Google Announces Update to Featured Snippets in SERPs


This week SEOs web-wide were shaken, as Google’s public search liaison Danny Sullivan announced a big change to featured snippets.

Originally spotted by Mark Barrera, who shared his findings on Twitter, the news broke that sites ranking for featured snippets will no longer appear in the first page of organic SERPs.

Confirming the update, Danny Sullivan shared this Tweet:

He also confirmed that the update rolled out 100% globally on January 22nd.

What is a featured snippet?

BrightLocal featured snippet

Sometimes referred to as an answer box, a featured snippet is a rich result generated by Google designed to answer the user’s query in a concise manner.

Featured snippets can come in a variety of different formats, including paragraphs, lists (like the above), images, and more.

It might help to know that Google itself describes featured snippets as “special boxes where the format of regular listings is reversed, showing the descriptive snippet first.”

Featured snippets are often referred to as position zero, given that they appear at the top of Google’s search results above organic listings.

That being said, as one Twitter user pointed out, we should probably stop referring to them as that post-update…

What does the update mean?

Put simply, this update to SERPs means that if your site’s page is currently occupying a featured snippet, that same page will no longer be listed in the main body of Google’s search results.

Prior to this update, it was possible to rank both #1 organically and in a featured snippet, too.

Whereas previously the search results would show a featured snippet followed by 10 organic results, it now shows a featured snippet followed by nine organic results.

What does this update not mean?

FYI, this update does not mean that ranking for a featured snippet completely eradicates your chances of also ranking on page one of SERPs.

It just means that the same URL that is ranking for a featured snippet won’t appear on page one. So, it is possible you could occupy a featured snippet, in addition to ranking for position #3 or #4 with a different URL.

Danny Sullivan explains more:

In instances where a featured snippet is generated with an image from a different site, the URL where the image was sourced will not be affected.

How does the update affect SEOs?

For SEOs, this update to Google SERPs means that trying to rank for search queries that generate featured snippets may no longer be desirable.

A study by Ahrefs that looked at 2 million featured snippets (!!) showed that, on average, featured snippets received just 8.6% of clicks. Meanwhile, the #1 organic result below the featured snippet received twice as much, benefitting from 19.6% of total clicks.

Interestingly, in results where no featured snippet was present, the first organic result received 26% of all clicks.

The same study also showed that featured snippets reduce the overall number of clicks in SERPs. As Ahrefs points out, this shouldn’t come as a surprise given that the purpose of featured snippets is to answer a user’s query as succinctly as possible.

What those statistics show, is that having a featured snippet is less beneficial to CTR than ranking in position one organically.

So, now that Google has created a featured snippet OR organic ranking (versus a featured snippet AND organic ranking) scenario, it’s unlikely that businesses will aim for a featured snippet above ranking in the main body of SERPs.

After all, if you had to choose between an 8.6% CTR and a 19.6% CTR, what would you pick?

Of course, it’s not all black and white and clicks come down to more than just the presence of a featured snippet, but from the evidence, it’s looking like ranking in position one will benefit you more than ranking in position zero.

What does the update mean for local search?

Featured snippet local business

While local businesses certainly can compete for featured snippets (see the example from beauty store Crunchy Betty above), they’re generally less likely to rank for them.

If you’re a pest control company, for example, you may have a blog on “how to check your house for signs of mice” or something similar. If this was written in a list format and optimized correctly, it’s entirely possible it would rank for a featured snippet.

But it’s not so likely you’ll gain clicks or business through this method, given that the searcher could be sourcing this information from a location hundreds of miles from where your store is.

So, in short, this update to SERPs will likely have little effect for local businesses. It may just mean, if you’re an agency, you’re less likely to emphasize the importance of featured snippets.

Oh and, in case you were wondering, this update has no effect on local pack rankings.

What are SEOs saying?

So far, the reception to the change has been far from positive — some users are even asking if they can opt out of being considered for featured snippets (spoiler alert, you can).

For those sharing their concerns, Google’s Danny Sullivan has emphasized how advantageous occupying a featured snippet can be:

And to be fair, Danny is entirely right in terms of the idea that featured snippets can elevate low-ranking pages.

If you were appearing at the bottom of page one SERPs, having a featured snippet is probably still desirable. But for those ranking in the top three, it may be the case you want to steer clear of featured snippets for now at least.

Meanwhile, Tim Soulo — CMO and Product Adviser at Ahrefs — took to Twitter to share his advice on the matter:

If you’re wondering whether it’s worth opting out of featured snippets all together, one Twitter user shared this handy tip for checking your “real” ranking (i.e. where you would rank organically if you didn’t qualify for a featured snippet).

What next?

The conversation among SEOs has naturally turned to questioning, “what next?” If this update is rolled out for featured snippets, could we see this happening for other forms of rich results?

As Danny Sullivan mentioned, there are no plans for this functionality to roll out elsewhere just yet, but we’ll certainly be keeping a keen eye on any changes to rich results.

We’ll be keeping this blog updated with any new information that may emerge, but in the meantime, why not share your thoughts with us in the comments below?




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