Mr Jonathan Jones

Mr Jonathan Jones

SEO & Digital Consultant

January 2020 Featured Snippet Google Update

Google has certainly come out with quite a number of significant changes for many SEOs and consumers to its search results in January so far, and we are only 22 days into 2020.

On January 13th, they announced a change to match a layout they rolled out on mobile device a year ago to add favicons to search snippets and a change to the ‘Ad’ label for Google’s paid advertisements, which arguably blend in advertisements with organic results more.

And just today, on the 22nd of January, Google has come out with a change in policy regarding Featured Snippets. They now only show 1 page from one website in the search results in an effort to “deduplicate” their search results pages.

Prior to this, a website had the opportunity to feature twice on page 1 of the search results. This now limits your website to only appear once now. To quote Google’s announcement directly:

If a web page listing is elevated into the featured snippet position, we no longer repeat the listing in the search results. This declutters the results & helps users locate relevant information more easily. Featured snippets count as one of the ten web page listings we show. – Danny Sullivan

The announcement itself appears to have come off the back of Dr. Pete Meyers identifying this and reporting it via Twitter, with then the response back from Danny Sullivan above.

Why have they made this change?

Domain Diversity Update

The change here sort of follows what Google announced in June last year around the Domain Diversity update, which effectively limited websites from showing up more than twice in the search results. Hence, it has relevance with the Domain Diversity update and this sort of follows on from that. Personally, I’d seen them testing this with Featured Snippets as early as 2017 and more recently at the end of 2019, and as with everything they test, they likely found that it improved user experience for the sample they tested this change on.

Responses on Twitter:

I asked the question to Google (Danny Sullivan) directly on Twitter around why this was not communicated out beforehand:

Danny’s response was that it was “good feedback” which is great, as we as SEOs obviously want more communication from Google when it comes to changes like this. It actually also impacts many of the ranking/tool providers too as the metrics they were tracking before are now going to be massively skewed by this change.

Brodie Clark posted a pretty good comparison of this change on Twitter:

Danny Sullivan from Google has been responding on Twitter to people’s concerns/questions:

Danny also confirmed that this treatment doesn’t impact ‘Video Featured Snippets’:

The question of ethics seems to have come up around how Google’s machine learning picks what should go in the Featured Snippet – and whether that leads to people click less through to the website featured:

Knowledge Panel Featured Snippets

Kieron Hughes also asked the very good question on the sort of ‘Knowledge Panel Featured Snippets’ which are impacted by this update.

Websites in the ‘Knowledge Panel Featured Snippets’ are impacted significantly due to the fact that if you already had the top positions in the regular results, the ‘Knowledge Panel Featured Snippet’ is sort of a downgrade as it is not positioned in the center of where users will usually look (left-hand side). Historically speaking, users tend to click or aim their cursor towards the left side of the search results rather than the right.

How are Knowledge Panel Featured Snippets ranked in Google Search Console?

“…I haven’t looked into it in some detail, but we also show something on the right sidebar, it looks like a mix between a knowledge panel and featured snippet, and that would probably count as position 10 or 11, because we number them down and then the side…” – John Mueller (Google)

Update (23/01/2020):
Google has responded directly on the subject of the Knowledge Graph Featured Snippets: 

They will roll back this change for these types of Featured Snippets, this week, and then they will make a further change in a month’s  time to make these snippets appear in the “main column” as the regular featured snippets.

How can you identify your “real rank”?

What if you don’t want to feature in a Featured Snippet?

Google has a help page here on what you can do to exclude your page from being listed in a Featured Snippet:

Block featured snippets only

Those who wish to retain snippets in regularly-formatted search results but not appear in featured snippets should experiment with setting the max-snippet tag to lower lengths. Featured snippets will only appear if enough text can be shown to generate a useful featured snippet.

Keep lowering the value if pages continue to show for featured snippets. In general, the shorter your max-snippet tag setting, the less likely the page will appear as a featured snippet.

Google does not provide an exact minimum length required to appear as a featured snippet. This is because the minimum length is variable based on a number of factors, including—but not limited to—the information in the snippet, the language, and the platform (mobile device, app, or desktop).

However, the answer supplied from Google here is a little tricky as you literally need to play around with the max-snippet tag on the specific copy that appears in the Featured Snippet for it to be removed. It might actually be better to actually try and “de-optimise” your page by changing the copy that appears in the Featured Snippet as I’d say the max-snippet function is a little archaic in terms of deploying that on a page.

Shame there is no function like this in Google Search Console, which could work similarly to how the Google Data Highlighter worked in the past.

Whilst I feel fairly displeased about the change, I understand why the change has been made as they want to deduplicate what was once a duplicated search result.

I am glad that Danny has taken on the feedback and I hope others leave the same as I think it’s good if they can communicate changes like this in advance – especially as changes like this tend to make our lives a little harder.

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