Featured Snippets was a pretty hot topic back in 2016, especially in the Finance sector, an area that I work in. It’s only just begun in terms of the topic really as we’ve experienced 700% growth in terms of Answer Box/Featured Snippet appearances in this area.
Google are making further changes to these snippets, which I’ll dive into a little below. This article will effectively look at Featured Snippets from my point of view, which is an area that I’ve been working on since 2015. The Featured Snippets came to light in Google’s search results for a relatively small number of queries back in 2014, but then only really impacted my area at the end of 2015.
Google Trends Research
You can see ‘featured snippets’ has seen its interest over time in Google Trends grow, and that’s likely due to the higher number of appearances and therefore interest in these types of results:
Featured Snippet Growth from 2016 to 2017
Across 10,000 or so of the top finance related keywords I am tracking, Featured Snippets show up for 33% of those keywords. This is huge growth of around 700% when looking at February 2016 to February 2017. We’ve only seen the number of these Featured Snippets growing from last year, even for highly commercial search terms, which don’t appear to even have questions showing up that you would think would trigger a Featured Snippet.
Either way, I think the growth is quite startling and can even be overwhelming when trying to optimise your content for these queries. You can see the growth visualised in the chart below. We first really spotted them becoming a much bigger thing back in October 2015, and it looks like in October 2016 there has been further growth from that point on wards:
What’s the Biggest Challenge with Featured Snippets?
As an in-house SEO, my biggest challenge with these is that they change all the time. One day they’ll be there, the next they’ll be gone, or you’ll appear in one, then someone else will, then you will again. You purely take turns with others.
However, there are some lucrative terms that have maintained a Featured Snippet presence, and we’ve done some analysis to identify what uplift that brings whenever we do appear in one of the long-term Featured Snippets, and it’s roughly a 2% increase in Click Through Rate, which can mean a huge difference if it’s for very large commercial search terms. This can obviously pay off for the all the work you’ve been doing around it, if you’ve managed to land a highly commercial term.
The Future of Featured Snippets
We’ve seen huge growth already, and Google have already decided to make another step change to this called ‘People Also Ask’, which has also seen huge growth and adds an extra slot to the search results – further pushing down the normal classic results. This only makes appearing in the Featured Snippets more invaluable, as it now is the most highly visible area of the organic search results.
You can see a People Also Ask appearing alongside a Featured Snippet in the screenshot below:
This week, I had noticed Google had implemented yet another change where these Featured Snippets are getting even more complex. They’re essentially processing or scraping different pages in the search results, then matching the content up (image and text), and then featuring them in the Featured Snippet result.
You can see in the screenshot below for the search term [critical illness insurance], there is copy from MSM being featured, but also an image from Liverpool Victoria showing:
Another challenge is that they do indeed show up for branded search queries as well! Our competitor, Confused.com, is showing up in the Featured Snippet below for the search term [moneysupermarket mobile phones]. Excuse the pun, but this is rather confusing for consumers who have actively searched for a brand, yet a competitor website is apparently upselling their service instead of ours:
We have submitted feedback on this one as it is totally inane for this to even occur in the first place. I hope Google takes our feedback on this one specifically as it seems extremely silly to showcase another website for a search term where a user is looking for a specific brand, yet another brand is being surfaced above it.
All in all, it’s going to be challenging for Search Engine Optimisers this year due to the unimaginable number of changes Google are going to introduce this year, and not even specifically on Featured Snippets, but perhaps other changes to the UI and perhaps further changes with regards to making PPC appear even more visible. These changes and challenges will make our lives much harder, but we don’t all do SEO because we’re here for an easy ride, and it makes things even more interesting when these types of changes come along.
Do I see these Featured Snippets being worked on more in the future? Yes. The way they work now appears to be very basic in the context of Google’s algorithms, so I don’t doubt they’ll be testing and rolling out personalisation (they’ve been testing this already), text and content from multiple pages (again – what they’ve rolled already this week), and perhaps further changes where they’ll perhaps even turn these Featured Snippets into carousels.
Would I bank on these being part of a long-term business strategy? Probably not, but it does suggest from Google that your content needs to be concise and it needs to be of a certain way if that is what readers want under Google’s own perceptions.
The whole idea of Featured Snippets could change at any one moment, and because they’re still relatively new and because I even believe that they aren’t always surfacing the right content – it will very much change and become more accurate. The long-term strategy should be first and foremost to protect, defend and improve your rankings, and that does in-directly bring in Featured Snippets – though I’d always argue first on the front of the classic rankings as that is relatively constant in comparison to everything else. After all, we wouldn’t want to do all that hard work, then suddenly see it go to waste because Google felt that they needed to change direction e.g. the closing of Google+ Authorship.
Who knows what’s next, but I eagerly and worryingly await.