On January 22, Google announced a change in how the Featured Snippet works: A webpage that is shown in Google's Featured Snippet will no longer appear on page one of the SERP a second time. 

Prior to this change, websites in the Featured Snippet would also appear within the organic results. According to our research, 95% of the time a URL was shown in the Featured Snippet, it would also appear in the top three results. That means Google would list website that had the Featured Snippet twice on the SERP, making a total of 11 listings on the first page. 

According to Google’s Danny Sullivan, the roll-out happened globally for all search queries that trigger the Featured Snippet. The move – in an attempt to declutter the search results – means that what was once considered position zero is now categorized as position one on the SERP. The webpage may appear a second time on page two of Google, but this is not a guarantee.

To visualize this change, take a look at the SERP for January 22 compared to January 23 for the same keyword:

January 22 SERP  January 23 SERP

(SERP results for January 22 versus January 23 for the same keyword.)

The change means there is more room for other search listings to appear on page one of the SERP. This is good news for the sites that are in rank position 11, as they will be moved up to the first page. Danny Sullivan expands on the net listings on the SERP:

If a query results in two Featured Snippets, both listings have been removed from the organic listings and only appear as the Featured Snippets, according to Sullivan

Google has made other changes recently as well. They’ve rolled out a new look for both organic and paid search on desktop, and they’ve added a popular products section within the organic SERP on mobile. 

Our Technical Services & Product Manager Ryan Heuser noticed the same is true for the Twitter pack on the SERP. When a tweet appears in the Twitter pack, a separate link to that tweet no longer appears on the search results page. Or at least not on page one. 

This raises the question: What other similar changes can Google announce in the future that will impact rank positions?   

How Does This Affect Rank Reporting?

Some rank tracking tools counted the Featured Snippet as position zero, and then possibly assigned a rank position for the second time the URL was in the SERP. To make sure your historical ranking data doesn’t become a nightmare in comparison, you’ll want to reinstate the ranking as position one instead of position zero.

Within seoClarity, we have always counted Featured Snippets/Answer Boxes as rank position one – irrespective of whether you use Web Rank or True Rank. 

This means that if you are an seoClarity client you should not see any major fluctuation in rankings because of this change on Google’s side. If you do see anything, it’s because the rank position changed and you are no longer featured in the Answer Box, and the webpage is now in another position within the results. 

For those pages that are NOT in the Answer Box, but hold a position on the the first page, they should generally see a position improvement of one in their rankings. Assuming everything else stayed the same as Google removes the double listing for the URL to the second page.

As for traffic performance for the sites that held the Answer Box and were listed in the organic results, you will have to wait to see what was affected. If the Answer Box was driving traffic, there should be no changes in traffic because the Answer Box is still at position one on the SERP. However, if traffic was split between the Answer Box and the organic listing, there very well may be an impact. For now, monitoring the performance and data is our recommendation.  

 

Moving Forward: What to Keep in Mind

Based on a lot of chatter on social media and discussion of this update, should you consider an opt-out of Featured Snippets based on the research of reduced click-through rate?

Danny Sullivan points users to Google's Search Console Help Page if they want to opt out of Featured Snippets

One thing no one has considered on this point is the impact that decision has on voice search for Google Assistant or other home devices. According to our research, 90% of all Google Assistant answers come from the Featured Snippet, so opting out of the Featured Snippet would mean losing your positioning for a wider audience. After all, the use of voice search is on the rise, with home devices like Google Home, the Amazon Alexa, and the Apple HomePod.  

Or, consider the mobile SERP implication. The Featured Snippet takes up almost the entire real estate before the next scroll. Do you really want to lose that real estate by moving to position two or further down if you added the opt-out to your pages. 

Also, we all know that Google wants sites to publish quality, authoritative content they can use in the Featured Snippets. Would they ever penalize because the site opted-out of the Featured Snippets? Maybe not, but it's certainly a positive signal when the search engine awards that number one position regardless of the way it's presented. 

Additionally, just as fast as this change was implemented, it can just as quickly change to something else. Here at seoClarity, the team believes the declutter of the SERP is a good thing for users and for brands, so the double listing isn’t likely to return. However, when you think of the future of search and the user experience, you must consider other potential changes Google can make that would impact your SEO strategy.

