change again when the right-side Featured Snippets are moved to be in-line with the rest of the results.
According to Google SearchLiason, there will also be no change in Google Search Console performance reports, as position zero Featured Snippets and organic position one were already counted as one ranked position. This means that if a site were to lose position one, but retained the Featured Snippet, that listing will still be counted as a number one ranking position.
Since the update was rolled out, it has caused backlash in the SEO community with many SEOs claiming that there is no benefit in securing a Featured Snippet anymore. Their justification being that there is no guarantee users won’t be drawn to click on position 2 or even position 3. As a result, it has caused quite a stir around whether or not it will affect websites losing organic traffic.
In 2017, Ahrefs studied 2 million Featured Snippets and discovered that snippets don’t get more clicks than the page ranking in position one for the search query. It was concluded that in instances where there are no Featured Snippets, 26% of clicks go to the first URL. In instances where there is a Featured Snippet, 8.6% of clicks go to the snippet, and 19.6% of clicks go to the “natural” search result directly below it. This has led to the discussion whether it is more beneficial to get rid of a Featured Snippet and rank in position 2 under the new update.
Following Google’s Featured Snippet update, seoClarity released a new study that examines the changes to organic traffic. The study found that 28% of duplicate listings appeared in position 2 of search results prior to Google’s recent update. seoClarity monitored the traffic to URLs across multiple industries that were consistently in a Featured Snippet for 14 days (10th January to 23rd January) in the lead up to the update. No significant changes in organic search traffic were found. There were some minor traffic fluctuations identified in specific industries, but these were similar to day-to-day fluctuations witnessed in the previous week. The most notable were:
These are considered to be insignificant changes, but it still remains to be seen whether this will continue to have an insignificant impact over the next coming months.
As we are only two weeks into the update, it is too early to establish what is the right answer. However, the basic rules still apply for the most part: if you want to increase your website traffic, you need to increase your visibility in the SERPs. SEOs should still be optimising websites to rank in the top 10 positions on Google – that’s nothing new. Whether or not your strategy entails actively pursuing Featured Snippets is down to you. However, there is still value in appearing in position 1 (previously position zero).
If you have secured a Featured Snippet, your website is more likely to be served as a voice search result. And as voice search is predicted to make up half of all online searches by the end of 2020, securing Featured Snippets will become more and more valuable to you. In instances where your website has Featured Snippets, voice search will serve the snippet as a voice search result 30% of the time. Now, this may seem like a low percentage; however, unlike regular search results, voice search only returns one answer to users from the best-optimised result. So, if your website has a Featured Snippet and Google favours them 30% of the time, that’s more visibility and additional traffic if the user visits your website via the link provided.
Although voice search is still very much in its infancy, it is worth bearing this in mind.
Featured Snippets put your website at the forefront of a user’s search for answers. Having your website appear in a snippet provides value to the user, even if they don’t always click through to your site. Being able to satisfy the user’s search intent by making your content relevant and accessible, you will find that Google will favour your website over your competitors because you are serving readers exactly what they need in a user-friendly way. Conversational content is fast-becoming Google’s favourite type of content, so if your website is full of technical jargon and is hard to read, you are unlikely to gain position 1 (previously position zero).
Gaining visibility in itself is valuable because it increases your brand awareness, and users will soon learn that your website is a reliable source. Although you may not get as many clicks as position 2, your website will gain trust and will attract returning users as a result, which is just as important as attracting new users. We have put this to the test with one of our automotive clients – Group 1 Automotive.
Three months ago, we initiated a Featured Snippet strategy for Group 1 Automotive, with the intention of increasing organic traffic through securing snippets for their BMW site. Since then, we have seen great success, securing over 5,720 MSV for keywords relating to “servicing”, “maintenance” and “Motability”, and we also secured 23 Featured Snippets for related search queries.
Organic traffic spiked almost instantly after winning the snippets, with sessions and new users more than doubling for Motability terms in particular. Sessions have also increased significantly, while the conversion rate has been maintained. And in instances where we are still yet to win snippets for landing pages, we have witnessed a consistent increase in rankings month-on-month.
Since Google’s update, however, we have witnessed a few changes in Group 1 Automotive’s rankings, most notably in regards to the Motability snippets. Where Group 1 Automotive appeared in a snippet for queries like “BMW Motability Scheme”, there is now no Featured Snippet in the results at all, and they have instead returned to their previous position before the snippet was secured. As of yet, it is still unclear why Google is not displaying a Featured Snippet. However, Group 1 Automotive still hold all voice search queries for “Motability” terms and all servicing and maintenance related snippets.
Something worth noting, however, is that we have seen pages that were ranking in position 15 or lower drop significantly, moving as low as 30 positions down the SERPs. This is likely to be Google’s way of separating the relevant and topical content from the generic content that does not satisfy the search intent. If this is the case, it is definitely worth revisiting your strategy and optimising for your target audience.
As much controversy as there is surrounding Featured Snippets since Google’s update, we believe that there is still value in securing a snippet and is worthwhile to your website. Whether your click-through rate increases or your visibility to new users grows, holding a Featured Snippet does have a positive effect on your website. While the update is still taking place and new features are being tested, it is worth monitoring your site’s performance over the next coming weeks before adjusting your strategy accordingly.
Here are the key features that you need to know:
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