I’ve made no secret of my dislike of Featured Snippets. This week there was some good news that maybe, just maybe, Google was turning back the clock and dropping Featured Snippets from search.
For those who’ve missed my previous posts on these, Featured Snippets are those “quick answers” to questions that appear at the top of many Google Searches that
steal traffic from websites allow you to get answers to questions without leaving Google.
The advent of Featured Snippets brought with it a significant increase in what Google call “zero-click searches”; searches that begin and end at Google without the user going to anyone’s website. This is the big problem that I have with Featured Snippets; in most instances Google isn’t generating the content that is output here but, somehow, it ends up being the only beneficiary to its existence. I don’t think I’ve ever clicked through a snippet to the underlying, originating website. Like Crunchy Nut Cornflakes, the problem with snippets is that they are too good.
Some SEOs claim to love Featured Snippets and claim they are a major source of traffic, but I’ve always suspected that that’s:
1. Because snippets provide a new thing for SEOs to do and new technical trickery for them to sell to customers. Like Tolkien’s Ring Wraiths, SEO consultants always find “new shapes to wear and new beasts to ride”.
2. Saying that something is a major source of traffic doesn’t also stop it from being “a major thief of traffic”. Just because most of the traffic comes from your snippet, doesn’t mean you are getting most of the traffic.
But, out of the blue, Google seem to suddenly be reducing the frequency with which they show snippets.
Google is well known for constantly experimenting with the results page, so what might this change mean?
Is it because of “Passage Indexing?”
Google has been rolling out a change to its index that brings more granularity to search by indexing passages of text on a page rather than whole pages at a time.
You may have already experienced this if you’ve clicked a Google search result and found yourself half way down a webpage looking at a piece of highlighted text. That’s passage indexing in action.
I personally like passage indexing. It’s a great enhancement for the user, it doesn’t steal traffic from sites, and it rewards longer, more in-depth articles. It’s certainly a boon if your search sends you somewhere like Wikipedia, zipping you straight to the relevant content rather than just dropping you off at the top of the page.
Is it because Google started paying for content?
Google has reached some landmark agreements of late to pay for news content in France and Australia after new laws were introduced that said Google had to pay for the content it was recycling through services like Google News and Google Assistant. Now, embattled media outlets in other countries are applying major pressure to governments in other countries to follow suit.
But, why stop with news? Surely anything that sits in a Featured Snippet falls into this same category – content created by someone else that Google’s using for its own ends passing limited value back to the original creator?
We have to keep in mind that content in Featured Snippets is not like content on YouTube, where Google provide the tools and critical infrastructure to publish the content. Featured Snippets are content that lives elsewhere on the web – Google just copied, cropped, and re-packaged it.
This is far more likely, I think, to be the reason Google are experimenting with rolling back snippets. It may be much cheaper for them in the long run to let a few more customers “slip through the net” and look at actual websites than to pay out every content creator who finds their hard work has been copied by Google.