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Tweaks to the Featured Snippet Mutes Both the Value and the Risk

Grabbing the featured snippet has become a big part of online marketing. They put your website right at the top of the search engines results page (SERP), giving you the opportunity to leapfrog over your competition in well-trafficked search queries.

But that position is tenuous and has several drawbacks. And now Google is testing a new, updated featured snippet format that can undermine some of the perks of having one.

The Awesome, Terrible, Complicated Featured Snippet

The featured snippet is the SERP element that you find on the results page.

Featured snippet on Google SERP
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They’re almost always right at the top of the page, as in the image above, though they rarely appear lower down. They are not especially common SERP features, though, appearing in between something around 7 percent or close to 11 percent of queries. While there isn’t any exact data for this, common search engine optimization (SEO) wisdom holds that this number skyrockets for queries that are formatted like a question, like the image above.

The featured snippet is an awesome thing to target with your online legal content marketing budget because, with it, you can vault from way down in the SERP to the top of the listing without building up many of the traditional ranking signals and reader metrics that are generally used to score organic listings in the SERP. Being at the top comes with a higher click-through-rate and more web traffic. Using a featured snippet to get there requires a small chunk of text that answers the question in the query more effectively than other websites, rather than having an entire article that scores better SEO points.

The featured snippet is a terrible thing for several reasons:

  1. Once you have it, you have a target on your back as other sites try to hone small paragraphs on their site to answer the question better
  2. Losing the featured snippet will cause your traffic from that query to crash. This decline is much slower if you were at the top of the organic listings and get bumped down by someone else
  3. You will slowly lose your grip on the featured snippet if you used topical information to acquire it, thanks to Google applying the Freshness Update to the SERP feature
  4. Having a featured snippet likely reduces the net web traffic that gets produced by the query, as searchers are more likely to be satisfied by the content in the featured snippet that they do not click on any of the site listings in the SERP
  5. You are at the mercy of Google to maintain the status quo once you’ve gotten the snippet

So, as you can see, it’s complicated. And now Google is making it even more complicated by testing snippets that have more than one listing inside of them.

Google Tests Two Tweaks to Featured Snippets

This month, Google quietly rolled out two different changes to featured snippets. Both of them include several listings within the featured snippet.

The first is called “From the web.” It includes very quick snippets from multiple websites (usually two or three, but sometimes up to five or six) that answer the call of the query. The text links to the source site, and the site’s favicon is included in each listing.

The second tweak is called “Other sites say.” It is basically a traditional featured snippet, but with extremely short answers to the query tacked on below, with links to their source sites.

Both of these tweaks share an important development: They add some crowd into the previously standalone spot at the top of the rankings that was the featured snippet.

Google's new featured snippet is as crowded as this crosswalk

The Pros and Cons Get Muted

Both the perks and the drawbacks to getting the featured snippet stemmed from the fact that there was only one of them in a SERP. There’s only one to attack if you’re looking to leapfrog the competition in a volume-heavy query, but once you’re there, losing it can make your traffic fall off the face of the earth.

These tweaks mute both of those issues.

Snatching a listing in a “from the web” feature will likely lead to only a modest traffic boost because you’ll be lumped together with several other sites in the feature. However, precisely because you’ll get lumped in with other listings, your staying power will likely increase, as well.

The “other sites say” feature is intriguing, though. If you can keep the main slot in the featured snippet, it paints your content as mainstream or generally accepted, while the brief lines from the sites below it appear as a kind of minority viewpoint. Not only will this likely lead to an outsized portion of the traffic from the snippet, it can also enhance your reputation as a thought leader on the topic.