Mere weeks into the new year and Google has gifted all of us with a fairly significant update to featured snippets. And if you've followed our recent advice to add ‘keep a very close eye on Google’ to your list of New Year’s resolutions, then you might already know all about it. (And if not, don’t sweat it - we got you covered).
In under a week, the update has been impactful and, naturally, a hot topic among marketers and business owners everywhere. I’ll discuss some background info behind this update, what it’s affected so far, and what you should watch out for as you continue to monitor your own organic traffic.
Recap: Google Tinkered with Featured Snippets in 2019
Almost a year ago to the day, I blogged about On-SERP SEO and the increasing importance of featured snippets. This time in 2019, marketers everywhere were working to secure their site’s own featured snippets in order to earn the top spot on a results page, which was lovingly referred to as position zero.
Position zero is essentially the Mt. Everest for SEO pros since this is where fully optimized URLs were prominently featured and ranked above position #1 in the normal search results. For example, here’s the featured snippet in position zero for the search query “What is an Android TV box?” You’ll notice the featured snippet provides the user with a complete answer without requiring a click-through.
Ultimately, Google’s goal for featured snippets in the top SERP spot is searcher-centric. While it might complicate our lives as marketers (since featured snippets arguably negate the need for searchers to click through to the web page), it was designed to provide a searcher with an answer that is relevant, concise and conveniently visible.
Current Situation: Google Deduplicates Search Results In Light of Featured Snippets
Throughout last year, URLs that held position zero by way of featured snippets often benefited by appearing twice on the first page of the search results. Twice! Some may have even appeared in the number one ranking spot just under position zero. Scenarios like this were enormously beneficial to organic traffic; the more SERP territory you occupy, the more exposure you have, potentially increasing your click-through rate. It was a marketer’s paradise to occupy those top spots...the operative word being was.
Now, Google’s latest update involved a decluttering of page one search results. URLs elevated to position zero with a featured snippet will no longer appear anywhere else on page one. This clean-up is known as deduplication.
If a web page listing is elevated into the featured snippet position, we no longer repeat it in the first page of 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....— Google SearchLiaison (@searchliaison) January 23, 2020
Essentially, the goal is to streamline the search results so users are presented with clean, relevant information. After all, from a user perspective, seeing the same URL ranked twice on the same page is redundant and possibly pushes another relevant - albeit competing - URL down to the next page.
In short, users may appreciate the update; marketers, not as much.
Beware: Unexpected Byproduct of Rollout Affecting Some Websites!
Along with this update, Google may have inadvertently caused a spike in blood pressure to marketers around the globe!
For a few websites (and you may want to pay particular attention to this if you own the featured snippet as well as the Knowledge Panel along the right side of the SERPs on a desktop), marketers reported a sudden site rankings plummet from page one to page two in the search results. Over the course of this last week, many marketers were shocked to see their Search Console reporting URLs previously core ranked in positions 1, 2 or 3, pushed to position 11 despite owning the featured snippet. (image source)
If this is something you noticed, you can likely unclench and take a deep breath - Google is reportedly working on rectifying this and your ranking will be returned to its former glory.
Key Takeaways From Google’s SearchLiaison
To cover our bases I compiled several additional factors to consider ℅ Google’s SearchLiaison which you can follow here: @searchliaison.
- The deduplication rollout was global - as mentioned above, there are some wrinkles to iron out. If you were affected, keep an eye on your Console and actively monitor to see the correction that's expected this week.
- Deduplication will not affect video snippets - but given the error with Knowledge Panel deduplication, I recommend you just keep an eye on these rankings too.
- Deduplication is not intended to impact Top Stories or Interesting Finds
- Deduplication will not affect Search Console performance reports - sites that still own the featured snippet, but have lost the organic number one position, will still be reported as the number one ranked position. #phew
The discussion and the Q&A continues, so follow the thread with Google’s Search Liaison at @searchliaison.
We know by now that Google regularly releases changes to improve search results for users. Each time a broad core algorithm update is released, our recommended game plan always involves creating quality content and providing useful answers to your audience’s queries.
And this time it’s no different.
My advice is to stay on course and focus on catering content to your audience. This update may have forced you to take a hit to your rankings, but follow Google’s example and mold your strategy to the users who are searching for your products or services. Keep a close watch on your search console to see if the deduplication errors get ironed out. And - perhaps most importantly - keep asking questions to stay on top of this update (and future updates for that matter). Follow the convo on Google’s SearchLiaison or ask us directly. Google updates like this are often disheartening for small businesses in particular, but there is always an optimal path forward.