 

How Do I Understand the Impact?

We know, a lot of you are wondering about the impact to site traffic with the loss of that second listing coupled with the fear of lower click-through rates on a Feature Snippet listing. Here are a few steps to evaluate if this has a large impact on your site.

In order to see a list of keywords that trigger the Featured Snippet, your rank tracking tool should provide that. If your ranking tool does not integrate GSC or Google Analytics data, you will need to monitor the traffic data within GSC or your site analytics tools for those pages. 

Research Study Part 1: Confirmed -- Multi-Listings Removed from Page One

seoClarity analyzed 2.1 million keywords to check the count of unique domain ranking in the top 10 results and how that changed from January 22 to January 23. 

89.5% of the queries that were listed in the Featured Snippet also had a regular SERP listing for the same URL. Now, starting on January 23, 2020, that is down to 0.8%.

Then, we looked at approximately 250,000 keywords that triggered a Featured Snippet on January 22, 2020 and also looked at the web rank position of the URL that was in the Featured Snippet. 

  1. 87% of the keywords had a duplicate listing in the top 10 results
  2. 28% of the URL/page that earned the Featured Snippet also held the second position (or position one if you think of Featured Snippet as position zero). 
  3. In aggregate, 60% of the of all the pages in the Featured Snippet also had a listing in the top 3 rank positions. 

Research Study Part 2: Traffic Implications

Next we decided to look at the traffic implications for the change in the extra listing on the SERP. Many sites and SEOs throughout the industry that loath the Featured Snippet position because of the perceived lack of click through on those listings. 

We did a comparison of January 15 through January 16 and January 22 to January 23 to see what the traffic impact really was. For the pages and keywords to be in this study, they had to have greater than 2,500 search volume and the page had to have a consistent organic traffic flow and the URL was featured in the Featured Snippet for the entire 14 days. 

Here's a summary of what we found: 

  1. Automotive Industry: Keywords that have information intent with the Featured Snippet with the paragraph format had no statistically significant change in traffic
  2. Automotive Industry: Keywords that have informational intent and ordered list Featured Snippet format, small increase in traffic was observed, but not statistically significant. 
  3. Travel Industry: Looked at keywords with informational intent and varying formats of the Featured Snippet and no change in traffic. 
  4. Finance Industry: Although a little more volatile overall, traffic was a decrease in traffic on the 15th and 16th, there was not a significant change in traffic on the 22nd and 23rd of January. 
  5. Electronics Industry: No change in the traffic for any formats of Featured Snippets.  

How to Measure the Traffic Impact Within seoClarity

seoClarity offers both ranking for your site in the Answer Box based on your managed keyword data-set, but also based on insights within our keyword research data-set. 

This provides an all encompassing view of your industry and the opportunities available within the Answer Box. You can also view how your competitors are doing within that position as well. 

Here’s a quick workflow to do for current clients in seoClarity: 

  1. Within Rank Intelligence, filter by Answer Box and rank position one. Tag all these keywords into a keyword tag. For future reporting and impact to the traffic to these pages from organic search, tag these URLs as a page tag as well.  
  2. Next, wait for the tags to appear (about four hours). Filter by the tag and switch to the Listings view. This shows you all keywords that trigger the Answer Box and where you were in position one, and shows the count of listings for those keywords. You can monitor the traffic impact within Search Analytics or Site Analytics when you filter by the page tag over the next few days. 
  3. If you have a lot of Featured Snippets you rank for, there should be a noticeable decline in keywords with two listings, as Google removes the standard web result. 
    • You can check quickly within the SERP Features > Answer Box as well to get a snapshot of this. 
  4. Next filter in Search Analytics by keyword or page tag, (when data becomes available for Jan. 23, 2020 and beyond) to evaluate impact of the loss of the second listing to traffic to your site.

Closing Thoughts

Google’s Featured Snippet update may very well result in ranking and traffic changes for your search listings. To get a full understanding of the change at hand, monitor data in the time ahead to see precisely what changed with the update.