Last week, Google's Dan Sullivan made an announcement on Twitter that has the online marketing world in a buzz. Ever since the company released search snippets – specially formatted informational tidbits shown to users who are searching for a particular term - it has been possible for links to receive duplicate exposure on Google's front page, the most coveted real estate on the Internet.
Going forward, this will no longer be possible. According to Sullivan:
"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..."
From the outside, this might seem like a small change – so why are marketers scrambling to re-evaluate their search strategy in response? There’s a simple answer: a front-page position on Google drives a significant amount of traffic to websites, and there are only ten spots to fill.
While removing duplicates makes things fairer to competing brands, it also means that websites ranking for featured snippets have lost a spot on the front page, which could result in a huge loss of traffic. So what should you do now? In this article, we’ll explain.
How Snippets Work
Snippets are randomly generated widgets that float at the top of Google (sometimes called “position zero”) for certain terms. They offer bite-sized answers to some queries, including lists, definitions, FAQs and more. Sometimes a search generates no snippets, and sometimes it generates more than one: either way, any page can rank for snippets even if it doesn’t have a normal position on the front page.
Google’s recent change primarily impacts websites who were previously ranking for both a normal position and a featured snippet. Now, the snippet will stay, and the normal position will disappear (often moving to Page #2, though Sullivan says there’s no guarantee of that).
While snippets are generally a great thing to have, they tend to provide a lower click-through-rate (CTR). This makes them a potential liability when they come into conflict with a higher CTR position. So how do you know whether you’re ranking for any snippets, and what should you do?
Optimizing Your Front-Page Position
Brands should not be too quick to assume that Google’s change will hurt their traffic, even if they do have duplicate rankings on the front page. CTR rates are not perfectly straightforward, and sometimes a snippet may draw in more traffic than a normal result.
The only way to know whether you’re impacted is to look at the data. Here’s how:
- Find your snippets – you can find your snippets manually by searching for terms that bring traffic to your site, or you can use tools like SEMRush and STAT to get notified when any of your links become featured snippets.
- Analyze traffic – using Google Analytics, Hubspot or another analytics platform, compare traffic to the ranked page before Google’s change and afterwards (it went into effect on January 22nd of this year).
- Remove snippet if necessary – if it appears that Google’s change negatively impacted your traffic, opt your page out of position zero using NoSnippet Tags.
For pages that receive a featured snippet after January 22nd, it won’t be possible to compare traffic before and after the change. In that case, simply compare CTR for your normal position and the featured snippet. If – and only if – the normal position is close to page one, removing the snippet is a good idea if CTR for the normal position is higher.
Are Snippets Worth it Anymore?
Google’s update and the subsequent fallout has a lot of people asking: are Google snippets worth it anymore? And the answer is: it depends. Snippets will remain a valuable source of traffic for brands that struggle to gain a front-page position: and even for brands who don’t, snippets can still be a helpful piece in an inbound marketing strategy.
The fact is, search marketers have become a little too preoccupied with snippets as a source of web traffic, when they are primarily intended to benefit users rather than brands. Snippets are and always will be sources of information – a form of micro-content – before they are anything else.
As part of an inbound marketing strategy, snippets can therefore serve as a form of content that elevates a brand’s authority and reputation: companies who think in the long term should be reticent before they throw that away. Instead of ditching snippets, we recommend thinking about them more strategically and doing the legwork to determine which ones are helping your brand, and which ones are limiting your success.